Benny came home from school all excited. “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.” “Guess what we learned about in school today? Condominiums.”
“You mean like apartments?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “The kind you use for sex.”
A while back I had to sign a permission slip for him to participate in his fifth grade class’s sex ed program. Talking to my sons about sex was going to be a difficult job for a single mom, so I was really happy about this. I wanted them to have all of the information possible to prevent any chance of a teen pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.
“I think you mean condoms.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says.
“Well, did they show you one?” I ask.
“No,” he says.
Nothing like a teachable moment I think and ask him if he’d like to see one. He does and I make a huge mistake. I bring out the paper bag full of them that I got at the clinic.
“Oh my god,” he screams. “Why do you have so many? That asshole Larry brought them here didn’t he!”
“No,” I say in defense of my ex-boyfriend. “They’re mine.” Another mistake.
Older brother Sam comes home at about this time and I’m ready to serve the hot dogs I’ve been simmering on the stove. We sit down to eat. I take a condom out of the package and explain that they fit over a man’s penis.
“It’s so big,” he cries. “How could anyone fit into that?”
“I could,” says 13 year old Sam as he hops his naked hot dog across his plate. I fake a sneeze to hide my laughter.
And then it dawns on me that I better find a reasonable way to end this conversation because I have to drive Ben and three of his friends to basketball practice in about 10 minutes.
“Look, Benny, these aren’t illegal. When you’re 18, you can buy them at the grocery store.”
“Where?” he wants to know and I explain that they are probably right near the tampons which makes him roll his eyes and sob some more.
I promise to show him sometime. And then because I don’t want to get any phone calls about my bag of condoms from other parents, I say “Now, Ben, this is private business. I don’t want you talking about it at basketball practice.”
“If it’s so private, why do we have to talk about it all the time,” he shoots back.
We get in the car, pick up Tommy, Julian, and Vinnie, and head off to practice. As we’re passing the grocery store, I see Ben in my rear view mirror. He’s raising his eye brows up and down in a Groucho Marx sort of way.
“Hey guys,” he says. “Do you know what you can get at the grocery store?”
“Ben, what did I tell you!” I warn. But not before he whispers, “condoms.”
Two years later, I am home from work a little earlier than usual and intercept the mail carrier. Among the bills and junk, there’s an unusual brown puffy envelope addressed to Ben. It’s suspicious enough that I can’t resist the urge to open it. Apparently my darling boy is a member of the condom of the month club.
As soon as Ben gets home from school, we have a talk. He informs me that he, Tommy, Julian, and Vinnie are all members. They saw an ad in a “magazine” and signed up. He said that he thought that I’d like it because condoms are so important.
“Well what are you doing with them?” I ask dreading the answer.
“Nothing really. We just show them to other guys.” He assures me that he’s not having sex.
I cancel his membership and have a chat with the other parents. But I’m glad that he’s comfortable with condoms. When the time comes, I want to make sure he’ll use them.
A few years later, as a sophomore in high school, Ben has to give a “how to” speech in his English class. He asks me if he could demonstrate how to use a condom. “If it’s okay with your teacher,” I say, thinking that this is good information for teenagers to have. Miraculously, the teacher agrees and gets every parent to agree too.
The night before the speech, we go to the grocery store. Ben picks Trojan brand condoms and the longest bananas in the produce aisle. We spend the evening on the weirdest mother/son activity ever—rehearsing his speech and rolling condoms down our practice bananas.
You know, as moms, we want desperately to protect our children. We teach them how to safely cross the street, to not take candy from strangers, to “just say no” to drugs. But we don’t always know when to hover and when to let go, or how much information is too much information. We make mistakes. But we do our best because our love for our children is earnest and true.
The next day Ben greets me after work by flinging the text of his speech in my face as he dances around the room flexing his biceps. A+ I make banana bread to celebrate.
(I read this essay for Listen To Your Mother on 4/26/15. Utube video scheduled for late summer.)