I was curious about boys when I was twelve. I was attending an all-girl school, so my preteen theories about dating and boys were purely conjecture. Even when I moved to a co-ed school, however, my curiosity and my ability to attract the opposite sex were completely out of sync, so my parents seemed comfortable waiting to have ‘The Talk’ until I was well into high school.
My dad was a doctor, so he had no qualms about discussing the science of sex with us, but it was my mother’s less scientific take on the subject one afternoon that has stuck with me. I had invited a few friends over, including a girl who had left school when she had a baby. She had brought her baby, and we had all fallen in love with it. None of us were thinking of the larger issue of teen pregnancy at the time – I was still trying to get someone to take me to a movie – but my mom clearly was that afternoon. She enjoyed holding the baby too, but when my friends and the baby left, she sat me down for a chat.
“That baby is very cute, and your friend is doing a wonderful job with him,” she said, “but I hope you notice that she’s not going to any dances or parties.” The Talk that day revolved around, not judging someone’s choices, but making me aware of some of life’s consequences and that, even though I’d always have my parents’ love and support, I would be the one to shoulder them.
I remembered this conversation when I was dating. I remembered it when the Big Guy and I were DINKS (Double Income No Kids), indulging in carefree travel and dinners out as often as we could afford (or were invited). And, as I see very socially-aware Facebook posts by kids at my son’s school (and even grade), as well as teenage parents at his and other nearby, I’m remembering it.
My firstborn is a bit of a computer geek. Unless a girl had a keyboard or a mouse attached to her, he might not give her a second look. Knowing, however, that he is seeing this conversation played in different forms around him, I realize we will be having The Talk a lot earlier than I did. I’m a big believer in the facts. I want him to understand how his body works, what he needs to do to keep it healthy, and how to keep from reproducing before he’s ready for the consequences of that decision. Most of all, I want him to understand the potentially life-changing magnitude of those consequences.
Thing2 is six years younger than his big brother, and Thing1 has been privy to all the joys and pains of living with a newborn, toddler, and rambunctious grade schooler (he will never admit to having inflicted the pains himself). He has ridden next to a car-seat loaded with a screaming and sometimes smelly baby. He has watched us negotiate with nature’s most annoying creature – the fussy eater (his own memory of this phase is conveniently blank). Most of the time, he takes things in stride.
Sometimes, however, he cracks.
Last night was one of those times.
Thing2’s gift for getting dirty becomes an art form on the weekends, and I had ordered him into the tub. I hosed him off before letting him indulge in a little splash time. He relocated all but a few tablespoons of water from the tub to the bathroom floor before I let him know it was time to get out. The floor is concrete and tolerates ponds, so I ushered him to his bedroom to get him dried and dressed before mopping up.
“What!?!” An annoyed cry came from the bathroom. Thing1 came marching into the bedroom. “Why is the bathroom such a mess? There’s water everywhere,” he yelled at his brother. I quickly put the lid on his outburst, reminding him the commode still functioned when wet and this was not a catastrophe. Thing1 moderated his tone but not his attitude as he turned on his heel and returned to the facilities . “I swear, I’m not going to have little kids in my house till I’m forty-five,” he muttered. I wrapped the towel around Thing2, grinning like David who had just awoken Goliath, and gave him a big hug.
Clean and dry, relieved and defused, the boys retired to the couch for a few minutes of TV before bed, friends until David decides to needle Goliath again in the morning. I know there will be other versions of The Talk. Watching them teach each other about boundaries and bathrooms I’m appreciating how my mother’s words in a completely different way. What was a warning when it needed to be, is now a promise fulfilled by patience. Now, as I think about how to impart the perils without dimming that promise, Thing2’s object lessons make sure that Thing1 is gaining a clear understanding of consequences. And, while now many of those lessons may only teach Thing1 patience of a different sort, I’m hoping the occasional cease-fires are implanting another, if subtler, kind of understanding of how, with patience and timing (and luck), consequences can also be rewards.