I asked for a few things this week. For someone to help me out. For space. For not just consideration but prioritization of my feelings on a particular matter. I used to be afraid I’d get told no, or made to feel guilt. But I don’t anymore. I don’t need to friend hoard. It’s good when people can decline and leave. It means I don’t have a lopsided relationship there. It’s actually positive to pinpoint and distance from people who consider me as being somehow theirs but not themselves as somehow mine. It leaves room for new friends, new growth, new life.
It has taken years for that to seem like a smart decision and not a form of betrayal, abandonment, a tempting of fate, a reopening of a formative wound.
But I cannot be abandoned because I am a grown woman, independent, capable. Abandonment is for the vulnerable, which I once was, and maybe in other circumstances I could be again. It is a fear and reality I will need to confront in all kinds of layers, on my journey through this human life as someone who is both herself and part of a group.
Sorting out the difference between codependence, independence, interdependence, shunning, and abandonment is hard for most people I think. We don’t have a road map. Each of us will draw lines differently. But for Quiverfull daughters, it is so fraught. What we were taught and what we’ve experienced and what we want and what we imagine we can have are often items that seem more like four distinct circles than some sort of Venn diagram.
The whiplash from all of it can be quite intense and crazy-making. Never quite sure of the accuracy, the gaslighting, or if maybe you’re just lying to yourself.
I have tried my best to sail these rough seas, center my own experience, hold fast to it, anchor it like a boat under the stars, hoping I’m navigating effectively, hitching my wagon to a bright one.
But the truth is I’ve had to change course a lot.
I’ve given up on being the person who is correct, right, always on mark. I hope that gets me farther away from fundamentalist black and white thinking, and therefore from Quiverfull. But the earth is round and my journey will take me in laps, spirals maybe. Gotta settle in for an interesting ride.
I see the Turpin family abuse case being rolled out and I see the media feeding frenzy. I am familiar with this stuff by now, know myself enough to keep a reasonable distance between myself and the triggering details. But some details trigger anyway. Often they are not what you’d expect.
The talk of their diaries made me think of my own, a box full that I still have, half of my life story that I still don’t know what to do with, still clumsily try to integrate with the other half, the latest chapter.
I think about all those girls, some my age, pulled out of that house. Did the police give them cheeseburgers? Did they get baths and a clean bed? Did they even want to sleep in one? What might it be like for them to step out into a yard or a park, go for a walk in a neighborhood? What will their stories of this be? Can some tell stories at all?
Will all of life be so beautiful now, like how I always feel lowkey rich and successful, because I knew such poverty and denigration? Is that a crazy perspective, a crazy question? Will the loss of opportunity simultaneously weigh on them more the better they do, the more they grow (or find that can’t)? Will they cry about it more than I have? Will they laugh more?
Am I doing this right?
When do we stop being Quiverfull daughters? Was it when they were pulled out of that house, rescued by the 17yr old who got the authorities to listen, or when I was 17, left all my babies behind, took off by myself, three years after I’d called the cops and they’d seen too normal of a family, refused to listen. Nobody was handcuffed, so nobody got handcuffed. The irony.
Have I stopped being a Quiverfull daughter, a survivor of all this? Is this moment yet to come or has it already happened? Am I there yet? Is it possible?
Family life is complex, but it couldn’t not be, with all my 9 siblings wanting or expressing different things or silently hoping you notice and agree. Even without Quiverfull chaos would be the case. But without Quiverfull, nobody in their right mind would have had us 10 kids. And nobody in Quiverfull is in their right mind.
Am I in my right mind yet?
I have some good friends and I consider myself lucky. I have had others a bit more fairweather, more concerned with utility. It has not always been easy for me to tell the difference, or to not pick shitty ones because it feels like home. Because striving for love and respect instead of just having it is what I know best. I’ve often either thought no one was to be trusted or everyone could be, because fuck it, why not.
