As our eldest daughter perched on the cliff of entry into adolescence, I found myself perched upon a dangerous cliff of my own — that of seeking modest dress for teenage girls. I slowly awakened to the truth (I was somewhat in denial) that taking a teenage girl shopping for modest clothing is nothing less than an exercise in futility and exasperation. I mused that one might easier find a pea on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean than one might find decent clothing for a teenage daughter.
Returning yet again empty-handed from our most recent shopping escapade, I look in the mirror and survey my bedraggled reflection. Running fingers through my frazzled hair, I ponder whether this ongoing painful process of trying to protect our girls’ purity by protecting their modesty isn’t aging me prematurely.
The problem is I know too much. I know the spiritually lethal dangers of immodest dress. I know my responsibilities in God’s eyes to keep our daughters pure. And two images keep popping up in my head. The first image is Padre Pio dismissing women from the confessional whose skirts did not reach mid-calf. (I can vividly picture this scenario and in my mind it’s not a pretty sight!) The second is a giant millstone engraved with the “whoever” Gospel reading from Mark 9:43: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” I can see that millstone as clearly as if it was in my kitchen, right between the island and kitchen table. It’s just quietly waiting to pull me into the depths of the sea. “Dear Blessed Mother,” I pray, “surely there must be an answer somewhere.” My head drops in despair.
From the depths of that despair I raise my eyes and fix them on my beloved spouse. Suddenly a light flashes on. I gently begin to ask the spiritual leader in our household that fateful question: “How would you like to take our firstborn shopping?”
No sooner is my request made, and dinner devoured, than dutiful dad and delighted daughter head off to the local mall. He walks out with a countenance that resembles that of a true hunter and gatherer — with a spry step, an optimistic eye, and a credit card in his wallet. I happily finish the dishes, furnish our remaining three children with ice cream, and prepare them for a restful evening, concluding that there has been sufficient stress for one day. The night-time hours tick by… 6:30… 7:30… 8:30. I issue commands to say prayers, brush teeth, comb hair, put on pajamas, and tidy up bedrooms. In between commands, prayers are offered to our Lady, “Dear Blessed Mother, please help them find something.”
It’s 10:00 now, and I am snuggled in bed. When I am not secretly reveling in the fact that I am not the one who is shopping, I find myself anxiously wondering what is delaying their arrival back home. Soon the sound of the front door opening is heard and then the footsteps of the hunter and gatherer with his charge. They bound up the stairs together and burst into my room to display their “kill” — a sweatshirt, a t-shirt that isn’t too low-cut, a skirt that isn’t too short and two pairs of pants.
Okay, so it took four hours, ten department stores and all my spouse’s strength and stamina to find six acceptable items. Okay, so there is no beautiful long dress of linen and lace. But the key areas are covered and, except for my husband’s now bedraggled look, dad and daughter appear to have survived the ordeal fine. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than I could have done. The modesty war rages on, but one tiny battle has been won. Well done, my good and faithful husband! I ponder that I may have just caught a glimpse of matrimonial grace at work.
Thankful to my husband, our Lord and our Lady, I pull up the covers, and at least for a night, happily close my eyes and drift off to a peaceful sleep.
[Originally published 2005]
©2005 Mary Anne Moresco