When we turned off the main road and began off roading through the woods I became worried. I was certain this couldn’t be right. We were on the way to see the place my dad’s new church in High Springs, FL had rented for us. The parsonage was unavailable until the current renters lease was up in about a month.
When we pulled up, I felt something in the pit of my stomach.
We parked next to an old Airstream camper. It wasn’t even in good enough shape to be called vintage.
We’d been following one of the church’s parishioners: Travis. When we arrived he quickly exited his car, approached us, and embarrassedly apologized for the state of the trailer. As we entered, I had to hold my breath because of the smell of mold. I just stared at the torn shower curtain just hanging.
My stomach was in knots at this point.
Thankfully, dad decided we would not be staying there. I assumed we would stay at the hotel for the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t be ideal, but I could handle that. My dad, in a moment brought on by frugality, insisted we could live in the church for the next month.
Stomach. Knots. But now the knots have evolved into unending pain.
First Church of the Nazarene in High Spring, Florida was a small rural church that, on a good Sunday, had maybe 15 people. The sanctuary looked like every other small Nazarene church built in the 50s–hardwood pews, a massive wood pulpit, the communion table and two rail alters on either side of the platform. There was a piano on one side of the platform and an organ on the other.
Just off of the main doors to the sanctuary was a hallway that led to the other parts of the church. There was a nursery, two Sunday school rooms, and a larger room that was used as a fellowship hall. There was an old stove and a refrigerator in the larger room. Someone from the church donated a small couch that we put into the fellowship hall to make it more homey. Another family donated some camping bedrolls we could use in one of the Sunday school rooms. In an attempt to appease my sister and me, my parents bought a small color TV and placed it atop an old piano that was in desperate need of a tuning. We officially moved into the church the weekend before I was to start 10th grade at the local high school the following Monday.
Santa Fe High School is a rural community high school that serves the cities of High Springs and Alachua in northern Florida. The parking lot was full of pick-up trucks; I’m almost positive many of those trucks had shotguns tucked behind the driver’s seat. There was a thriving ag department and on Friday nights the stadium was packed for the football game. As far as American high schools go, it was mostly harmless. However, for me, it was more trauma being piled on to my already existing trauma.
I was a weird 15 year old kid living out of a church, about to attend high school. We were bathing at church member’s houses. I was sleeping on the floor of a Sunday school room with my parents and my sister. I was already a fish out of water–a 3rd culture kid. I had no concept of what it meant to be an American teenager and definitely had no idea of what was cool and in fashion at Santa Fe High School. And the coup de grace was during the first week of us living in the church, the Gainesville Murders began.
By this point, my stomach was in constant pain, to the point that I was just drinking Mylanta and Kaopectate straight from the bottle. It didn’t do much to ease the pain, but my parents seemed to think it would help.
I would get off the school bus in front of the church, go into the “non-bedroom” Sunday school room and listen to my boom-box and do my homework. That was all I had–school. It was easy and I did well. I was able to just lose myself in my schoolwork.
The pain in my stomach was just my new norm.
Eventually, after about a month of living in the church, we were able to move into the parsonage, our personal items we had shipped from Brazil finally arrived, and some semblance of “normal” started to take hold (though it was far from normal). My stomach started loosening up; I made good grades, but kept my head down. I did not make any friends or even acquaintances that year.
I do not recall my parents ever acknowledging these events as being impacting or traumatic. If it happened, I have forgotten. I was, and remain frustrated at how they couldn’t recognize or perhaps even consider that perhaps debilitating stomach pains aren’t the norm for typical 15-year-olds. Part of me wants to think my parents had no idea and were doing the best they could. However, the other part can’t help but wonder how they failed to see how traumatized and scarring this would be.
By itself, living in a church for a month might not seem like a big deal. However, moving to High Springs was the 11th move my family had made since I was born. Starting 10th grade at Santa Fe High School was going to be the 9th school I had attended. By this point in my life I had severe separation anxiety and attachment issues. I did not know how to make lasting friends. My therapist and I have talked about how there were two ways I could have gone: the way I went, internalizing everything or a complete rebellion, going against everything my parents stood for.
With time and therapy, talking this through with Amanda and realizing that this was anything but normal, I have worked through how these instances have impacted me, shaped me and how I’m working to undo the harm. I hadn’t thought about these feelings in quite some time; but the other night, I was lying awake in bed and all of the sudden those same feelings just washed over me—the anxiety of going to a new school, the stomach pains, scared of the unknown–except it wasn’t for me. It was for my daughter.
Ivy starts a new high school this Monday.
This is the first time she has gone to a school that is not a Montessori school. That statement reeks of privilege, I admit that, but for a student that has only known Montessori, the traditional high school setting presents new, often quite stressful experiences. She would go from having the freedoms that Montessori education offers to actually having to ask to use the bathroom, eating at certain times, following a strict schedule– pointless rules just for the sake of rules.
If that was the extent of it, I would be worried, but I would also know that ultimately she would acclimate and everything would be ok. Asher and Atticus both transitioned from Montessori to traditional with no problems–and I think Ivy would be no different.
But I am nervous for Ivy. I’m scared of something that might not be adaptable. While Lake Wales High School is a fantastic school, it is the same demographic of Santa Fe High School–small, rural, with a certain vein of conservative, close-minded homophobia that runs through it.
Let me be clear, Ivy is nervous, but nervous because she is unsure of how the whole “high school” thing operates. The fact that she is Trans, doesn’t even play into her anxiety. She is ready to curb-stomp anyone who treats her poorly. However, Amanda and I fear for her safety, as any parent should. When people running for office “say the quiet part out loud” of how they are upset that children are not allowed to bully Trans kids, simultaneously makes my blood boil but also makes me fear for my own child. My stomach hurts with the very thought of her having to figure out which bathrooms are the safest for her to use.
I want her to be respected and most important of all accepted for the person she is. I want her to make friends. I want her to like her teachers and for her teachers to see what a delightful person she is. My worry for her, triggered all of those same feelings of anxiety from 32 years ago.
You would think that parenting would get easier the older your kids get. There are things that are definlity easier, but it seems that the things that I worry about, as a parent, are much more stressful than when they were younger.
Ivy is starting a new school. Zain is moving to Ohio. Asher is at college in New York applying for summer internships. Atticus is graduating from high school soon and figuring out what his next steps are. I am so thankful for the young adults they are or are becoming, but god almighty, at least I have Xanax now and can stop chugging Mylanta.