My Son Brought Home a Condom

condoms

My teenage son and I have an after-school ritual where he tells me about his day. It’s nothing dramatic or complicated or all that different from what happens in many homes, maybe even homes like yours. Sometimes the chats are absolutely boring–one day can be very much like the next for a teen–but the chats connect us.

A few weeks ago my son rattled off the day’s events:

“…math was easy, I’m not convinced Shakespeare was all that great, I had lunch in the park, I need new shoes, I have to write an essay tonight, I got this condom today, I have to study for an econ test…”

Did you catch that? He said ‘I got THIS condom today’. And he waved THAT condom in the air when he said ‘I got this condom today’ and he returned THAT condom to his pocket before moving on the mundane details of his Economics class.

And you know what I did?

Nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing.

I tried to convince him that Shakespeare is actually worth studying and I told him we’d buy new shoes on Saturday and I asked him where he got the condom because I’m curious that way.

And because we’ve never made sex a taboo subject in our home he explained it all to me over an after-school snack of chips and salsa.

It turns out he and his friends were hanging at their after-school coffee shop (he’s a city kid) when one of the girls pulled out a bunch of condoms.

But she wasn’t just going to hand them out. Nope. You had to earn the condom.

Intriguing, if not slightly unsettling, if you don’t know the rest of the story.

This young woman came ready to teach. She, along with her parents, had been volunteering at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. She had no doubt witnessed the other side of unprotected sex, STDs, teen pregnancy, and more. She was invested in passing along what she had learned.

In what must have been an interesting conversation to witness, this young woman and this group of strong, independent, and empowered teens talked about safer sex, birth control options, and proper condom use (there was even an inanimate object available for practice).

Someone, somewhere, might find this situation shocking, disgusting even. Someone, somewhere, may question whether or not a group of teenagers are going to get the details right. Someone, somewhere, may even be questioning the morality of the impromptu after-school special.

But to that I say to the someones, somewhere, that you are missing the point, if not completely living in a bubble of naïveté. These kids were and are phenomenal.

These kids are living in the present. These kids are aware of their surroundings. These kids appreciate that a conversation about sex isn’t necessarily an invitation to have sex.

I’ll take a pat on the back for playing my part in that evolution of thought.

Parents who do not shy away from conversations about sex help create a generation of young people who understand that sexual responsibility is shared. Parents who do not use fear as a tactic and parents who keep the communication door wide open will be able to correct any misinformation their kids may receive about sex, sexuality, and biology (and you can paint those conversations with the morality code of your choice.)

That HAS to be better than silence and avoidance.

These kids in the coffee shop are to be commended. They  possess a respect for their bodies that is beyond what we could have hoped for. They are not paralyzed by fear or ignorance. They are comfortable with who they are and are ready to have a clear and open dialogue about sex and sexuality.  These “kids” do not see blurred lines when it comes to consent—no always means no. These emerging adults grasp the reality that a YES requires accountability and may have consequences.

Yes, my son brought home a condom. And I couldn’t be prouder—proud that he was comfortable talking to me about it and prouder yet that he and his friends are actively invested in their own futures and that they want those futures to be happy, healthy, and met on their own terms.

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I Am Awake

I am awakeIt’s March 1st. It’s 22 degrees outside. The birds are not singing. It is, decidedly, NOT spring.  But as far as I am concerned it’s the beginning of a new year.

Back in January when everyone was resolving to lose weight, write more, be  a better friend, suck less, I was curling up on the sofa with a good book and a cat and whole lot of peanut M&Ms. The curtains were drawn to trap in whatever heat remained.

Wake me when it’s warm.

I wasn’t suffering in the dark. I was regenerating. Percolating in thought. Wrapping myself in a blanket of memories and words.

And, let’s be honest, I was binge watching a ton of television.

It was an awesome winter.

But being a creature of habits (good and bad) and being a slave to biological impulses, the brighter days have gotten me off the sofa. Despite the lingering cold, the curtains have been pulled open to let the sun shine in.

I am awake.

I’m not sure I’d feel the same renewal of spirit if I lived in a place with a more subtle seasonal shift—I never felt it as a kid growing up in the deep south—but I feel it every year living where I do now.