I am trying a slower way now, seeing if people are there for me before I give them more than a sliver of myself. So far it’s worked out decent, but also made me rethink the past, when I threw my whole self in, waited for results. Sometimes they were amazing. Often they weren’t pretty. Occasionally they were both.
I had a friend give me a heads up that Rachel Coleman was calling herself “founder” of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) in a media piece again, this time in the Washington Post. Another friend reached out to the paper for a correction on my behalf, so I didn’t have to personally do it this time, and they agreed to comply. I did not have to read the article. I do not have to prove myself. I did not have to go hit refresh to see if they have taken my erasure into account and redeemed me.
I did not have to feel like I was fighting for basics, like I used to, even though I guess the fight is still there, may always be there, may just be life.
Am I no longer Quiverfull because I am not afraid of it or looking for it or loudly spearheading advocacy for the end of it? Because I am not looking for a fight or some other shoe to drop anymore. I am no Imelda Marcos, but I have all the shoes I need and I want to enjoy them. So I don’t go handing them out to other survivors anymore, but I also don’t feel the impulse to beat people with them. Is that a betrayal of my roots or a realization of transcendence?
Do I focus on the stolen items and the apathy and excuses I see among most who know what went down, or the positive actions of my friends? How do I not to let my blood boil at the disrespect of it all, the betrayal that still bubbles up, while knowing that old habits die hard and it is hard to no longer be Quiverfull? How do I move on and fight for rights and have supportive words for the different kinds of messes people end up in?
You can come out and rebel and decide you believe in birth control and are an atheist and call yourself a feminist and even blog about it, yet still find it easy to write and send and make excuses for 13 page letters that you signed detailing what you saw as someone else’s sins so that you could blamelessly and shamelessly feel entitled to take their work, erase them, call it your own.
It’s hard to not be Quiverfull and do Quiverfull things if you’ve ever been Quiverfull. Old programming lies deep. Old lies about how the world works still influence your navigation. Old behaviors crop up.
The biggest lies we fielded, as I can see it, were about how love works, how family works, how friendships and relationships are. And those big lies were somehow the easiest to believe, to a child starved of love and attention, kept indoors and away from all the things. You become an adult that still knows that hunger, still is primed to act on it. Maybe some would describe it as narcissistic. Maybe sometimes it is. It can go different ways, how many, I’m still learning.
I try to unpack, give empathy to myself and to others. Generosity and letting go may be the opposite of Quiverfull, as much as I’ve found anyway. It will at least never leave you or anyone else shackled, starving in a homeschool where you are told the only knowledge is in your bible, when it is actually centered in your gut and your diary, your own extravagant desire to be free.
I see how trying not to be Quiverfull impacts my family. Education, career, money, adoption of things that were always called vices as an affirmation of life. I try not to be judgmental, or worried. I know we each have our own path out, beyond, with our own blind spots, own sets of baggage.
This week two siblings contacted me upset at something said by my Mom, who was also apparently upset. She had learned about the Turpin family from the Yahoo homepage, her go-to source for news and was seemingly triggered. But her unfortunate words to my sister were “I feel so empathetic towards those parents.” Later my sister unloaded on her, uncharacteristically screaming, telling her how she knew that this could easily have been us if life had been only slightly different, that she remembered and still carried it with her. My Mom said “well of course I had empathy for the children – I did not think it even needed to be said.” And my sister rightly told her “with how you raised us, yes it did.”
The other call I fielded was from a much younger sibling, a teen brother, the only one still living in Mom’s house. He’d gotten in an argument with her, had her then get exceedingly angry him for disrespect. His response to her saying those words to him was also anger, but his was offended she’d even compare our family to such a horrible and grotesque situation. He did not relate, did not feel it was at all warranted, but was understandably upset at her flipping out, then talking of kicking him out.
I had to tell him that I actually agreed with her on the part about us being like them. It had just been before he was born, which was two years after I’d been his age. I explained that her threatening to kick him out for having emotions besides joy and actions besides obedience were pure Quiverfull.
