Give me a good political debate. Or union grievance. Or a bunch of mothers arguing the merits of spanking. I can handle it. But purity, that’s tricky-woo. Everything with teenage daughters is tricky. However, Purity (combined with her awkward sister-in-arms, Modesty) well that’s a virtual fire swamp.
All moms eventually discover any discussion of “wholesomeness” involves walking a tight rope between frumpy prairie skirts and trampy hot pants while dangling over ill-defined quagmires of makeup and body piercing.
It’s not like we can sit down and have a rational conversation. “Honey. What message are you trying to send with that outfit? Because the billboard I’m reading shouts “Pretty Woman meets Count Chocula.”
Nope. Nothing straight forward permitted. “The Mom” has to be all “sensitive” and “mature” while our lovely daughters question our fashion sensibilities with a level of tact matched only by Howard Stern. Best as I can tell, teenagers are looking for something to push against. Apparently, my standards are the barrier for the crash test trials. “Oooo. Hit me again. Only this time, crank it up to 200 miles per hour.”
So along with mammograms and the containers in the back of the fridge, I’ve been avoiding discussing the importance of purity with my kid.
Which is weird because I talk about everything like I’m stuck in confession mode with no booth to hide in. But for some reason, “chastity” makes my mouth dry. And my stomach churns a little. And I get distracted looking for Rolaids instead of embracing the birds and bees.
I’m not alone. Turns out there are all kinds of “suggested guidelines” for hapless parents. Entire WEBSITES dedicated having “the talk’ with your kid.
What? Where were all these rules and regulations back in the days of my “tender blossoming”? My mom could have used some structure. I vaguely remember her describing “the curse” and drawing anatomical pictures of a vagina with ovaries on a McDonalds napkin. (I’m not kidding). After a lengthy discussion of pads and tampons – she briefly covered sex. “It’s something moms and dads do before the baby comes.”
And we called it a day.
The rest of my education had to be gleaned from slumber parties and eloquent missives scratched across the painted stalls of the girls locker room.
Either my Mom was sneaky like a fox, or I was exceptionally blessed or I ended up dumb lucky. Or some combination thereof. Because I married the most amazing man. And although we were two naive babes on our honeymoon, we have managed to make two kids. It takes practice. Lots and lots of it.
It’s hard to explain my “purity journey” to anyone. I have nothing to boast about. In fact, my chastity was somewhat annoying. I was committed to waiting for the right man. But God, in His infinite wisdom made sure I was never tested. I mean never. NEV-ER. I was TOTALLY invisible to guys until I met “the guy”. It’s not like I was a social pariah. I was marginally attractive. And my mom was constantly giving me fashion tips. “Good Lord, Hollylu. Unbutton your top two buttons so you don’t look like Sister Prudence.”
But I only really dated. Only really kissed. Only really wanted to be with one man.
And I think this is a BIG part of our happy, happy marriage. We’ve never known anything or anyone else. And twenty two years of coming home to a rock solid relationship has definitely trumped the high school years filled with Friday nights alone with my ice cream and a stack of Seventeen Magazines.
This is the stuff I want to convey to my daughter as she morphs from gap toothed wild child into a lithe, super model. Egad. She’s getting more beautiful by the minute. Where is all this “good looking” stuff coming from? Some sort of genetic scramble I suppose.
This summer, as Anna walked beside the lake, the boys were looking. At her. At my BABY. Sheesh. Resisting the urge to punch the interlopers in the face, I handed Anna a towel. “I’m cold. You need to wrap up in this.”
Clearly, fisticuffs weren’t the best option. I really needed to “parent”. Or something.
I didn’t want to bully her. Or take all the fun away. Desperately, I wanted to show her a glimpse of the bigger picture. To help her see how waiting for the “good thing down the road” is worth the temporary loss or loneliness. Life can be so sweet. So beautiful. So amazing. But it takes a lot of faith. And guts. Lots of guts.
This is what I wanted to say.
But as she changed in front of my eyes, my fear of losing her, my frustration at not knowing how to be the best possible parent, my anger with our culture’s twisted version of womanhood, and knowing that this Halfling had NO idea how creepy-awful the world could be. Well, all that stuff short circuited my thinking. When I opened my mouth stupid stuff came out.
“Why don’t you wear waterproof mascara? You look like a Betty Davis in the bad years.”
These comments made her angry. Even after I explained how Betty Davis had it all – except maybe some under eye concealer.
Like I said. Purity is complicated.
My friend with a bunch of daughters loaned me her “box set” for creating a “Purity Weekend”. What an awesome idea. Go away from the crazy home life. Just daughter and mom. Eat chocolate. Go shopping. Discuss standards and wholesome choices. When I pictured the weekend in my head, it was bathed in the orange light of sunset like a Hallmark commercial. We were holding hands, and at one point, I was pushing her on a tire swing. Yes. This was how it was meant to be. No X-rated napkins. No locker room paint. Just beauty.
Anna had just turned twelve. I told her my plans. “We’ll go away, just you and me. No boys. And we’ll have fun and we’ll talk about not having sex until you are….”
