This summer we've joined a pool at a nearby park district. We’ve been there swimming several times now, and it never fails, some young teenaged girls as well as hum, well, more mature women will be sunning themselves in scantily clan bikinis. This is the world we live in, and I am a firm believer in giving the tools to my children to go out into this world. I can’t shield them forever, nor sequester them in my home all summer long. I am not here to debate issues of modesty either. I gently review with my own daughters the value and dignity of a one piece swim suit, but today I was reminded, how my job isn’t just working with my daughters, but also my sons.
Today, as we took a break from swimming to have an ice cream treat, I happened to see my 11 year old son, (hopefully) innocently watching a few teenaged girls applying their sun screen to their arms, then their legs, stomachs and then, as you can imagine, to the cleavage left out in the open by their ‘barely there’ swim tops. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the show happening nearby, I quickly asked my Knight, my son, to sit on the other side of the rest of us, facing the pool in the opposite direction. He obeyed without even a questioning look, and I was surprised for a moment. Why didn’t he want to know why I moved him? Then it occurred to me, he knew. I asked him, “Buddy, do you know why I moved you?”
He nodded without making eye contact. I told him, “You are working so hard to be a gentleman, I see it all the time. You open doors for ladies, you offer your seat to them or to the elderly, you grab from me anything heavy that I am carrying. You are a wonderful gentleman. And I am so proud. I moved you, because there is yet more ways to be that gentleman. One of which is to avert your eyes when you see something you know you should not be seeing.”
He nodded, clearly he knew this. Pushing a bit further I wanted to be sure he understood my vocab, “Do you know what ‘avert your eyes’ means?”
He finally looked me in the eye, and stated, “To look away.”
“Yes, honey, but next time, do it without me having to tell you.” Neither him nor I wanted a long drawn out lecture pool side today. But I will be watching to see if he assumes this additional aspect into the many other ways I see him maturing.
It’s really tough to parent children these days, and form them in virtue – as the world around us is constantly undermining us. From TV, internet, movies, billboards, friends, cousins and yes, even trips to the supermarket – we are flooded with another reality of what is good, what is right, what is appropriate. My conscience never fails me and it is part of my job to pass along that delicate conscience onto my children. I have been guilty of turning magazines over while we wait in the check-out lane. I regularly fast forward commercials during football games and eeek even for the Superbowl! And yes, at times, have asked my children to cover their eyes when the previews at the movies were inappropriate for their age.
I never thought I’d be *gasp* that mother, and here I am just today, making my son physically move his body, and sit out of view of these young ladies sunning themselves.
On the way home from the pool, I simply listened to the chatter in the seats behind me to see if there would be discussion on the brief incident. Sure enough, my oldest, Thinker, age 12, told me flatly that while she was in the bathroom, she saw teenaged girls wearing ‘crazy’ swim suits. I innocently asked her, “What made them crazy? The color?”
She announced, “They had everything hanging out, Mom! And they weren’t even embarrassed!”
My Knight wanted to correct her quickly, “You know you’re not supposed to be looking!”
She answered, “Hum, well, I am learning what kind of teenager I could be or not be!”
To stifle the bickering quickly, I explained the work happening of Knight learning all the crucial parts of being a gentleman and how keeping a young man’s mind clear of such images is very important. “Honey, he should avert his eyes. And at this point, you can too, you know what is appropriate for swimming and what is not. No one should stare.”
This day taught me a lot, but mostly the importance of vigilance. I won’t catch everything, it’s just not possible. But what I do catch, I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to make a change, move a vantage point, make it a teachable moment. Form them, teach them, be patient, understanding, but firm. If I can make any impact on that little inner voice that prompts us all, then it’s all worth it. It is possible that one day, that delicate conscience will be the deciding factor in this woman, or that one, that my son will want to marry one day. Virtue begets virtue. They attract each other. He will admire it in her, and she will expect it from him.
Oh how I pray for my sons to be brave men, who have confidence in conquering the world, yet a gentle man in winning the heart of a woman. And it begins here, at swim day at the park district, with yes, his mother helping him to open his ears to his own little inner voice.