So… What should Mom and Dad have done differently? I will weigh in later so my ideas don’t poison the well.
It was 1963 and I had just turned twelve.
I’d gotten my period a year before and was developing faster than most girls in my class. Where they were still short, rosy-cheeked, and flat-chested, I was six inches taller, growing into a B-cup, and getting acne. It was an awkward, confusing time for me.
Sadly, my mother was pre-occupied with her newest baby and my other eight siblings. Dad was mostly at work trying to make enough money to keep us all in parochial schools. I often felt alone and—like most kids that age–unable to share my feelings with my parents. Thank God for Celestine, our full-time housekeeper who was a sweet, second mother to me. She’d watched us kids outside playing and heard some of the neighborhood kids making comments. She promptly dragged me down to the five-and-dime to buy me my first bra.
“We don’t need those nasty boys looking down your blouse,” I remember her saying.
I know she was trying to protect me, but somehow, I got the message that there was something shameful about me in the word nasty and the fact that I had breasts.
Nonetheless, I knew I was “becoming a woman” and it was (for vague reasons) something special that should be celebrated, and something precious that should be safeguarded. I just wished I’d had an older sister or someone to help me with the confusion.
Especially when I had to wear a bathing suit.
That summer Mom would often gather us all into the family van and drive us to the Cameron Park country club where Dad worked in the sales office. We had special privileges at the clubhouse pool and would spend all day there, swimming and eating fresh-grilled burgers and drinking chocolate malts from the snack stand. I can still hear the water splashing, the kids laughing, and smell the chlorine.
One Saturday we had guests with us: Father Hugh, our associate pastor, and one of his priest friends whose name I don’t recall. I’ll call him Father No-name. After the day at the pool they were coming to our home for dinner. This was a typical event in our home. From as early as I could recall, Mom and dad had a vibrant Catholic faith and active parish life. Priests would come for cocktails and dinner, some of them even smoking a cigar with Dad in the living room. They would tease us kids, tell us bible stories and jokes, hold the babies, and tousle our hair with affectionate hugs. Our house was blessed with a warm and loving Catholic environment.
That day, while we swam, Mom and the priests sat in the shade chatting, laughing, and watching us. When Mom called us out to dry off, I toweled and quickly slipped on my flip-flops (we called them zorries back then!) and a short cotton top. I was always embarrassed of how I looked and didn’t want to be the object of criticism or ridicule.
As everyone stood around the patio tables gathering their things, Father No-name smiled and called me over.
“Come over here, Rosie . . . ”
When safe, trusted adults beckon you, you don’t think twice. Even though Father was a stranger, he was a friend of Father Hugh, my parents . . . and a beloved Catholic priest.
I smiled, walked, over and he….