“Eeew. Can we not do that?” She cut me off midsentence. Her face screwed into a disgusted snarl. “I mean I’d like to go away with you. But not to do that.”
“Ok.” I said. “We’ll wait till you’re more mature.” I added the last part because sometimes I’m just snarky.
But really, I think I was more relieved than she was. Clearly, WE weren’t ready. My preteen was grossed out by the whole concept of sex and I was freaked out about talking about the whole concept of sex.
A year passed. Yada yada. What a year. My cute little kitten turned into a fire breathing dragon. My friend with all the daughters had warned me about this. I thought all the “teenage angst crapola” was mostly hyperbole. Wrong again, Harriet.
Clueless, I fumbled around navigating rough seas. Safe harbors were few and far between and mostly found under a Starbucks sign. Everything about me as mother was now an irritant to my first born. On slow days, I gave into poking the dragon just to watch it roar. My hard core rule is that parenting is nothing if not entertaining.
At 11 am, Anna would emerge from her Sanction 9 bedroom, half dressed and fully painted. Completely ignoring every Focus on the Family recommendation, I’d respond in a breezy voice, “Good morning darling. Did you get dressed and put on makeup in the dark again? Let me get you a light bulb.”
Like I said. She was difficult.
I briefly brought up the idea of a purity weekend. “We could go away. And talk about our standards. Why we believe what we believe. And we could get you a ring. You know. To sort of save the place…”
“Eeeew? Mom. Are you kidding?”
Wait, what? I wasn’t sure just where I was wrong. Suddenly my parenting GPS was going all rogue and driving me into vacant lots and off cliffs.
“I don’t want to wear a ring. Gross. Why do you want me to wear a ring? Don’t you trust me? Why can’t I be committed without having to make it everyone’s business?”
I stood looking into a face so familiar and so foreign. And the GPS in my head said, “You have reached your destination.” What? Where are we? When did everything get so complicated? Weren’t we just wondering if she’d ever eat anything but chicken nuggets?
Clearly, I’d missed my window. It came as small surprise to me. I’ve ruined my kids several times over. This was just the latest installment.
I still had the Purity Weekend box set from my friend. With a sigh of defeat, I put the “purity box” into the pile of things needing to be returned.
Yada yada. And now she’s fourteen. And the box was still in the pile. Because I suck. But we’ve covered that already.
This summer was a long one. My daughter wore a bikini and I collapsed on an airplane. It’s a toss-up as to which of those two experiences was most emotionally grueling. But anyway. Somewhere along the line, Anna and I started pulling a little more together. In her season of changes, I also felt a loss of traction. And frequently, letting go was the only option. It’s hard to be exhausted and snarky. Fear and stress matured me some. God is funny like that.
I looked at my daughter as she headed back to school. Ninth grade. Almost as tall as me. And I wondered. Would she ever really want to talk to me about love and sex and the pitfalls of nose piercing?
“I really want to go away with you, Mom. I don’t care what we talk about. It will be fun if we are together.”
What? Holy smokes. Now? I’m always up for a party. But all I currently wanted was a Netflix marathon and Starbucks in the form of an IV. Why am I never ready for these big parenting moments?
Given our depleted bank account and energy reserves, the beach house, mountain cabin and fancy hotel were clearly out. But Mike found us a cheap commuter room off the interstate 15 minutes from our house. Not exactly a golden sunset, but at least there were 12 miles between me and my laundry room.
We stuffed our backpacks and I grabbed the Purity Box as we headed out the door. I felt a strange quivering in my stomach. Nerves. I was nervous. Like I was on a first date!
I fumbled around trying to make conversation. Anna eyed me suspiciously. Smart girl.
We pulled up to the hotel which was located at the end of a decrepit strip mall. The lot was full and we parked in front of a defunct Korean restaurant. For a minute we stood in the rain under a giant sign that read, “BI BIM BAP and SOUP”.
“It’s like Dr. Seuss named it.” Anna said, balancing her bag on one hip.
Instead of my Hallmark commercial, we had landed in Green Eggs and Ham. Suddenly, I was reminded of something that had fallen out of focus. I not only love this kid; I really like her.
We hurried through the mist to our bleach scented hotel room with its strange moisture-less hotel air. The Purity box had lots of CD’s in it, so I figured we’d better get started.
While Anna laid out our “provisions” I opened the box and thumbed through the manual. My heart sank. Apparently, the weekend involved all kinds of homework for the parent. “What? Are you kidding me? My homework was borrowing this box set two years ago. Seriously, there’s more?”
Lots more. All of my insecurities were instantly confirmed. What kind of mom borrows a “purity weekend box set” and doesn’t even open it for two years? My palms were sweating and I needed water. “Well, let’s just listen to the CD’s and see what we think.” My voice quivered.
We popped the CD into my laptop and the room filled with the sound of a rumbling engine. A giant voice boomed, “Ten. Nine. Eight.” Anna looked at me quizzically. The countdown continued.
The engine sound grew louder and over the din a voice shouted, “Are you ready to blast off to purity?”
