If you missed the last post, you can catch up here.
Shane, Laurel, and I packed our belongings into our fancy matching new luggage from the Vallard’s instead of our traditional black garbage bags of old. We loaded into the car with our case-worker and were delivered straight to the front porch of Lisa and Stan Statton in Clinton, Illinois. Our new parents were in their fifties and had two early-thirties biological children, Alison and Jared, and had recently adopted a teenage Hispanic boy, Jon.
Things started normally enough – we unpacked, settled into our rooms, and over that summer, began lining our bookshelves with course books for our new curriculum as we were soon to start being homeschooled.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it didn’t take long for structure and routine to find its way into our lives. We had strict bed times and strict wake-up times with Shane and Laurel going to bed at 8:00 PM and I went to bed at 7:15 PM. They got up at 6:30 and I got up at 6:45. We were not allowed to leave our rooms any time between those hours, even to go to the bathroom. Once we were up for the day, we were to ask to use the bathroom any time we had to go. Class started at 7:30 AM and grading began for the assignments from the day before. Our homework review lasted until about 8, and we had until 11:30 AM to learn our new material and complete our new assignments. Once the clock struck 11:31, we weren’t allowed to touch our books again until grading began the next morning. I think to most kids this would sound ideal, but as the years went on, the homework got more difficult and without guidance, it became harder and harder to teach ourselves.
Eventually, we were so overwhelmed, we felt we had no choice but to cheat. We would take turns sneaking out of our rooms once the house went to bed and steal the answer keys from Lisa ‘s study. We would complete the areas we didn’t understand, sometimes taking 4+ hours in the middle of the night to do so. I remember one night sneaking out of the study from returning all the books just as Lisa ‘s feet hit the hardwood floor as she got up for the day.
You may be wondering why kids would care so much about getting their homework done quickly/correctly that they would run on 4 hours of sleep a night. Lisa considered anything less than an 80% a failure and she met failure with incrementally cruel punishment. I’m not positive which came first, the pain training, the sitting, or the dietary alterations, but oh man, they were awful.
Stan was supposedly in some branch of the military, so he believed that exercise was the key to any behavioral missteps. If you got poor grades, lied, or stepped out of line in any way, you might be met with 15 minutes straight of jumping-jacks, 30 minutes of sit-ups, or any number of push ups. This was called “pain training” and was 100% supervised. That’s part of what made it so terrible. You couldn’t rest, you couldn’t drink water, you didn’t know how much time had passed – you kept moving as they glared at you from the recliner over the top of today’s paper. If you were weak and faltered, you’d start over. This continued until you met your punishment to their satisfaction. Eventually they added phrases for you to recite over and over for the duration of your repetitions. You would say, “I will do Bible, I will do Math, I will do Social Studies” or something along those lines if you were in trouble for poor grades. Sometimes they’d spray you in the face with water if you misspoke or missed your count. This picture was taken during one of my pain training sessions. I had been doing jumping jacks with Lisa standing in front of me, spraying me in the face with water and laughing about how stupid I looked. She said she needed to take a picture of the moment to capture how ridiculous I was. On more than one occasion, they would get close to my face with the spray bottle, and once smashed it into my mouth, making my gums bleed. No matter what happened, you weren’t allowed to miss a beat or else it would all start over.
During her jumping jacks one day, Laurel passed out and fell into the closet behind her. In a snap, Lisa was standing over her, pulling her to her feet and berating her for “pretending” to faint. Tears streaming down her face, Laurel’s reps started over.
Another punishment was sitting. You would sit on the stairs, or on the hardwood floor in the living room for hours at a time. You would be allowed to get up only to go to the bathroom or to eat, and then it was right back to it. Activity in the house would go on around you, and sometimes this would last for days. Lisa thought one day that Shane wasn’t too discouraged by his sitting, so she made him put a towel over his head as he sat in the living room while she had Alison and her husband Henry over to visit. Can you imagine how humiliating that would be?
Here’s another picture she took to show how pathetic I looked.
The third form of punishment in our house had to do with our food. For all of our subjects that received less than an 80% for the day (with no educational guidance, remember), we had to eat a meal of “gloop”. Three failing grades was a whole day of eating gloop. This punishment didn’t only come from school – it came from any disappointing behavior, for example going to the bathroom without asking permission. As you can imagine, our tally grew quickly. I remember one day I had 2 weeks of gloop ahead of me.
Once you were in trouble there, it was so hard to get out. Gloop was a hot mess of whatever nasty groceries Lisa picked up that week. Macaroni noodles and cream of mushroom soup were staples to every gallon of the concoction, but sometimes it would have tuna, sometimes pickled herring. It might have spinach, artichokes, mayonnaise, pickles, corn, green beans, you genuinely had no way of knowing. One rule for the cooking process was that while the kid deemed to cook was moving about the kitchen, the other two were close by doing pain training. It was kind of funny when we were mad at each other and would take our time stirring in the ingredients so the other two had to suffer that much longer. 😈😈😈
We had 15 minutes to eat two ladles full and a glass of milk, and if we had any bit left over, Lisa would add 5 minutes to the timer and heap another spoonful on our plates. This went on until the plate was clean. Gloop was served cold, and it was served until it was gone. If you were in trouble for 2 weeks, and not again for another month, you would eat the gloop from a month ago, until it was gone. If it had mold, you ate around it. If it had bugs in it, you pushed those aside and ate on.
Eventually, Lisa came to believe that the gloop wasn’t as effective as it had once been, and she began withholding food all together. So instead of tallying gloop meals on the fridge, we were tallying how many meals we would miss. Sometimes you’d be fasting for days, so whoever was in trouble would take turns sneaking out in the middle of the night to steal food from the fridge for herself and the others. You had to be strategic about the way you took food though, because if they noticed, there would be hell to pay.
Here’s a picture of me at my birthday breakfast one year – notice how skinny my arms had gotten by this point.
We weren’t allowed much social interaction, but we did go to Sunday School. My teacher told us later that she knew things weren’t right in our house, but never had proof. I would come to class with a back-pack full of bricks and absolutely LOSE my SHIT if she tried to take it off. “My mom says I need to wear this to feel the weight of my sins,” I told her nervously.
No one can say they weren’t creative.
Above: Lisa and our dog, Pugsy.
Below: Stan and one of the babies he fostered while we were with them, and me after one of Lisa ‘s haircuts.
To be continued…