When I was four, my dad told me that he was going to take me to school. I was so excited. Stacey hadn’t been born yet, so I was a lonely child left at Grandma’s house every day. I wanted to go to school so badly. I wanted to play with other children. At the time, my best friend was Miss Julie on Romper Room.
He tricked me. He took me to church. He took me to a “school where you learn about God.” That would have been fine if he had taken me to a church that had special classes for children while the adults had their own, but he had decided that we were going to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instead of playing with children my age, I had to sit quietly while the adults discussed the philosophical ramifications of refusing blood donations. I remember thinking, “When are they going to stop praying to God?”
Becoming Jehovah Witnesses required a lot of changes in our lives. Mom stopped smoking. I personally think that she did it because she was pregnant with Stacey, but Dad saw it as a sign of her newfound faith. We had to go to church three times a week. We had to go “out in service,” which meant that we knocked on doors and talked to strangers about “the Truth.” Most importantly, it meant that I would never live my ultimate fantasy, which was to appear on Romper Room and actually meet Miss Julie in person. You see, on Romper Room, they all pledged allegiance to the flag and little girls who are Jehovah Witnesses aren’t allowed to do that. My heart was broken.
By the time I was in fourth grade, I knew the routine. Every day when the pledge was said, I stood respectfully with my hands at my side. Every time there was a major holiday celebrated at the school, my dad kept me home. Art projects were pretty much off limits to me: handprint turkeys, Santa, cheesecloth ghosts, and those frilly paper hearts were forbidden. I was used to it by fourth grade. After four years, it had become routine.
The Demon of Perfection haunted me even then. Academy Park Elementary School had these little certificates that they gave to students who did well. There were High Achievement certificates for children who had good grades and there were 100% Attendance certificates for children who had good attendance. By fourth grade, I noticed that I had never received a 100% Attendance. It became vitally important for me to get a 100% Attendance certificate. I knew what I needed to do: I needed to go to school every day, even when they were celebrating holidays.
Of course, my dad was just fine with this. If I said that I wanted to go to school, even on Halloween and Christmas, then he wouldn’t have to find a sitter. It was easier for him and he got to believe that his daughter was strong enough in her faith in the Truth that she could withstand even the sirens of the holidays on her own. I embarked on the second term, determined to win the 100% Attendance award.