Just then, my computer stalled and the room went silent. I fiddled around and couldn’t get anywhere. Probably because my hands were shaking. So I restarted the disk.
Loud engine. Ten. Nine. Eight. (Cue the voice of an exceptionally upbeat man.) “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Sputter, silence.
Anna looked at me again. This first date was really not going very well.
“Ok.” I tried to not sound irritated. “Why don’t you fix yourself a snack and I’ll run down to the front desk and borrow a CD player.”
I ran down the hall and practically accosted the young man (he looked to be about 12) at the desk. “Do you have a CD player?”
Man-boy smiled and made a funny, sniffing sound. “Wow. A CD player? Do people still use those?”
My heart was racing. My lack of everything was ruining this weekend. Lack of farsightedness. Lack of preparation. Lack of focus. Lack of skill.
I walked slowly back to our room. Anna met me at the door. We tried one more time. Engine rumble. Countdown. Man voice. “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Silence.
All of my frustration and fatigue pushed to the front of the line. “Gaaaah.” I flipped the laptop back across the bed and turned to face Anna who was sitting cross-legged on the floor.
“Look.” My voice cracked. “Bottom line. You have to wait.” My words were firm and lifeless and I felt like I was lifting bricks. “Don’t have sex until you are married. Don’t. Don’t do it. Just. Don’t.”
Anna looked up at me. Shocked. Mouth open. Eyes wide. And my ugly, awkward words hung in the stiflingly air. I could hear the clock on the bedside table ticking.
“Now,” I said, struggling to regain my composure. “Do you want to go swimming?”
Every judge. Every doubt. Every moment of failure. All crowded in until the room was stuffed with my inadequacy. And I looked down at my daughter and couldn’t believe how far I fallen short of being her mom.
And in that moment, Anna sprang to life. She flung herself back on her bed squealing with delight. “Mom, that was the worst Mom-talk ever!”
Stunned. I stared at her as she writhed around on the bed shouting, “Epic. So awesome!”
Utterly exhausted, I sank on to the bed with a giggle. “It was pretty horrible, wasn’t’ it?”
Instantly, Anna was up on the bed and posing over me. “Bottom line. Don’t have sex until you are married. Just don’t.” She made her best mom face and patted her hair. “Now let’s go swimming.” She collapsed again overcome with the sheer horror of her mother’s foray into the birds and the bees.
“Well, now that I’ve ruined our weekend, what should we do?”
“Well. There’s always BI BIM BAP…” she waited, gazing at me with a delicious air of expectation.
“and soup?” I responded.
“And SOUP!” she shouted throwing pillows. “Three. Two. One. Are you ready…?”
“to blast off to purity?” I answered again.
“No, to the pool!”
And that was that. I sat in the hot tub and watched her lapping the pool, astonished at the magnificent creation God was growing before my eyes. And the awful “first date” feeling melted into the bubbles.
God used my worst foot forward fiasco to set us free to be ourselves. After the swim, we did a really bad job painting our nails. We talked about life and what makes it hard. We talked about “guts” and what “guts in action” look like. And we laughed and laughed. That’s what I remember most clearly. The sweet sound of our laughter.
The next morning, we went to the mall. And we shopped and talked. We drank a lot of coffee. And somewhere along the line we bought a tiny silver ring. And sitting in our van, the rain pelting the windows, I slipped the ring on her finger. And we snuggled close. And without really planning it. Or announcing it. Or counting down to it. We prayed. Sweet. Free. And Beautiful.
As we finished, the sun came out. I’m not kidding. For just a few minutes. Brilliant and blinding. The light danced off all the water cloaked cars and puddles until the entire parking lot was transformed into a diamond gallery. It lasted just a moment before the clouds returned and the rain resumed.
We headed home. Work. School. Life. It’s hard to see around the corner and through the clouds. But I remained focused on that moment in the sun. When the monotony of a parking lot was transfigured into beauty rivaling Versailles.
God is hard to figure. If you plan for Hallmark, He sends Dr. Seuss. You search for sunset and a tire swing and He gives you a parking lot and a minivan. Urban decay and empty store fronts are just elements of redemption. He doesn’t need our “perfect plan”, or “perfect timing” or our perfect anything. He is perfection.
All he wants is room in our hearts. Room in our day. Room in our plan. He’s in the transformation business. All He requires is room to work.
A purity journey is not that different from what he asks of all of us every day. “Is there time for Me? Is there room for My plan? Is the ugliness you face just an empty building or a catalyst of my choosing?”
As I share life with a teenager, moments of clarity are few and far between. But sometimes the clouds do part. And the sunlight is stunning. Every time we hear a countdown, Anna and I share a conspiratorial smile. We haven’t nailed down everything purity related. We decided that it’s an ongoing discussion with yearly getaways to update our research. She is committed to Him. And I’m here with the coffee. The push-pull parent child relationship continues to be tricky, but less harrowing. In hard spots, one of us will usually send up our white flag, “BI BIM BAP…”
And the other will relax. And breathe. And maybe mature just a little. Before responding. “And soup.”
Love Hollylu 7< 8
Share and Enjoy