I don’t know precisely why all of this is coming up now, or why I feel the need to share it, but I am writing it down nonetheless.  I think it is the result of some new friends I’ve made and some books I’m currently reading. I’ve been thinking about my childhood.

I was raised on Creedence Clearwater Revival and Elvis and Johnny Cash. My dad loved to sing “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.”  I had records of The Chipmunks Go To Hollywood, and Urban Chipmunk.  We played the Beach Boys over and over again.

As a small child, I went to the beach and the pool in two-piece and one-piece swim suits.  For a long time, my only neighborhood playmates were boys and we swam together and played together, relatively unsupervised (stay withing whistling distance, be home before dark, don’t play in the yards of people you’re not playing with), with no major incidents.

When I transferrd to an evangelical private school during my second semester of kindergarten,  I was faced with a whole new set of rules that taught me quickly to live a compartmentalized double life.  Let me back up a bit, give you a little more context.

My parents were unimpressed with the public elementary school in our district.  We were not an overly religious family.  My father was not a regular church attender, my mother moreso.  They were conservative and strict but not – at least to my four year old self- overbearingly so.  My dad in particular wanted a more rigorous academic curriculum where I would learn strong math skills.  This private school was the only real option, and I don’t think my parents realized the level of indoctrination I would face.

And that began my elementary school education in evangelical schools, save one semester of fourth grade. Here’s what I learned.

At school, I learned that “rock music affects every beat of your heart,” so there I kept quiet about Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Righteous Brothers and the J. Geils Band, and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (that surely would have been a one-way ticket to hell) and the country music that played in our car radios and home stereos.   I learned that four-year-olds- all kids, even tiny babies who can’t do anything except lay around, are born so inherently evil that if something happened and they died, they wouldn’t go to heaven unless they had accepted Jesus.  And although a part of me wondered what a four year old could ever do that would be THAT bad, it was terrifying.

I learned that the only appropriate attire for girls is dresses. And that meant restricting climbing on the playground equipment lest your business be seen.

I learned that you should always be quiet- in class (yes, of course), in lines, in cafeterias, in bathrooms, in hallways.  And that it was a privilege to be a line or hall monitor, to tattle on other students, who didn’t adhere to the code of conduct. Like the Inquisitorial Squad in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I didn’t see the disconnect then. My own parents taught me  not to be a tattle-tale, yet it was a coveted position in elementary school.

Academically, I did learn to read at age 4 and had strong math skills.  I learned basic science alongside creationism.  And bible lesson after bible lesson.  I learned that  “O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.”  I learned that god was always, always watching so be careful of what our eyes saw, or ears heard… you get the picture. I learned that in elementary school, I was in an ARMY!  I was being primed to fight!

In fourth grade we moved and I started a new evangelical school. I continued to learn.  I learned that appropriate reading for fourth grade students were stories in our bible class about snakes eating baby chicks – something about the mother trying to protect them but the farmer forcing a bad situation that caused the chicks to be eaten and the snake coiled up like a hose inside the barn.  I can’t recall what this was even attempting to teach us, but I know that even now I look warily at a folded hose before I go near it.  I also learned about sacrifice- a mother duck or chicken (what did these people have against our feathered friends?) sat on top of her hatchlings and burned to death protecting them from a fire.  I think this was supposed to relate to Jesus’ sacrifice to save us from (literally, in this story) burning to death.

I learned what baptist catechism was, and the glories of rote memorization.  You believed it because you memorized it.

Who made you? God made me.

What else did God make? God made me and all things.

Those are the only two I remember, but I also remember my dad being outraged that we were being forced to memorize this indoctrination.

I learned that in my own home, I sometimes couldn’t listen to my records or normal radio stations when certain friends came over, because they were only allowed to listen to the local christian station.

In fifth grade- maybe sixth- I learned it was no longer appropriate to swim with boys.  I learned that I should not attend movies- maybe renting a G-rated film was OK, but what message would it be sending to be seen going into a movie theater?  And that when I went to the mall, I should really wear the same skirts and dresses  I would wear to school, although until high school, this wasn’t a requirement.  I learned that my dad was most certainly going to hell because he didn’t go to church, and that I was failing because I had not converted him. That’s a heavy burden to place on a child.

We moved again in the latter half of  sixth grade, and I began public school for the rest of my academic career. The affects of the indoctrination have long lingered. What’s weird to me is that I didn’t see the insidiousness of it for years. And now that I have been free of it for so long, I’m getting angry about it.  Angry at the indoctrination, and a bit angry at my parents for putting me in a situation where I had to hide part of who I was to meet other people’s expectations and arbitrary rules.  That has had a lasting impact on me, something that I am just now fully understanding and changing.