A 4-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother lay on the floor outside Mom’s room waiting for her to be done with her daily devotions. While the four older children were at school, Mom had insisted these two remaining little ones stay in the living room while she went into her room for private devotions over the noon hour behind locked door. The girl and boy were crying on the floor outside her room, afraid to be left alone. Eventually, Mom emerged, angry and irritated that the girl couldn’t just take the boy and play so she could have some peaceful time alone.
A 4-year-old girl woke up from sleep on a school morning, sleepy, confused, and mumbling. Stumbling into her parents’ room, she asked if she should put on her apron to help prepare Sunday breakfast. Mom burst into hard, cold laughter, telling Dad how funny it was that the girl thought it was Sunday.
Mom and Dad were visiting with a group of grown-ups while the children played outside in the evening hours. Mom came to call the 5-year-old girl into the room filled with adults to have her sing a song for the group. The girl was excruciatingly shy and didn’t want to do this, but knew she had to. Cringing, she sang the song, received compliments from the group, went into the restroom and cried. She later heard Mom say to Dad that she was surprised by the girl’s singing of the song. She had expected to be embarrassed by tears in front of the group.
A 5-year-old girl was working on memorizing a series of Bible verses for her upcoming Sunday School class. After spending several hours, she still just couldn’t seem to make the words stick so that she could recite them for her mother. Mom became very upset and Dad spanked repeatedly for what seemed, to the girl, like hours on end, demanding she repeat the Bible verses. Rather than believing that the girl simply couldn’t remember the verses, while they eventually stopped the spanking, they never did believe the girl. They believed she was just stubbornly refusing to memorize the material. They believed her will had to be broken now or she would grow up a terrible person….spanking until she could cry no more should have been the ticket, yes?
A 9-year-old girl began her menstrual cycle. Not understanding why her panties were soaked and blood-stained, she skulked around for days in fear without telling anyone. Finally, she knew she had to tell someone so she told her oldest sister. That sister went and told Mom. Sister returned and sent the girl to the restroom to wait for Mom to arrive. Mom arrived, briskly stating that she had hoped the young girl wouldn’t do this so young, but since she had, here are the materials needed…i.e., sanitary napkin and belt. The girl was appropriately chastised and sent on her way with the appropriate materials to take care of herself.
A 10-year-old girl lay in bed before rising in the morning. She heard voices in the kitchen and wondered who might have arrived and was visiting with her mother. She sneaked to the bedroom door and eavesdropped. Lo and behold, it was her mom having a pleasant two-way conversation with the girl’s oldest sister! It was just always surprising to be so directly faced with the fact that her mother frequently had real conversations with her other children. The 10-year-old girl couldn’t imagine having such a conversation herself since she had never known such a thing to happen.
An 11-year-old girl went to church regularly and routinely with her family. Her family having come from an unusually religious and sheltered background, they looked and seemed different from the other people at church. The girl was frequently pushed into company with other girls her own age, regardless of personal choice. The girl cringed as those other girls laughed at her differences and ignored them as she stood next to them.
An 11-year-old girl’s older sisters were sent off to youth church camp during the summers by her parents. As the time came for the 11-year-old girl to perhaps also go to camp, the mother asked if she really wanted to go because she had no idea where she would get the money to send her. What was the girl to do but to say no, it’s okay, she didn’t really want to go anyway?
Until the age of 12, the girl was home-schooled or sent to parochial school, where either her mother or other church members acted as teachers, alongside her brothers and sisters. At 12, the girl and her younger brother were sent outside the home and church into the public school system. There was no discussion with the girl, this just happened. As the girl boarded the school bus on the first day, it became apparent that the girl’s mother had talked to the bus driver in advance. The bus driver spoke quietly to her own daughter, also about 12 years of age, asking her to keep an eye on the new girl to be sure she’d be okay. That girl moaned and groaned acting as though that would be the most humiliating thing she could ever have asked. Ouch. As the girl moved through the next few years, there were many moments of humiliation in this unfamiliar environment, but the girl grew hard. And thrived.
The 13-year-old girl was routinely sent outdoors to do barn chores (feed the chickens, milk the goats) while her three older sisters worked together in the kitchen with mother to prepare family meals. While she often wondered what it would be like to be accepted into the close-knit group that was her family, she learned to enjoy and appreciate the quiet acceptance of the farm animals and the peace and joy to be found in the out of doors.
