Monday, June 8, 2015

A Teenager, A Sex Tape, A Conversation

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Last week, my fifteen-year-old son was invited to make a sex tape. He was really excited about it, so I signed the release form. But before you get CPS on the phone, let me explain.

In May, Jacob won an essay contest for the Best Teen Date in our county for 2015. The contest was sponsored by a teen outreach program aimed at enriching the lives of teenagers, educating them and helping them to make healthy choices. As a result of the contest, Jacob met the heads of the program to receive the award.

May was also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. The organization that had sponsored the contest was making a short film talking with teens about their views on teen pregnancy. Since we live near the filming location, they contacted Jacob and asked if he'd be interested in being in the film. I figured he'd won Best Date contest, so surely he must have thoughts about this topic, right?

After I gave him the OK to make the tape (the head of the program's last name is Coppola--what could possibly go wrong?), it occurred to me that my son and I had never actually discussed his views about teen pregnancy. Oh sure, we'd had talks about relationships, respect, protection, maturity, communication and all the other important aspects of teen dating. Maybe I thought that, because of those conversations, teen pregnancy wouldn't become an issue. Or maybe I just didn't want to go there.

It was way too much to discuss via text, so I waited until he got home and brought it up in the car on the way to the movie shoot, doing my best to be casual about it.

Me: "So, for this movie, it sounds like they're going to ask you about your thoughts on teen pregnancy. What exactly are your thoughts on the topic?"

Jacob: "Well, I think if the couple has done their research and discussed all the aspects of what's involved and want to do it, I support it."


I don't know if my tongue actually bled while I bit down on it, but I wouldn't have been surprised because it took all my strength not to scream out, "ARE YOU INSANE?!"

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that he understands the importance of research, communication and weighing all the risks before making any big decision. And I told him that. But this is not about picking a college or buying a car. It was clear to me that he was neglecting to consider a few majorly important factors in this situation, such as the fact that a baby, unlike a car or a college, is a lifelong commitment. And teens are minors. And still in school. And unemployable. And... well, you get my point.

Before I opened my mouth, I took a deep breath, because I also understood what a big deal it was that he was even willing to have this conversation with me. I knew I had to think fast about how to get my points/fears across without lecturing like a health teacher. I decided the best way was to ask questions. What other options would you have? What if the girl was afraid to tell her parents? Who else could you talk to? How would you support the baby? How would you stay in school? What about college? If you didn't stay in school, what kind of jobs could you expect to get? What about health insurance? And on and on.

We got to the filming location before long and there were two lovely teenage girls there. Once we were introduced and Dr. Coppola arrived, I got the signal from Jacob that I was dismissed. I was disappointed that I didn't get to watch the filming and hear the discussion (admittedly, I'm probably the only mother on earth who wants to see the sex tape her son made). But at least I knew I'd given Jacob a lot to think about.

He did say that if he ever found himself in a such a situation, he knew he could come talk to me. I just hope, now that we've had this little chat, he'll never need to.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Raising Humans

Before I had kids, I never thought much about being a mother. Sure, I presumed I'd have a family one day, but that vague notion was as detailed as it got. Until I became pregnant. Then the tomboy in me kicked in.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly boys. I had one brother, and our three male cousins lived next door. When I was young, I saw us all as equals--kids who liked bikes, bugs, fishing and baseball. And at that age, I was right.

But when I became a teenager, everything changed. I was nothing like other girls. They wore makeup and flirted with boys and smoked and drank and knew things. I didn't know anything, especially about boys. Sure, I could put a worm on a hook for a boy or throw a football around with them, but that other stuff? Pfft. Clueless. Whoever passed out the "How To Be A Girl" manual definitely missed my mailbox.

So when I became pregnant, I realized that I desperately wanted to mother boys. Only boys. In fact, the idea of raising a girl was so foreign to me that I was in a bit of a panic. I'm the type of person who learns from experience. I didn't even know how to be a girl. How could I be successful in raising one? Even in my twenties, all my best friends were male. When I sat down to consider what skills I had to raise a girl, I came up with bupkis. I was completely ill-prepared for the task.

