“Quit writing down what I say,” my son pleaded as I reached for a post-it note to record an exchange we’d just had in the car.
“Can I get you a tissue for that issue?’ is funny, though,” I replied. “It made me laugh when you said that to your brother and I want to remember it. Same goes for the things you say to your buddies, like square up, legit, respect, quality, get reckt. Authentic dialogue is key for writers.”
“But I don’t want you saying or using any of that. Please, Mom.”
And there it is. As much as I don’t want to honor my son’s request, I know it’s time to do so. He and his twin brother are on the verge of turning thirteen, a fragile age when every little matter can be viewed as sacrosanct or construed as humiliating. If I want to keep their trust they can no longer serve as my subject matter. From now on I have to refrain from publicly sharing my consternation about 40% quiz scores, or the dogged ways a female classmate recently engaged in pursuit.
It probably also means I shouldn’t divulge what I learned from a speaker last week. Her topic? What Middle Schoolers Want to Know About Sex. As you might imagine, the room was tightly packed with alert and apprehensive parents. Because my kids weren’t there (nor invited of course), I’m granting myself approval to carry on in case you’re wondering what was covered.
Porn, for one. The speaker, very quickly into her session, informed parents that the time is now to tackle that subject with our kids. A friend and I looked at each other with widened eyes, like how did we get here already? It wasn’t too long ago that we were carrying little plastic pails and shovels for our dear ones to use in the sandbox.
If someone had told me then that in no time flat I would be discussing porn, either in an article or with my children, I would have summarily dismissed them as deranged. I wasn’t prepared to think about my children having access to all sorts of digital information and images, no matter what safeguards I might put in place. Gone are the days when Playboy magazines were hidden beneath mattresses. Gone are the days when we could pretend we didn’t know. Parents have to transition almost as much as our kids do during the teenage years, no easy feat for any of us.
Thankfully, there are people like Ivy Chen (ivychen.net), gracious souls who give generously of their time, knowledge and resources. Who help parents amble down the pot-holed path of adolescence. Who provide handouts and humor while offering helpful tidbits such as this: Porn can be compared to video games. Just like video games aren’t real and are designed to entertain, so too is the case for porn. Video games may show people flying or shooting bullets from their fingers, which of course isn’t real, and pornographic videos feature unusual bodies doing unusual things, leaving out aspects of real relationships, such as emotional intimacy, communication and laughter.
I decided to take a crack at this comparison the other day while driving my kids to a music store. The mood in our car was light, the day sunny and clear, no imminent fights between my boys on the horizon. “Hey guys,” I said as I turned off the radio. “I’m going to bring something up that may make you uncomfortable but it’s important. I’ll make it quick, I promise.” And then I proceeded to share Ms. Chen’s explanation as cheerfully and firmly as I could. “Okay, Mom, I got it,” said one. “Can you please change the subject?” said the other.
That’s about the extent of what I can reveal, given my new goal. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, particularly regarding icky tricky areas. However, I do feel compelled to share one last exchange that illustrates another point made by Ivy Chen. Due to fluctuating hormone levels and other physical and emotional changes, middle school students are capable of acting extremely young one minute, and then surprisingly mature the next. The pendulum is in full swing with no one at the controls. I’m not sure which was the case the night I got home from the seminar and was tucking my boys into bed, but either way, it was a gift. Just don’t tell them I told you.
“Will you be going to another meeting this week that goes late into the night?” my son asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Oh, good. I don’t like it when you’re not here.”
“But your dad and your brother were here,” I said. “You weren’t alone.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s different when you’re here.” He looked at me, his narrow face softer than usual, his eyes clear and tender, his warm man-boy hand on my shoulder. “You make the house complete,” he said with a pat.
And that, my son, is what you and your brother have made me. Complete.
End of story.