On our annual trek to the pumpkin patch this week, my nieces and I stopped at McDonald’s for lunch before taking in a glorious afternoon of hayrides, mazes and all the orange you can stomach.
Before we ate, we bowed our heads and my 8- and 6-year-old nieces said their prayer in unison — just like they do before every meal.
While we were eating, a man at the next table turned to me and thanked me for raising my kids right. I thanked him but said the credit goes to their parents, as I’m just Aunt Misty. I thought it was an unusual encounter but went back to eating and enjoying my time with the girls.
As another kid was jumping on the chair a booth over making a serious racket and I noticed my nieces eating their lunches and quietly discussing the day ahead, it began to sink in why that man turned to us. And then I began to wonder if my sister knows what a good job she’s doing raising her kids.
I know she catches quite a bit of flack from outside forces, with most of them being inside the family. She often hears her girls are too sheltered. They don’t have the normal experiences other kids have, they say. At her age, they’ll say of the oldest, most kids aren’t still into stuffed animals and princesses.
But here’s my sister’s argument: Kids today don’t have a childhood anymore. They’re exposed to this oversexed, material- and image-driven world at a much too young of an age.
And she’s right.
A few years back I served as a mentor to a second-grader as part of a community outreach organization. I would visit her weekly at school for just 30 minutes. We would spend the time reading, catching up on homework or talking through a problem she was having.
In our time together, I was shocked more than once by her behavior. She would sing provocative songs and dance in suggestive manners, just like she saw in the music videos she watched at home. Why an 8-year-old would have access to such videos is beyond me. When I asked her if she knew what the words she was singing meant and what her dancing portrayed, she had no idea.
I had to explain to this young girl why her actions were inappropriate. If her innocence had been protected at home, it’s a conversation that could have been avoided. It’s a conversation that should have been avoided. But, for so many of our kids, it’s not avoided.
It’s a conversation I know I’ll never have to have with my nieces. My sister would go to the ends of the earth and fight with her dying breath to protect her girls’ innocence while she still can.
Take that lunch we had at McDonald’s. When ordering, I opted for the Angry Bird Halloween pale for their Happy Meal. It was the boy option. The girl option was Monster High, which I know my sister doesn’t allow the girls to have because of the short skirts, bare mid-riffs and low-cut shirts the dolls wear. These are the small ways my sister protects my beautiful nieces’ innocence.
I hope she knows what a good mom she’s turned out to be and is proud of the job she’s doing.
At the very least, I hope she knows how proud I am of her.
Misty Knisely, managing editor, can be reached at 574-732-5155 or via email at email@example.com. Follow her: @PharosMK