I got lucky and had sons. But I have friends who have both daughters and sons, and they tell me they are the opposite of me: completely comfortable raising their daughters and in foreign territory with their sons. Of course I can understand exactly what they mean. But I started thinking about what kind of mother I am that makes me more suited to raising boys over girls, and the only thing I felt strongly about was that I'm comfortable with who I am and confident in my convictions as an adult.

So? you might say. That doesn't sound gender-specific at all. And you'd be right. In fact, if anything I'm more girly now than I was when I was younger. I hate bugs and video games and sports (well, OK, not hockey). I love flowers and pretty shoes and sappy, romantic movies that make me cry and dressing up. These are not exactly traits I share with my boys. And when they want to go camping, I tell them to go talk to their father.

But here's what I figured out: I'm not my sons' friend, so it's OK if I don't share certain interests with them. I love them with all my heart and I'm here to teach them how to be confident, capable, respectable and self-sufficient. But I also want them to be compassionate, fair, tender and thoughtful. And the best way to do that is to teach by example. I set standards for their behavior and I live by those standards myself. I'm not hypocritical and I'm always willing to listen to their side of the argument. Don't those parenting skills cover both genders? I think so.

All this tells me is that I would probably have done alright raising a girl. Sure, I might have had to call in the experts for some things. But the stuff that matters? I've got that down. The rest, they'll figure out on their own just like I did. I'm not teaching them how to be men and I wouldn't have to teach a girl how to be a woman. That's biology and it will happen regardless of what type of parent I am. I'm raising humans. Sure, it would be nice to have someone to help me do my hair and nails and watch weepy movies with once in a while. But as long as my kids grow up to be respectful of others and their world, and they build lives that they're proud of, I'm OK watching chick flicks alone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Puppy Inside

Today, I'm pretty sure I saw my dog longing for his lost youth. It's happened before, in encounters with younger, more vibrant dogs who want to jump, wrestle and play. These dogs always intrigue Bailey, but he's almost fifteen, so they also give him pause. It's as if he's thinking, "Man, I'd love to but I know I'd throw my back out."

Today, a neighbor dog who lives up the street came running through a nearby yard just as we finished our morning walk. Nash is about two or three years old, a mutt with insatiable energy who's always up for a game, a run or a belly rub.

I heard Nash before I spotted him. He came down through the trees, and I thought at first that perhaps he was a deer. Bailey's hearing has significantly diminished in the last year or two, but when we were half way up our driveway, he saw Nash and turned. To say he was riveted would be a gross understatement. Nash ran like a racehorse, down the street and back. He bounded into the woods and out again, approached Bailey with a 'hello' sniff, then crouched as if ready to wrestle. He wasn't even breathing heavily.

For a moment, Bailey went through the motions. He crouched as best as he could with his arthritic hips. His tail went up as if ready to have a go-round with Nash. He never took his eyes off the dog.

But when no play actually ensued, Nash grew bored and ran off down the street again, a flash of black and tan who'd be gone if you blinked. He stopped momentarily to smell the wet leaves, then heard his owner calling from up the block and took off back through the trees and up the hill.

When Bailey and I reached our deck and I told him to go around back as he always does, he stood and looked at me. I motioned for him to go on, thinking perhaps he hadn't heard me. But then he turned and looked across the street for a long moment, to the spot where Nash had just been running to and fro.  He let out a heavy breath, then loped up the deck toward the door and the bed that awaited him inside.

I'm starting to think Bailey is like the rest of us. As we feel the effects of aging come on bit by bit, we learn to adjust and live with them. We buy reading glasses, ask people to repeat themselves, turn up the volume on the television. This all works fine until we find ourselves somewhere with a younger bunch: those who can eat richer food, dance more freely, drink more wine. Then we sigh and hold hands, glad we're not alone, but a little sad for what we no longer have.

So I'm giving Bailey some extra love today. A bit of gravy in his bowl, lots of scratches and coos and calling him my puppy, the one I love most, my best boy. I don't even know if he can hear me. But in this warm, familiar setting he's known for years, I'll try to ease his heart. I can't give him back what he's lost. But I hope our love is enough to make up for it.