TMI

open clip. art.com by johnny_automatic

Hey Mom, Look at those cats, my son says, pointing to the front porch of an old apartment building in downtown Brattleboro. 

I take a quick look and reach toward his hand to cross the street. We’re rushing  to get to a concert.

How many cats do you see? he asks.

Annoyed, I look back and see three.

I thought there were only two, he explains. Because two of them are connected. What ARE they doing, Mom?

I take another look and notice that one is humping another–right there on the steps in broad daylight in front of my 11 year old (and another cat.)

Um… they’re… they’re… mating, I say.

Right there? he asks.

I know, right? I say; and then I yell: “Hey, get a room!” masking my own discomfort.

“Or at least go under the stairs!” my son bellows.

I smile. These kind of open dialogues with my boys make me happy. Sometimes, I’m taken off guard by their questions, but I stay ahead of them by choosing candidness, especially when it’s uncomfortable. I love it when they can hang in there with me instead of clamming up. It’s promising for our future.

That said, things are getting a bit stickier now that my oldest is 16. The other night, he and his dad were commenting on a friend’s unequal relationship; and I blurted out: What do you two know? Maybe she gives him blow jobs every night!

This was risque, even for me, but I wanted to stop them in their tracks. My husband quickly ducked into the bedroom to avoid any follow up, but not so my son. He just as quickly quipped back: That’s really shallow Mom. Maybe he wants more than that. Maybe he’s looking for a commitment.

I was tickled. Look at that. I can’t even embarrass my son any more. He hangs right in there and dishes it back.

I went to sleep that night proud.

And concerned.

Just a few days later, my teenager turned the tables on me when I asked about the dance.

What kind of dancing? I said.

The grind, he answered.

The WHAT? I asked.

You know, the grind.

You?

Everyone Mom.

But not you?

Yes, Mom, me.

Now it was my turn to turn away. I sputtered and flushed and then threatened to send him to the nearest Christian school. It’s all I could think about for the rest of the night.

Look who has the upper hand with openness now, I thought; and look who taught him.

Kelly Salasin, February 2012

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On Privacy

Vincent van Gogh, vispix.com

“Will my kids be safe?” a friend asks about beginning to blog.

I consider the age of her children. “I think the greater threat to children is not speaking up,” I say.

Yesterday, I read a piece on the Huffington Post by a highschool classmate of my son’s.  Margaret addressed our culture’s current obsession with “sharing.” Her point was well made, but I’m happy to see the pendulum shift away from secrecy. No doubt discretion is needed as this clear-headed writer suggests, but I think this rocking into the openness is a necessary step.

I grew up in an alcoholic family where the drinking wasn’t kept secret. My father told me that my mother had a disease. We talked about–what it looked like; what we could or couldn’t do to help. My father was the only one who would talk about it.

When someone got seriously sick, we talked about that too; and when the neighbor’s teenage daughter attempted suicide, my dad told me how; because I asked. As a physician, he had been the first on the scene.

My father also sat me down to talk to me about cigarettes–told me that he and my mother hadn’t known of their risks when they started smoking. He said that I could smoke. At home. In front of him. I would pester my mother for puffs, but I never started, though she died from never stopping.

I talk to my own sons in this same candid way–as things come up, or when they ask, or when I can tell the time is right. I include that which my father left out–sexuality.

Once I became a teenager myself, my father stopped talking, at least about the gritty things that I was facing in my day to day:

My mother’s  depression.

My emerging sexuality.

My exposure to alcohol and drugs.

Maybe he didn’t know how.

It’s not surprising. Most parents don’t.  How would we know?

Which is why I blog about the conversations I have with my boys. As a lifelong educator and writer and a life lover, I want others to have an example of what an uncomfortable or solution-less real-life conversation with a teenager looks like.

And I want to hear back from my friends and readers; because parenting a teen is life-defining work, and working on it in the dark isn’t nearly as rich as stretching it out in the light together.

So my opinion is that privacy is over-rated. I prefer transparency. For not only does that allow others to learn or differentiate or improve upon what is offered, it also releases the drama of “story.”

For what is essential can’t be taken away from us by sharing. Our being-ness doesn’t get robbed on a blog.  Our life’s details and woes are simply garments.

Does that mean that I think everyone should strip themselves of story for others? No. Not unless that’s your calling.

There is a conundrum however in that calling–in that the fibers of my own drama are intimately woven into the stories of those who are closest to me–like my sons; and those who grew old with me–like my friends and siblings; and those who loved me first–like my parents and aunts and uncles and boyfriends.

They may not want to disrobe with me, no matter how far apart our threads have become.

Which brings me to a line my late grandfather used to say, “When it’s your time, it’s your time; but what if it’s the pilot’s time?”

Kelly Salasin, last day of November, 2011

Not Rape, but not right

When I was 16, I met this sweet boy, Richie (not his real name.) He was quiet, and handsome, and two years younger than me so it was safe to flirt and fan his adoration. Richie was a summer kid so when September came, he returned to wherever he lived while I remained at the shore and grew up.

