They were the worst words she could imagine, and she spoke them in a quiet voice. But they are words that make me proud, especially in these hand-wringing days when grownups are sweating about what to tell the children about Bill Clinton.
We were traveling on I-10, my seven-year-old and I, discussing how we choose friends. I was explaining why I chose not to associate outside of the office with a former colleague in Kentucky. "He was nice,'' I said, "but he did things that would make Jesus unhappy.''
Not satisfied with vague answers, my prodigy pressed me. "What did he do?''
"He said ...'' and here I stumbled. I was about to say, "He said curse words,'' but she had no idea what a curse word is. We had studied the Ten Commandments, and she knew that we are not to take the Lord's name in vain; to her that means we are not to misuse God's name in any fashion. She isn't aware people say God and punctuate it with obscenities.
I corrected course to say: "He said bad words.'' Again, too vague, so she asked another question and supplied her own answer with the most horrible words she could conjure. "What words?'' she asked. "Like stupid and idiot?''
The worst words my daughter with a huge vocabulary could conjure were stupid and idiot.
That was a year ago. I like that story because it supports my contention that we can preserve our children's innocence; that belief drives the choices my wife and I make, from the education of our daughters (we homeschool) to what they read, where they go, what they see on TV (little to nothing). My daughter now is halfway to her ninth birthday, and to my knowledge, she has yet to hear a bonafide profanity. We don't curse, in any form, in our home, nor do we allow anything in our video player that does.
As the Lewinsky story played out, pundits and parents knitted their brows, fretting about how to explain the events to children. Newspaper stories quoted children as young as six who offered surprisingly, and disturbingly, informed opinions.
Why, I'm thinking, are the children of our nation even aware of the specifics? My eight-year-old isn't aware that her private parts have any function beyond those she learned at age two. Of adultery, she knows only that the word means that one spouse has broken the marriage vow and embraced another. That's all she needs to know.
I have become defiant in my attempt to protect the innocence of Samantha and Rebekah. To preserve their innocence is to prolong their childhood. Modern parents too easily concede the battle to modern society. We tell our children too much too early. We explain procreation in the first grade because they're going to hear it somewhere. Is it appropriate for their age? No. It's preemptive. We want them to hear it from us first. But even if they hear it first from parents, the mysteries of intimacy are too profound for the most mature of us. Let them hear it at the right age, as well as from the right person.
Susan and Michael Card have written a wonderful book titled The Homeschool Journey. In the book, and in an interview with Homeschooling Today magazine, Mrs. Card is unapologetic about the issue of innocence. How do you protect your children "from influences that would defeat or interfere with your goals to make their lives God-centered?'' publisher Maureen McCaffrey asks. "Isolation,'' Mrs. Card replies. "We are careful about their friends.... We control what they see on videos....
I don't want to keep my children culturally illiterate or defenseless in the world. But when you homeschool, you control when they go into the world and where. Of course, when they get older they will confront circumstances beyond my control. But now I want their experiences to be clean and focused on what's good for them. I want them to experience innocence and purity.''
The Bible admonishes us to be careful and diligent in the raising of our children. God also admonishes us to dwell on what is holy and pure. Combine the admonitions, and we have a biblical mandate for raising our children. Our No. 1 goal is to bring our children to saving faith in Christ. If we fail in that, we have failed in the only matter that matters. We are to deflect doggedly anything that would interfere, be it friendships or classes in current events. The gift of innocence is ours to bestow, if only we grownups will use our energy and wisdom to protect it, rather than wringing our hands as we fish for the right vocabulary to explain presidential perversions. Where the tender souls of our children are at stake, let's not be stupid idiots.