Friday, January 17, 2014
I Survived Catholic School and My Parent's Religion
I love this sign. I was educated by nuns in full habit. No, they didn't get the rulers out on us. Corporal punishment was outlawed in my state by that time. In some ways being part of a smaller private school was probably easier on a bookworm fat Aspie, but it's also another way I slid through the cracks in getting any of my neurological differences dealt with outside of being labeled "gifted" at the time and put in a "Great Books" program.
Today I am a born again Christian and no longer Catholic. I left that church when I was 18 years old, but I formed the majority of my childhood memories growing up in a colonial house in a well-heeled suburb next to a large metro city where my father worked. Our house was across the street from the Catholic church, school and convent, rectory, cemetery and my best friend's home. Her father was the church's janitor. I escaped home as much as I could hanging out at all of the above for as many hours as possible between the ages of 7-13 when we moved away. To be frank, my home away from home even with my present major theological differences, probably saved me from a worse fate as I had somewhere to "belong" to and be a part of as a child.
I and my siblings were all born only one year apart from each other. All of us wore uniforms to school-in this case blue checkered plaid, Peter Pan Collars, saddle shoes and in my brother's case, blue pants and button down blue shirt. Some of our nuns were nice. With names like Sister Mary Helen, Margaret, Ann, and other variations. My fifth grade teacher happened to be my favorite as I became the teacher's pet and stayed after school to help her with grading papers and cleaning the classroom. She told me all the time how smart I was and what a good artist I had become. Many of our nuns were sincere and truly wanted to "help change the world for the better" and desired to impart moral lessons.
Of course we had the mean nuns too including one who taught math and science and some days would just sit and stare at us, on a day she wasn't in the mood to lecture the class. I wonder today if she was forced into teaching via her order, and showing us her unhappiness. I don't think the nun's life ended up being a happy one for all of them. Many taught for little pay and reward and probably ended up leaving the order with the passage of years.
From time to time I'd visit the convent behind the school when getting the rare volunteer task. The nuns lived very simply with a basement recreation room with a piano, concrete floor and folding chairs, and little bedrooms with a twin bed, crucifix and small nightstand next to the bed. I remember thinking there'd be no way I'd join a convent. While 8-10 women had a little bedroom each to call their own and a very austerely furnished house--just with the necessities-- the priests lived in a nice home across the way, with real art on the walls and golden candlesticks on the mantel and a housekeeper. These differences did not escape my youthful notice.
We had one young handsome priest who was very nice to all of us, and he was considered the "cool" priest who talked to all the kids and helped them with their problems. Years later, I would find out he had left the priesthood to get married. Probably all the junior high girls who swooned over him probably wouldn't have been surprised.
My life at the time was full of Catholic rituals and rites. This included Mass twice a week, Soup Suppers, Confession past second grade, Confirmation Class and retreats. The Retreats were fun because they were an excuse to get out of the house for a few days, but one always ended up with priests asking us weird questions and giving us personality tests and endless hours of praying, rosaries and even more boring Masses.
My best friend's house was next to the convent, an older house, it was part of the church complex and given to her family since they were refugees from Vietnam. The family was given jobs upon their arrival which basically was cleaning and maintenance of the church and school. All 5 kids in the family joined in on these tasks, so as I went across the street to play in the wide parking lots, or to spend time after school with my teachers, I would run into Loan and her family. My brother would befriend her brothers and we all hung out together. Her family had braved being shot at in a helicopter during the fall of Saigon, and escaped with their lives to come to America. Loan who was in third grade with me barely knew English when her family first came, but learned it fast. I spent years immersed in Vietnamese culture, hearing her parents speak the language to the children and each other, Asian music, decor, sharing meals such as spicy meat dishes and rice and watching Jerry Lewis movies. I still remember the day I tried talking her dad out of turning two live ducks in a cage into dinner.
Many hours were spent playing kickball or 4-square in the huge expansive parking lots between all the buildings and exploring the cemetery with it's tombstones dated back to the 1800s. Other times, I would accompany Loan and her siblings as they were given cleaning jobs to do and her parents cleaned and polished the school's long green hallways or polished the pews and altar in church.
I was a young Aspie, shy, and mocked for being fat all the time, but with Loan and her brothers I shared a special friendship. This brought a lot of joy to my young life, and leaving on the very day of my thirteenth birthday when my family moved away was especially painful. I would write letters to Loan many of which I still have, until I was into college but we would lose contact with each other when I lost her address by accident and she had just moved due to a marriage. Years later I would have contact with one of her brothers but not be able to regain it with her.
While some of my teachers were happy enough over my decent grades and high test scores, others could not stand my inquisitive nature and found it off-putting. I often got sent to the principal's office for asking the religion teacher too many questions. I would not arrive at my later adult born again Christian faith until after years of "free-thought" and religious exploration and study and at the age of 10, I was a budding atheist. Able to read adult books by the age of 6, I read a Thomas Paine essay in a history book, and grilled the nuns with my questions. They didn't take to this too well. There was one time I was marched off to the rectory for the parish priest to yell at me, for telling a nun in religion class that Purgatory made no sense. I don't think the nuns knew what to do with a kid who was reading the Bible and books like "Late Great Planet Earth" from the library--thus knowing what the evangelicals were up to and other books on everything from evolution to famous atheists coming up with so many questions. Other times I got sent to the principal for a few fights or sassing back to teachers. However life was easier with the teachers by far then it was at home.....
