Posted in Sexuality, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

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

Posted in Fragile Life, Takes a Village, Teens

The Balls It Takes to Parent Teens

I sit in the parking lot of the 7’Eleven and bang my head on the steering wheel, wishing, for once, that I had a cell phone so that I could call for back up.

“Help, help, help,” I say to no one– hoping that someone will magically pull up beside me in this parking lot and tell me what to do. Maybe my doctor.

“Help, help, help,”  I repeat, until a truck pulls up beside me and the driver stares at me strangely.  I worry that he saw me banging my head and then I stare right back at him, wondering if there’s any chance that he could be helpful.  (If only I had a flat tire.)

I want to restart the car because I’m shivering from the stress, but I don’t want to pollute the environment for 5 minutes of comfort.

“Breathe, breathe, breathe,” I tell myself, and I try.

The boys are in line at the check out so I don’t have much time to figure out what to say next.   “Remain present, remain present, ” I say–trying to be present–while simultaneously  freaking out.

I think about pulling my teen aside and consulting him before they both get back into the car.  But that would be bad parenting form, right?   I have to be the grown up, right?  (I don’t want to be. This is a stupid job.)

Instead I tell my son that Pepsi and cheap chocolate aren’t  great choices right before bed, let alone any other time.  (This customary commentary on food choices seems out of place–even for me– given the topic at hand.)

“TMI!” I wanted to shout on the ride home from the game when his buddy unraveled his life before me.

I hadn’t expected a detailed confession, let alone extraneous ones.

“What do I say, what do I say?” I asked myself over and over again. But I had used up all my courage with the original prompt that had launched me into this deep end of parenting.

It was my own fault.  Actually, it was my nose’s fault.  I have incredibly strong olfactory senses–and that’s what I told this friend of my son’s when he got into my car.

“Did I ever tell you that I can smell just about anything– on anybody?”  I say.

The car gets quiet.  And then it just spills out of him–so softly– that I have to tilt my head toward the back seat to catch what he’s saying.

After the stop at 7’Eleven, we turn toward small talk but it just feels flat and forced.  Mostly we sit without talking–which is a surreal experience with two teens in the car. What are they thinking? I wonder.

“You know I care about you, right?”  I finally say aloud to this boy I have known– since he was a boy.  Now he looks more like a man.  “You know this puts you at risk. You’re too young,” I tell him.

He isn’t apologetic or dismissive or anything that would give me something to push back on.   He is simply transparent, just like me–and we fall silent again.

It seems like everyone in the car has aged in the twenty minutes since I picked them up at the school.

“Talk to your parents,” I say as we pull up to his house. “I’ll  follow up with them this weekend.”

I can tell that I’ve just dropped a bomb on him with this request.  Actually, it feels like the weight of a hundred years is on his spirit as he gets out of the car and drags himself toward his front door.  I wonder if I should have gone in with him.  He seems so tender.

As we back out of the driveway, my son launches into weekend plans and I put up my hand.  “I can’t talk about anything, right now,” I say, and he uncharacteristically silences himself without another word.

At the bottom of the road, I pull over and flop my head onto the steering wheel, finally taking a deep breath.  “I want to quit,” I say. “This is too hard.”

I’m not sure if this confession of mine evokes compassion or concern or something worse so I start driving again.  You can do this, I tell myself.

You just did.

Kelly Salasin

Posted in Quotes 2 Inspire, Sexuality, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

The Fear of Love

Should I fear my son falling in love just because it once ended badly for me?

For even the great philosopher Plato said,

Love… is universally acknowledged to be among the oldest of things… (It) is the author of our greatest advantages; for I cannot imagine a greater happiness… to one who is in the flower of youth than an amiable lover , or to a lover, than an amiable object of his love.  For neither birth, nor wealth, nor honours, can awaken in the minds of men the principles which should guide those who from their youth aspire to an… excellent life, as Love awakens them.

(quoted from Plato in the compilation, The Spirit of Loving, editor, Emily Hillburn Sell.)