The Story of My Conversion
Part III: Ages 11 to 14
“I turn to consider the boy I once was in order, finally, to describe the man I am now. I remember what was so grievously lost to define what was necessarily gained.”Richard Rodriguez in his autobiography Hunger of Memory
This is the post that may peg me as a prude and an idealist. It’s true—I am every bit of those and more, much more! Read on and you’ll see why.
Growing up, I was very much molded by the pop culture of the 70’s, with my primary role models coming from the TV, the radio, and Tigerbeat magazine. In fact, one of the main reasons we are homeschooling today is that I want my children to have a better education—and as such, spiritual formation—than I did.
Mine was by no means a classical education.
Instead, I availed myself in great big gulps of the media that was accessible. I watched television as much as possible—Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy—and during the summer break, All My Children. I turned on the TV when I got home from school and watched until my father got home from work. How I resented it when he asked me to turn the channel to the nightly news! After supper, I was back again. From 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., I’d watch. Not every night, but most.
When I wasn’t watching TV I was listening to pop music. I was very fond of pop music, and by the time I was in 8th grade, I was familiar with every band on the radio. If it was pop or rock, it was worth a listen. My best friend and I would play a game where, for five minutes, we would furiously list every pop singer and rock band we could think of. (My list was always in the 100’s.) My knowledge was a source of pride for me, and such music became the soundtrack of my days.
My friend’s older brother increased my knowledge by introducing me to such diverse groups as Boston, The B-52’s and Cheap Trick (whom I adored, really adored). He used to drive us to school and I remember how, on those frosty North Dakota mornings, he would use one of his cassette tapes to scrape the windshield. He would then pop the tape into the stereo and like that my education continued—a far more interesting field of study than that of history or science.
Now, keep in mind that I am not denouncing all rock music. To this day I have my favorites, (as do my kids), and I am fairly quick to upload new music onto my iPod. I do believe that when rock music is all you know, though, that that’s a problem. Growing up, my soul was in a state of constant agitation, with little to no balance and nothing edifying to speak of—no Vivaldi, no Bach, no Mozart, no chant.
I also think that the television—when limited—can have a healthy place in our homes. We do watch far more DVDs than we do public broadcasting, because—I know you understand this—I find the advertisements so offensive. It’s a whole lot safer renting than watching the stuff that they give us “free of charge.”
Okay. I am now going to speak about my choice of reading as a girl. Here is where this little tale gets really sad—at least, in my opinion—because the books that I devoured were of two basic genres: Judy Blume and bodice-rippers.
A 6th grader reading Love’s Tender Fury? That’s just wrong.
I read my first Judy Blume book when I was 10 or so, and instantly I was hooked. She had a highly engaging style of writing, and I went on to read every book she’d written—every book. Her philosophy about what was normal and natural and healthy and fun included self-abuse (Deenie) and high school intimacy (Forever); certainly the television I was watching and the radio that I was listening to backed up her theory.
These books did incredible damage to my moral formation and unfortunately I became acquainted with them at the exact same time I noticed boys. Once again, my education (and would-be spirituality) took a nose-dive.
Our purity is a gift from God—the pearl of great price, an inner light (as in the book The Princess and the Kiss). The books I read throughout my early adolescence treated sexual activity as something commonplace and even funny, like getting a great big pimple or tripping in front of that hot guy in homeroom. Sex happens. It should happen. It’s life.
Or so I thought.
Unlike an embarrassing stumble, we do not pick ourselves up all that easily from past impurities. The sins of my past came with me to my marriage, and it has taken me many, many years to overcome my sense of guilt over God’s great gift of sexuality.
In short, the books, the music, and the TV took the mystery out of life for me. They robbed me of what could have been a beautiful youth.
Near the end of this period, when I was 13, my father became a deacon of the Catholic Church. His vocation went hand-in-hand with my mother’s strong reversion. She started attending weekly prayer meetings and became involved with Cursillo; she kept the radio dial set to a Christian station (“Jesus radio,” I called it); she quite smoking.
Above all, her faith changed in a profound and lasting way. Hers was a deep reversion and I saw that but sadly, her return to God came too late to shift the wayward path of my adolescence.
By my freshman year of high school, my interests had expanded to include not only boys but also alcohol and drug use. I wanted peace but was not finding it. I looked to the world but the world just laughed. “Are you kidding?” it seemed to say to me. “You’re on your own here, kid.”
I started out this post by joking about my prudishness and idealism. To tell you the truth, there is quite a bit of fear in me, mostly in relation to my children. I worry that they will make the same awful mistakes that I did—that they will undervalue themselves and their sexuality, and that they will look to the world for their fulfillment rather than God. Our society’s not helping me out here! The very same rotten influences are still on the television, the radio and in the books at Barnes & Noble—indeed, they’ve gotten worse (as you well know). It is my great hope and mission as a mother that when my children do encounter these less-than-noble themes, which they will, they will have been well enough steeped in the good stuff—the Shakespeare, the Anne Shirley, the C.S. Lewis, the Vivaldi—to dismiss the bad stuff for what it is…
Next up: Hitting Bottom (My late teens/early 20s)
Ad Jesum per Mariam,