Have any of you seen that video, "Pissed Catholic Mother" on Youtube? That one has had nearly 2 million views. I was going to embed it here but there's so many f-bombs I decided not too. The video is of a son saying he is an atheist and saying he doesn't believe in God, and his Catholic mother exploding and basically using every cuss word in the book and she threatens to take all his Christmas presents away. Chances are that is a narcissistic mother.
I saw this video years ago, this is about how well things went for me when I asked any religious questions or dared to say I did not believe in something. I feel sorry for the son in the picture. By the way if I had children, even being a born again Christian, my methods would not include religion via force or coercion.
The weirdness continued even to last year when I wrote about how we were forbidden to talk about anything "religious" at a family dinner I choose not to go to last year. Talk about Controlled minds. As a 40 something adult this crossed the lines of beyond offensive. Just so you know, I witnessed to each adult relative once or twice, and left it at that, and that was at least 10 years ago.
My narcissistic parents did use religion as a "control mechanism". and for "showtime". False pious moments cropped up between screaming and cuss out sessions. In other words, one could get slapped for forgetting to do the "Sign of the Cross" at dinner just after hearing your Dad scream four letter words in the garage over your brother misplacing a wrench. If one accidentally ate a bologna instead of an egg salad sandwich on a Friday during Lent, all hell would break loose. Hypocrisy doesn't describe one's resultant emotions over that disconnect.
Growing up I was told I would be Catholic and nothing else. For them, I think it was mostly a social and cultural thing but they never missed a Mass. Even today my "golden child" Narcissistic sister who always got mad whenever I tried to talk about the Bible or God, never misses a Mass either. Her kids go to Catholic school too. I came from the kind of family where some relatives banned coming to my wedding because I was married to a lapsed Lutheran. Yes there are still some families like that though things have changed somewhat in the last 20 years.
I still remember the day my mother found out I left the Catholic church to attend another church when I was 18 and out of the house at college, and she started literally screaming "Heathen!" at me as she followed me through the house. I was trying to get away and run upstairs to my bedroom. This word came out over and over as she told me what a horrible person I was. She ripped up the church bulletin I had left in my bag she had just nosed through without my permission and told me how I was on the slippery slope to hell for being a Catholic "heretic". Ah rather ironic. The Stasi couldn't beat my mother in the control she expected to hold over your heart, mind AND religion. I am the only person in my family who ever has dared to leave the Catholic church "publicly", even those who married someone in another Christian denomination, still participate in all the family church events. My mother required her now husband to join the Catholic church before marrying him. A Methodist for at least 50 years prior, he lined right up. This was history repeating itself as my father left the Orthodox church to join the Roman Catholic church with my mother as well when he married her.
I suppose my mother didn't want to explain to her best friend from school who was a high level nun who worked with bishops but years later left the convent or to her cousin priest about her daughter, but that sort of reaction was over the top. You can just imagine what the reaction was when I tried to ask her about God or heaven, or anything of a spiritual nature when I was a younger child. I learned fast not to talk about those things with my parents. They simply were not interested and would get angry. The displays of piety were just displays.
One weird moment was having my father when we were both in the car driving somewhere tell me when I was around 19, and yelling at me for not being Catholic for the 50th time, that he didn't really believe in Catholicism either, but did it for "social reasons", and that I should too for the "peace". Pleasing my mother came first to that man, including his own and ignoring his children's beliefs, thoughts, desires and needs.
I wasn't that fat as a child by today's standards, but back in the late 1970's I was a fat kid, and teased for it constantly. This is one sad thing I remember about school, which made me cling to the good teachers a bit, and it affected my self esteem to be called "Two Ton Weight" or "Earth Quake" or "Fatty Fatty Two By Four". I got a nickname too which was based on my last name, and I knew my then, I was "very different" but not sure why. Teachers would send home letters to my parents who ignored them about my difficulty getting along with peers and my being isolated as a result. Some of the nuns kept stricter classrooms but others didn't as well as some low paid lay teachers who let the kids run wild. Aspergers gave me the talent to read multiple books, and remember things making school an easy enterprise from that angle, but the social part of it was bad. I had my Vietnamese friends and one public school friend who was quiet and shy and liked to draw who lived down my street, and not many others.
Catholic school was very different from what public school would have been. In some ways, it was better to be in a small, private school and in other ways worse. I was fortunate to have some friends and teachers who were kind to me and there for me. So I could say "Yes I survived Catholic school and my parents too!"
Update 2019: I am no longer a Christian and have deconverted and returned to the Unitarian Universalist church. I think now about religious things and how much spiritual abuse there is when parents impose a religion on children.