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I Was Raised By A Doomsday Prepper And The Coronavirus Has Me Rethinking My Childhood

By Olivia Christensen

I grew up on an idyllic farm tucked into the rolling hills of Missouri. We had an acre garden and a big red barn, but underneath the adorable exterior we showed our friends ― the milk cow named Ned, the orchards dripping with peaches, the cupboards lined with mason jars topped with gingham skirts and filled with produce ― lurked a chilling motivation. We were preparing to flee to the woods at any given moment. The end of the world was near.

While other kids boarded school busses, dodged balls in PE, and navigated cafeteria politics, I sat at the dining room table in our rooster-themed kitchen and listened to my mother interpret the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Great Tribulation (the season of doomsday predicted by the Book of Revelation, for those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the phrase) was the centerpiece of my homeschool education. My mother’s conspiracies ranged from the earliest form of the Mark of the Beast (computer chips she believed would be forcefully embedded into our flesh) to the underground child protective services (CPS) operation designed to steal our freedom and usher in a New World Order.

I grew up neither believing nor disbelieving my mother’s doomsday predictions. I had some doubts, but those were likely due to my habit of telling her made-up spiritual prophecies I pretended to receive, and she never failed to believe me, which made me doubt her ability to discern the other signs of the times she constantly recited. But I wasn’t immune to my mother’s scary stories.

There were nights I couldn’t sleep for fear of missing the rapture. When concerned adults at church or the doctor’s office would ask if everything was okay at home, panic would shoot through me, my go-bag was miles away at our house under my bed, and this was it. CPS would be here any minute to take me away.

To please my mother, I would often lie about receiving spiritual prophecies, and she never failed to believe me, which made me doubt her ability to discern the other signs of the times she constantly recited. But I wasn’t immune to my mother’s scary stories.

In my late 20s, my mother went on an empty-nester cleaning spree that ended with most of my childhood artifacts becoming my problem. As I sorted through a box full of Precious Moments’ piggy banks and dusty stuffed animals, I found a notebook full of my childhood doodles. The pages were full of hand-drawn blueprints for underground bunkers.

***

A recurring peg on which my mother hung her terrifying predictions was a paraphrased verse from the Bible: “In the last days, there will be famine, plague, and earthquakes.” But the worst thing, my mother assured us, would not be the death and destruction of everyone and everything we loved, the worst thing, was to be caught unprepared.

One morning, at the start of our daily Bible study, my mother dropped a half-used box of dryer sheets on the dining room table, and announced, “The Lord has told me something.”

She had our attention.

“I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell anyone this, and I need you to promise not to tell your friends. I don’t want to scare anyone, but you’re my kids and we must all prepare.”

My sisters and I murmured promises of silence and held our breaths as we waited for her to tell us this grown-up, exclusive secret.

“As I was doing laundry today, the Lord spoke to me. When we reach the very last dryer sheet, The Great Tribulation will begin.”

***

People have used the word “surreal” over and over to describe
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