Dad taught the 16-year-old girl how to drive a stick shift on back roads after many trial and error stops and starts. He was complimentary about her ability to pick up the method and she began to drive the older used car he managed to buy for her use. She drove to school and part-time work as needed for a period of time. One day, she drove her mother to the grocery store when her father was otherwise occupied. When they were back home, the girl overheard her mother saying to her father, “she’s doing better with the shifting.” But no kind words to the girl. And how would she know since this was her first and only time in this car with the girl driving?
Mother was largely a stay-at-home mom, but she would periodically take on house cleaning jobs for a little extra income. The older girls often helped out with this job whenever they were available. The 16-year-old girl had never done this but one day nobody else was available and a client called asking for a cleaning, so Mom sent the girl to clean the house. There was no walk-through or direction on what or how. The girl had never cleaned a house before…her experience was only in piece parts as directed….run the vacuum…fold the laundry…dry the dishes. When the client returned, she talked to Mom and Mom subsequently had a chat with the girl to let her know that she had apparently put the kitchen rugs down before the floor was completely dry from mopping. The girl was never asked to clean again.
The 17-year-old girl had a close friend at school who sometimes welcomed her overnight into her own home for slumber parties. The girl had admired her friend’s house plant, a spider plant that had grown wildly over an entire side of her bedroom. As a result, the friend gave the girl a cutting from the plant to take home and enjoy. One morning, the girl awoke to find that her mother had taken the plant, transplanted it into a large planter and had hung it in front of the family’s living room window as her own. Ouch.
As a result of her academic success, the 18-year-old girl was elected Valedictorian of her high school class. As such, she was required to make a speech in front of the entire graduation audience. There was no one person on the home front that made any comment, congratulatory or otherwise. The speech happened, it was terrifying, it was over, and that was the end of that.
With no real emotional connection to anyone or anything, the 18-year-old girl expressed a desire to stop going to church. There was an altercation and Dad smacked her across the face, knocking her down. The girl grew harder.
One morning when it was time to leave for church, the 18-year-old girl said she wasn’t feeling well and the family agreed to leave her at home alone. While they were gone, the girl packed her basic belongings into her worn and used car and left home. She left a note on the refrigerator asking that nobody try to find her.
The 19-year-old girl’s oldest sister left a note on the girl’s car at work, asking that she come visit. She did, and the sister convinced the girl to keep the family intact by coming home to visit. Mom and Dad were beside themselves, seemingly acting like a favorite toy had been taken away. The girl agreed to visit as family gatherings were organized.
The 20-year-old girl had continued regular payments on the used car her Dad had purchased on her behalf when she was 16 years old. When her accounting records showed she had paid the agreed upon amount, she mentioned it to her mother. Her mother immediately stated there were several thousand still to pay since the girl hadn’t covered everything yet. The girl quietly agreed and continued to pay until the mother was satisfied.
The 21-year-old girl fell in love and planned a church wedding. Mom conveyed to the girl that Dad did not approve of the wedding and would not be willing to walk her down the aisle to give her away. The girl’s brother-in-law-to-be gave her away instead. Her mother and father refused to be involved with the wedding in any way.
Over the ensuing years, Mom periodically made reference to the fact that she felt the girl had left home too soon – Mom didn’t have a chance to bond or teach her everything she wanted to before she was gone. The girl has only a few questions. Had you bonded with your other daughters by the time they were 18 years old? How many years are necessary to ensure your children know you love and value them as human beings and members of the family? Really? I left home too soon? I beg to differ – when I left, I began to live.
The driving force for the girl’s adult life became learning and education. She earned two college degrees summa cum laude while simultaneously holding down a full-time job and supporting a family. The educated girl began to become more confident in the world, without the close support of her birth family. Her husband’s family became her support system.
Professional therapy combined with my own inner soul searching has convinced me that there doesn’t always have to be a particular reason for one child being singled out from the rest. Sometimes Mom is just tired and worn down. This one timid, withdrawn, uninspired child is just too much to deal with on top of all of the rest. The child is left to survive by whatever means possible and I have, indeed, survived. I hear my siblings talk about their beloved parents that have always been there for them and their children. I, too, love and honor those parents. But I wonder where those parents were when I needed them the most….in the beginning. I vow to protect that little girl for life, against all odds. It is not possible for me to forget, although I pray that I have forgiven. The girl will not knowingly be put into harm’s way again.
Life is good. Life is love.