A handful of years later, our paths crossed again. Richie was now big and strong, still quiet, even more handsome, but no longer “too young.” We were at a small gathering one night, circling each other as we drank and laughed with friends. A few of us were talking in the bedroom. One by one people left, and soon I found myself alone, with Richie, as he leaned in for a kiss.

Vallotton/detail, visipix.com

It was our first. And it was weird. Like some kind of time warp. (How did we become adults, let alone peers?)

But there was something else. Something not right. A prickling went up my neck. Richie was leaning in too hard. He was too quiet. He had been drinking too much.

I glanced out into the livingroom and the kitchen and saw that it was suddenly emptied.

My breath caught as Richie began driving me toward the bed. I tried a joke to shift the mood, but he wasn’t budging. If I didn’t think of something fast, I was about to be… raped.

“Not here, let’s go to my place,” I said, hoping to wake him from the spell he was under.

It worked. Richie stumbled into my car and rode with me to my apartment; climbed the stairs, and got into my bed. Whoever he had been at the party was gone; and now he was only generous and gentle. But I felt dirty.

I’d never felt that before.

Afterward, I slipped on what was once my mother’s nightgown (the one she wore in the hospital at my birth), and stepped out onto the porch where I sat in the rain until it soaked me through.

Richie came out to see what was wrong. I didn’t say a thing. Until now.

25 years have passed since that night, and I can still feel the rain on my skin, and the humiliation in my bones.

Kelly Salasin

Author’s note: Do you ever wonder what makes you write something, all of the sudden, that happened long ago? And then you see this CLICK HERE. And you know. We’re all connected.

Parents PRIVACY!

Sarah from

get born magazine

posted this query on facebook today:

I always scoffed at the idea of the parents’ bedroom being “sacred space, but as my kids grow, they get better at invading every facet of my life. I find that I need a retreat more and more. My solution has been to thoroughly clean my bedroom – removing all the kid paraphernalia – and lock my bedroom door whenever I haven’t invited the kids in. How have you created a private space in your life? Or have you?!

I direct readers to my marriage blog where I answer this question for my husband and me~

Enter Here:

(no kids allowed)

Mustache Time!

Kelly Salasin, February 2011

Cool Mom (NOT!)

While I generally do not wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m definitely not the “cool” mom that I thought I would be.

My own mother ran “cool.”  I only saw her flinch–twice.  The second time was when I went back to college after Christmas break.   She stood there on the lawn with my young sisters in each hand.  I think she might have been crying.  Maybe it wasn’t about me.  Maybe she wanted to leave too.

My own son just finished his freshman year–at high school.  All along, I’ve enjoyed witnessing his growth–even those terrible twos–and even the turbulent tweens (most of the time.)

Modersohn (visipix.com)

As an added bonus to each new stage of his development is my gain of greater independence. (That’s a good thing for a mom who needs lots of time for thinking her own thoughts.)

But even an independence-loving mom like myself isn’t immune to the pangs of separation. Even if my brain says that it’s a beautiful thing to watch my son grow up, my body has its own interpretation–and my body apparently doesn’t know how to play it “cool.”

Boecklin/detail/visipix.com)

Like the other night when I witnessed my 15 year old move in toward a girl for the first time.

She was seated on a chair, and he sat down on the arm beside her–and then, (and this part was in slow motion) I watched him tilt his shoulder toward hers so that their bodies brushed as his arm dropped alongside her back.

This physical expression of affection blossomed from innocent days of swimming and tennis and talking (and in between, Facebooking.)  It was a nice thing.  It was sweet.  It was good.

Then why did my spine recoil?  Why did my face contort? Why did my breath catch?  And why did I so transparently shudder, turning away to steady myself, that I caught the attention of her uncle who observed my whole internal drama which was meant to be private?

Schiele (visipix.com)

Not “cool.”  Not cool at all.

And now I understand:

The mind, in its linear fashion, can appreciate change–but the body is timeless inside.

That 15 year old young man is still the baby that grew within, and the infant who suckled at my breast, and the boy who held my hand and beamed up at my eyes–promising to live with me forever.

This folding of time makes me dizzy.

Dizzy and transparent.

And that’s so not cool.

Kelly Salasin

Organic Sex

Volta/detail/vispix.com

I hear lots of talk about boys and pornography and the “naturalness” of curiosity. I like “natural” things.  But I’m not sure that sex on the internet or in a magazine constitutes “natural.”

It’s a funny thing for a “mother” to say, but I want my son to enjoy sex. I really do.  How could I not want him to embrace the pure pleasure of love making?

But I think the use of pornography interrupts the “organic” process of his sexuality.  It installs “ideas” of sex before the “real” thing can naturally unfold–forever corrupting his experience.