“When did you stop being Quiverfull?,” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“I don’t think I ever was,” he said.
When does an oil spill stop being an oil spill? What are the beginning and end points of the disaster? Is it when you plug the leak? Is it when you don’t use any more oil booms and the workers and bird-washing volunteers have all gone home? Is it after you’ve added chemicals to it and dropped it in globs to the bottom of the ocean, to be eaten by the shrimp you still can’t safely trawl for? Does it remain an oil spill when it flows miles and years downriver, far enough that it can only be picked up by scientists and frogs, no longer turning the marsh grass grayish or leaving an occasional hint of soap bubble sheen?
If you had never called it a disaster, would it even be a disaster at all? What would it be instead, if it had been characterized as an unfortunate accident, or just a thing that sometimes occurs, or a choice of sorts?
If it’s just how you lived, more or less unnoticed, until some outsider pronounced it a travesty, gave it a name, called the authorities, does that then taint even the most beautiful parts of your experience, your goals, turn it into a freak show? Was it a freak show already? Were you intent on living your best life under the circumstances? Were you deluded, naive?
How do you explain to people downriver who have never seen what this thing has done to you or others? What you know it does to everyone who comes in contact with it for more than a little while? How can you still stress the importance of it when they say “I invest in Shell oil for my pension” or “I need gas for my car?” or “I know this great homeschooling family” or “if you’re no longer interested in working as an advocate and you know what you did, why do you care?”
What if they go boating on a bayou you know and say that it all looks pretty, with its golden grass and brackish water, and that you must be paranoid and imagining it, but only because they did not understand what it could be like otherwise? What if they say it looks like an oily shithole and deserves to be forgotten?
How do you steel yourself for these jarring reactions? How do you not insult them if you explain that they do not know about the fish, the birds, the life that should have been able to flourish there, undisrupted?
How do you point out holes in other people when there may be wounds and gaps of your own?
How do you remain calm?
How could you possibly say “I am not complicit. I have never been abusive. I am so much better than this!” when you know firsthand that the easiest thing is to repeat what you know and have been told. Like any exited cult member or long term abuse survivor you already have a list of silences and actions that sometimes keep you up at night, a survivor’s guilt, a nagging suspicion that there will be other items to add to this list that probably won’t occur to you until years later. What is the appropriate course of action when you have exposed enough to suspect that many bits of malicious social code remain planted inside you and in the other people who came out of what you did?
What do you do when you see someone perpetuating behavior that you know is wounding and hurtful, reminds you of traumas you know quite well? Do you try your hand at confrontation, raising awareness, risk feeling like Cassandra or worse, or decide to keep your head down and plod on, risk being complicit, ineffectual, quiet as a mouse?
Were the Turpins not Quiverfull because they got into Disney and Elvis? Were the Duggars not Quiverfull because they said “no” when asked on tv? Was my family no longer Quiverfull because halfway through the births every two years my parents stopped going to church, capitulated to grandparent demands for public school, and then when all the kids but me were still home, got a divorce?
Is my Mom still Quiverfull if none of her children share her beliefs and she is left claiming to an unreceptive but large audience of her own offspring that it is possible to “have as many children as God wants to give you” and still have a good family life?
Are we not Quiverfull because the shared sibling response was “Bullshit! Stop having sex and see how much God has to do with it. I’ll never have or raise my children like you!”?
There are so many choices that might be made more easy if I just knew when exactly one stopped being Quiverfull. And how it started. Where the perameters are. What bench marks am I even working with.
How do I know what I am without it?
How do I know when I’m near it, or away, or safe, or in danger?
How might I know when it’s run its course?
Here’s a picture of me, when I was cute and tiny, wearing pants, and had a fat lip, before I had any of my ten siblings. I’m not sure if I was Quiverfull yet, by definition. But the look in my eyes and the vague memory about my lip makes me think that I probably was. That it was just the beginning.