March 1st is my New Year’s Day. I am rested and renewed.

And I have things to do.

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The pendulum swings for thee

The car was quiet. We were driving in uncharacteristic silence. So I called to the back of the car.

“Is everything ok?”

There was no answer.

“Are you reading?”

Crickets.

“Hey!” I said with a little more force.

I got his attention.

“Sorry, Mom. I was imagining.”

Oh, to be inside the imagination of a six-year-old boy.

“Sorry for interrupting, Sweetie. Go back to what you were thinking about.”

I hoped I hadn’t taken him too far off his imaginative journey and settled back into our silent ride. I smiled and gave myself a little internal high-five.

No permanent damage. Despite going against all the advice and recommendations against screen time, my little child—a child of the second decade of the second millennium, a child for whom we have set relatively few screen time limits–has managed to maintain a connection with his imaginative mind and uses that mind just fine.

“When we get home I’m going to write a story about me and a dragon,” I hear from the back before he disappears into what I can only assume is a magical dragon filled world.

Parents spend an awful lot of time worrying if we’re doing it right–‘IT’ being this whole raising kids thing. On any given day one can find hundreds of articles about how to do it better, faster, stronger. Each article presents their best arguments for why their way is the right way. They throw out studies, statistics, and how to lists.

We sift through the words and adopt and discard pieces of advice. We grab hold of labels and concepts and theories about raising kids. We make choices. In the same day we can read something about the best apps for your child in this tech savvy world to lists of things to do with felt and wood with your organically raised earth child. Every article written with the same intentions: raising kids who will thrive and succeed (“success”, of course, meaning a great many different things to a great many different people).

Sometimes we cling to our parenting choices with a firmness that leaves our hands blistered and our bodies tired. I will PROVE my way is right even if it kills us all.

Sometimes we turn on a dime. We read something new. We copy someone else. We twist and turn in the information storm. New statistics, new studies, new recommendations can’t be ignored, after all.

Sometimes we throw our hands up in the air and resort to “if it was good enough for me when I was a kid then…” kind of approach.

pendulumAnd so, the parenting pendulum swings back and forth in perpetuity, never really landing on the perfect parenting technique.

There is, as it turns out, no such thing.

With more than twenty years of parenting behind me (and many years to go) I have the benefit of my experiences to guide me in my choices and the only thing I can truly be sure of is that the longer you are a parent the more profoundly aware you are of how imperfect parenting is. The longer you are a parent the easier it is for you to understand how that pendulum works.

Back and forth it goes. This is right. That is right. This is best. That is best. This works. That works.

It’s not quite clockwork but it is almost comical as you see parenting trends come and go and come and go.

I see young parents today making choices that they think are unconventional, innovative, progressive, or pioneering and it makes me laugh. Not at them, but at myself. I am sure I was just the same when I started out with my first child. I was full of quiet judgment and polite arrogance because *I* was going to forge a new way. I read all the books and the studies. I had a modern philosophy and a style and a plan.

Over time the plan morphed to fit a growing family, a changing world, and an understanding that despite emerging theories about child development, the day-to-day life of a family has not changed all that much over the years.  And while I’m the first to argue that anecdotes do not a sound argument make, I know our life is defined in simple terms: what works for my family in this moment and time is all I need care about.

I’ve been a mother for almost twenty-two years and I won’t pretend that I’ve got this parenting thing down–I make as many mistakes now as any new parent–but I don’t dwell on my mistakes or worry my children will be left to suffer a life of mediocrity because of them. Time is on my side. Statistically the pendulum and I will match at some point.

The how-to-parent pendulum that swings back and forth is a reminder that the rules, the advice, the recommendations, the choices, and the positions we take are just a starting point. What makes us good parents is our ability and willingness to sway along and accept the full spectrum of the arc of the pendulum’s path.

In our home we’re not particularly rigid about screens. We are, if I’m being honest, not particularly big on rules at all, outside of the simple idea of being respectful to yourself and to those around you. I could worry about this, but I don’t. I know better. I know what works for us. My six-year-old boy sits in front of a screen more than the experts recommend but right now he’s daydreaming about dragons.

Parent in your moment. The pendulum swings for thee.

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Filed under Feminist Parenting, Health and Wellness