Forever is a strong word. But I have proof.  I myself followed my “natural” teen curiosity to places like Penthouse and Playboy.  (Thanks to uncles and fathers and bathroom reading and piles under beds.)

I didn’t understand the attraction to photo spreads of a woman’s spread, but I did like the stories. No, not the “articles,” but the erotic letter column.   And they drove me to place “story” above “presence” when it came to my own unfolding sexuality.

It took years, 20 to be exact, before that artificial fertilizer was chelated from the garden of my lovemaking.

I can’t imagine what it takes to chelate what is available now on the Internet.  And I can only imagine how far the toxins spread–deep into the well waters of our birthright.

I have to give my sister credit for describing sexuality as “organic.” We were talking about teens and porn, and she said that it was important for young people to find their own way to sexual expression rather than have it defined on the outside.  It was a cart before the horse kind of thing.

“Later, it can be used it to spice things up,” she suggested.

visipix.com

But I don’t agree. I think “artifical” is always “artificial.” It doesn’t stem from the clear waters of presence or love or the witness to beauty and the creativity that swells from pure desire.

I know more than one grown man who was forced to yank himself away from the addiction of pornography.  (Women whisper these secrets to each other.)

“Like any delight, it’s a slippery slope,” I say to my son, referring to life’s pleasures: sex, alcohol, food, drugs, money. Just a blink of an eye and what you were using for delight begins to use you.  “Everyone is tempted by what’s available on the Internet,” I tell him. “Even moms.”

I’ve been talking to my son about porn since he was eleven–when access to the Web trickled into his life.  But recently, as he approaches 15 and we rise from dial-up to DSL,  I took the conversation a step further.

I’d rather you have

real sex

with a real girl

than use pornography.

This statement was a shock to both of us–as I have long claimed (somewhat seriously) that my son shouldn’t date until he’s 18.

 

But that’s how important the gift of his sexuality is–that I’d rather he express it prematurely, rather than feed it artificially  (though I still hope he waits as long as possible insure the healthiest expression of his desire.)

Rodin/detail/vispix.com

So join me, will you, in keeping sex organic–not just for our teen sons and daughters, but for ourselves and our spirits and the “natural” gift of making love.

Kelly Salasin

(Link to my marriage blog and its sister post: Organic Love.)

Feminist or Whore?

After telling my son that he wasn’t allowed to date until he was 18 (I was only half-kidding), I shocked him at 15 with this (private) Facebook message:

I’d rather you have real sex–with a real girl–than use porn.

His response was priceless–and was actually in person–because as a mother I opted not to send my teenager a message with the words  “porn” and “sex“–but instead invited him to read it on my laptop before deleting it.

It took him a moment before he “got it”–and then he drew a quick breath and attempted to suppress a shy smile, saying:

Woah…that’s intense.

I smiled too–satisfied that I had driven my point home (despite how it unnerved me.)

It’s important to me that my teen not confuse my parental attention to his choices as a lack of passion for life itself.  I want him to know that I celebrate all that is good in life–including sex–but I want him to be intentional with his choices.

That’s how we ended up in a half-hour conversation around the word “whore” last week after he relayed a comedian’s skit that included the label.

“What does that mean to you?” I asked him.

Right away, he turned to leave the room, wishing he’d never stopped in to say goodnight to his parents or made the mistake of sharing something funny with his mother.

“Have a seat,” I said, with my–this is not an optional conversation voice–which I reserve for “these” kind of talks.

He sat himself down at the edge of my bed, prepared for a quick escape.

“So, what does ‘whore’ mean to you?” I asked again, keeping my tone lightwhile making sure he knew that this question was NOT going away.

He fumbled a bit and then said something like:

…That a girl is easy.

“What does ‘easy’ mean?” I probed, wondering where he was gaining this socio-cultural literacy and how much he had already been informed by it.

“Well how about guy?” I asked.  “What are they called when they’re ‘easy’?”

Our conversation continued in this manner with me asking lots of questions with the aim of greasing his thinking away from convention so that his mind might open beyond these gender stereotypes.

Some of his responses were surprising (given that I was certain that I had the final word on the subject.) My son thoughtfully spoke to the “economics” and power dynamics of the male-female exchange and how that determined why women would be called “easy” and men wouldn’t.

I pressed him further on this distinction, reminding him that women wanted sex too.  He was taken off guard by this response and then took me off guard with his own followup:

Mom, are you a feminist or something?

My husband and I looked at each other with suppressed smiles.  We both wondered how it was that our son could live with this particular mother for 15 years without knowing this about her–and we also wondered where he had learned the concept of feminism–and what it actually meant to him.

“Ask your grandfather about that,” I said, knowing that my dad would love to give his grandson an earful about this particular first-born daughter of his.

“What would Poppop have to say?” he asked, still bewilderingly unclear on my stance.

“A lot!” I said, and then to his dismay, I began the next chapter of our bedtime lesson on culture and sexuality–with this new leading question:

What is a feminist?

(to be continued)

Kelly Salasin