The woman stood silently beneath the branches of the mighty oak tree that overlooked the park. This was where her childhood began. This was also where her childhood innocence had ended. She closed her eyes against the images of the past. It was so long ago and much had transpired to heal her of the savage brutality of sexual abuse. Yet, at times when the trees were bare of leaves and the wind whistled through this park; she could see the rape as if it were in front of her.
'Mommy, can I go swing on the swings now?' little Audrey looked up at her mother with excitement and joy. Leah took a deep breath and willed the bad images away. She reached down and touched her daughter's back and sent her on her way.
The little town of Cottonwood Corners was populated by about 30 thousand people. It was small and boasted of the title 'Hometown USA' the previous year. People came from miles around to vacation in the clean fresh mountain air and fish in the lake nearby. Campfires could be seen for most of the year as it seldom grew cold enough for snow.
Cottonwood Park was maintained and nurtured by the local park rangers. It was closed from dusk till dawn. The park had the usual swings and slides among other park equipment. Bathrooms were not far away from the play area. The grills were placed a safe distance from the play area yet close enough for parents of young children to oversee them as they made a barbecue picnic.
Leah's family had been one of the original settlers of this town. The cemetary held several large headstones of her ancestors who came here from England to settle in the brave new world.
The park bench was a bit cool that day as Leah sat and focused on her daughter's activity. Audrey had been teasing to go to the park for a week. They lived in the downtown section of town where their apartment window overlooked the park entrance. It must have seemed like a fun park to her daughter's eye, much as it once had seemed to her.
'It is a fun place to be.' Leah said out loud. Leah thought back to the way she had responded at first to her ordeal. She had kept quiet out of guilt and shame. She had thought she was dirty and had somehow done something wrong but couldn't figure out what. Now, she had the knowledge she needed to teach her own daughter some things that every child needs to know. The time was now and she had a plan.
Soon, Audrey got tired and went to sit with her mother on the park bench. She sat leaning against her mother and swinging her feet. 'Audrey, I want to have a very serious grown up talk with you. It is very important.'
'What?' Audrey stared up at her mother wondering if she had done something wrong. 'Is it something I did?' she asked.
Leah smiled and shook her head no. 'No, it is a lesson you need to learn though. Every child needs to learn this. It is about how God made you to be a present for someone else. Do you know what we do with presents?'
'We give them away?' Audrey asked.
'Before we do that. Now, think real hard Audrey. Pretend we all ready have the present. Now, before we give it away what do we do with the present?' Leah asked.
'Oh, I know! We wrap it!' Audrey grinned knowing she had guessed right.
'That is right! It is the same thing with our bodies. It is ok for everyone to see our face and hands and feet arms and legs, but some parts of our bodies are meant to be a present just for a husband or wife when we grow up. Those parts need to be kept wrapped up. Do you understand?' Leah waited to see if Audrey did in fact understand.
Audrey sat for a moment. 'I remember you told me all about modesty and why I can't swim naked with Joey. Is that so I can be his present when I grow up?' Audrey made a face , 'YUK!'
Leah laughed and said, 'Well, I do not know who you are going to marry or even if you are going to marry. But modesty is important. But, what I am trying to tell you is why it is important.'
Suddenly a group of squirrels began chattering and Audrey's attention went to the squirrels for a moment. She turned back 'I am supposed to be modest and stay wrapped up cause someday I might be someone's present. But, what if something happens and I lose my clothes? Does that mean I can't be a special present?'
'If someone ever trys to steal your clothes or touch you under those clothes without your permission, you need to always tell me or your father. It won't mean you are in trouble or that you are spoiled Audrey. It will mean someone did something terribly wrong and you need to always tell someone. Your body belongs to you and no one is allowed to touch it or see it, except when your parents help with a bath or helping to get you dressed. But, if someone else trys to take a peek then you try to run away and always tell on them. You won't be in trouble, they will. Always always tell! Do you understand?'
Audrey stared at the swings for a long time. 'Always tell, I get it. My body is a present that stays wrapped up until I grow up and be married. If someone trys to unwrap me, I always tell you. Always tell, always tell, always tell, stay wrapped up, stay wrapped up, always tell.! Is that good?' Audrey looked up at her mother in a serious way.
'Good girl. Now here is a test...what if they tell you they will hurt your parents if you tell on them?'
Audrey thought a moment. 'Why would they do that?'
'It is just a test, what would you do?' her mother said.
'Always tell! Stay wrapped up, I am a present, always tell!'
'I'll race you to the slide!' Leah took off pretending to run fast. Audrey ran as fast as possible and reached the slide first.
Leah stayed at the park for another hour laughing and pushing her daughter on the swing. Audrey laughed and enjoyed the afternoon with her mother. The message her mother gave her wasn't scary to Audrey. Yet, she would never forget that she is indeed a special present and if someone tried to unwrap her or worse, she would always tell.