I don’t ever plan on having children and I was 10 years old when I made the announcement to my mother. Obviously, she believed I would change my mind, but my choice was only reinforced when she had my youngest brother as I was nearing my 15th birthday. I saw what babies were really like when they weren’t trying to be cute and lure you into the never-ending and thankless job of raising them. No thanks.
(For the record, I would have been a horrible mom. Two of my three brothers ended up drunk on my watch at the age of 15 during wedding receptions for other siblings. Also, I am completely lacking any ability to sugarcoat answers to life altering questions from children.)
That being said, the closest thing to raising a child that I will ever experience is that very baby, who is now about to graduate high school. The downside to this is that he won’t be saddled with “mom guilt” when I’m old and he’ll probably pick out a crappy nursing home for me. However, bonuses include not having to pay for his college education and still being around for hilarious milestones like the dreaded sex talk.
Everybody remembers the horror of the birds and the bees discussion with their parents for one of two reasons. You were either horrified because your parent was a little late to the game and you already understood the process (yet they insisted on a lengthy discussion, complete with drawings that resembled the head of a cow), or, like my baby brother, you were traumatized because the information came completely out of left field, all because you had the misfortune of asking a seemingly innocent question.
Bo and I have always been close. To this day, when visiting my mother, I will regularly fall asleep in his bed while we watch Saturday Night Live and I don’t even care if it annoys him. How else are we supposed to share every single ridiculous thing we’ve ever seen on the YouTube with each other.
One night, at the tender age of eight, Bo approached me as I sat surfing the internet.
“Yeh-yeh,” he said, snagging my attention away from the computer. “I need to ask you something.”
Most eight year olds will fire questions at you until you’re ready to commit yourself to an asylum, but the seriousness of Bo’s face let me know I was in for a treat and I was all ears.
“Shoot,” I said.
“What’s a ‘codom’?” (Pronounced like Odom)
“A what,” I asked. I was pretty sure it wasn’t even a real word and had no idea where he’d picked it up.
“You know, a codom.” I’ve always loved it when people just repeat their question and stare, as if some fresh knowledge will be dropped on you by the sheer magnitude of their desire for you to know what they’re talking about.
“No, I don’t know. Where did you hear it?”
“At Mary-Kate’s house. There are commercials for them on MTV.”
MTV. Suddenly, it all made sense. MTV didn’t care if eight year olds were watching Trojan commercials at four in the afternoon. They were too busy marketing to 16 year olds and trying to keep teen pregnancy down (until they realized they could cash in on that, too).
“Oh, you mean a condom.”
“Yeah, what’s a condom,” he asked.
I could have easily explained what a condom was, but given that he was blissfully unaware of sex and childbirth, it seemed that my explanation might go a little farther than my mom would have deemed necessary.
“Hang on, let me go get your mother,” I replied to him.
After wandering through the house I found our mother, peacefully watching TV.
“Mom, your eight year old son just asked me what a condom is. I don’t really think you want me to answer him.”
“What? Where did he hear that?” Her evening had just been shattered, as I’m pretty sure she wasn’t planning on having this conversation for a few more years.
“MTV. You can thank them later, but now you get to give the sex talk.” I may or may not have jumped slightly in the air and clapped my hands in excitement.
Bo sat waiting for us, all too aware that something horrible was looming on the horizon.
“Ok, kiddo. This is something Mom needs to explain to you.”
The look of fear found its way to his face and he looked at me pleadingly, before demanding that I remain in attendance for whatever was about to happen.
Mom effortlessly explained that condoms are something people use when they don’t want to have babies. The tricky part is explaining how they work to an eight year old. She resorted to the tried and true “when a man and woman love each other and want to have babies” bit. He really seemed to take it in stride, until she mentioned that sometimes people didn’t want to have anymore babies and they used various methods of birth control when they have the S-E-X. This was the moment that lives on in my memory as one of the most hilarious of his childhood.
Bo’s face fell and he looked positively horrified. “You mean they have to do it more than ONCE?”
For whatever reason, my mother’s explanation had given him the impression that you only HAD to have sex once and you could have all the babies you wanted. Sex was ugly price you had to pay for the joy of raising children, which in reality is completely backward.
A couple of years later I was driving him home from school one afternoon and, again, he let me know he needed to ask me something of importance. This time, however, we were alone in the car and I had no choice but to answer him. How much worse could it be than having to explain sex?
“What’s a whore,” he asked. I could tell he knew it was bad, but he wasn’t sure where on the Richter scale of foul language it fell.
“First, where did you hear it?”
“On the playground.” This is what expensive private schools get you, biblical curse words.
I reminded myself that this conversation might have a lasting impact on him and tried to choose my words carefully.
“A whore is a prostitute, somebody that has sex in exchange for money,” I explained. I wanted to give him the Mirriam-Webster definition. He’d be able to look things up on Urban-Dictionary on his own in a few years.
“You mean, like in Africa,” he asked.
“Or on Dickerson Road,” I replied.
“Doesn’t it kill them?” He was horrified that somebody would take part in a seemingly tortuous activity that could also end your life.
Now, I don’t like to laugh at kids when they ask questions or go through their awkward phases, because that stuff sticks with them for years and I don’t’ ever want to be on the other end of a lawsuit wherein somebody is suing me for all the money they’ve spent on therapy. However, this time I couldn’t help myself. Not that I was laughing at him, but I was laughing because I couldn’t imagine how my mother’s in-depth discussion left him with the impression that sex equals death.
“Bo, what exactly is it about your understanding of sex that makes you think it kills people?”
“Like, they get diseases.” At least this made sense. And it meant he had a better understanding than that which I had given him credit for.
“Right. And there are a lot of women in Africa who have AIDS and other diseases, but a lot of those women aren’t prostitutes. That’s a different scenario.” I left it at that, not wanting to get into the magnitude of crimes against women in Africa.
“OK,” he answered.
“OK, but just to make sure, you understand that sex doesn’t kill people, diseases do, right?”
He nodded his head and I was elated. I didn’t really have to go over the exam questions from my mother’s earlier discussion. Also, I was fairly confident he wound’t be the kid in middle school everybody laughed at because he had announced to everybody that sex kills you. We could leave that experience to one of his Church of Christ counterparts.
Hopefully, that was to be my only foray into the world of awkward questions for parents. I think I’d rather be the one who explains hangover recovery, tailgating and why you should never, ever watch Jersey Shore.