I was 14 when she said it. I was 14, and we were in the car driving home from some inane errand, when I informed my mother I was going to save myself for marriage.
And she said it.
“Listen to your mother,” I had been told by many adults in my life, and so I did.
“We all said that, Sara,” she giggled with a grin. “Just remember, though…virginity is in the soul, not in the hole.”
I was 14. I had never even held hands with a boy. Not once. And now we were talking about souls. And holes. I was mortified. “Oh. My. God.” I muttered.
My mother was 15 when my grandmother said it. My mother was 15 when she faced her mother in the airport in Havana, Cuba, not knowing if or when she would ever see her again. My mother was 15 when her mother placed her on a plane to the United States of America to save her from the tyranny of Communism, knowing with every fiber of her being that her daughter’s life was more important than hers.
“Men only want one thing,” my grandmother said. “Guard your pearl.” And with that, she put her daughter on the plane.
It was years before I understood the importance of my mother’s words. Years of sharing with friends in high school and college and adulthood that moment in the car when my mother bestowed upon me her indelible words of wisdom. Friends in high school dropped their jaws in disbelief. Friends in college cheered. Friends in adulthood have asked permission to turn her words into a bumper sticker.
I have seriously contemplated that one. It could be quite lucrative. But ultimately, the answer is no. No, because the words are mine. The words were gifted to me. The words about souls and holes and pearls were never about souls and holes and pearls at all.
Those words of my mother and grandmother, I now know, were about worth. That’s what mothers do with their words – they remind you of your worth.
I was worth more than my virginity, my mother said.
You are worth more than any man, my grandmother said.
And so now I ask myself, what words do I want my boys to listen to? What words do I want my boys to remember their mother said to them one day in the car on the way home from soccer, or on the day I drop them off for a week at summer camp?
Should I say “Hey, loves, for the record, fast cars are better than fast women”? Or perhaps “15 seconds in the hay could cause a couple of eggs some day”?
My boys are 1 and 2. I suppose I have some time.
But still, I wonder, will they listen the way I did? The way my mother did? Will they tell their friends in high school what I once said, only to make me seem a fool? Will they tell their friends in college, only to induce some laughter? Will they tell their friends in adulthood, because now they understand?
I hope so. I really, really hope so.
I only pray that they someday understand; behind all the hellos, all the goodbyes, all the pep talks, all the “Good for yous,” all the “I love yous,” and all the clichés – every single one of them – lie the words: “You are my most precious creation. You are worth more than you will ever fully know. But I know, so listen to me.”
“Listen to your mother,” I want to whisper in their perfect, little ears. “Listen to the one who understands you will often lose sight of who are. Listen to the one who will remind you of who you have always been. Listen to the one who has known your worth before she knew your face. Listen, my boys, listen.”