My oldest son is sixteen and has a girlfriend. How this happened, I have no idea. Didn’t I just bring that swaddled lump home from the hospital? Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was mooning over Blue’s Clues (and I was mooning over Steve Burns)? Wasn’t it just recently that the most stressful speck on the horizon of his childhood was signing him up for t-ball?
I blinked, though, and here he is—more man than boy, navigating his first teen romance.
I was sixteen when I had my first serious (okay, my first) boyfriend. My mother took me to the doctor to get a prescription for the Pill. Looking back, I now understand how difficult that must have been for her. I think the tendency for most parents is to want to keep our kids young and innocent. It’s painful letting go of them, step by step, watching them grow into their own lives and away from us. We dole out lectures and try to lay down rules meant to keep them safe, and if we are honest, meant to feed our illusion that we remain in control of the choices they will make.
As much as I’d like to keep my son young and safely tied up in my apron strings, I realize that it’s folly. He is growing up, and he is making his own choices more and more. The best I can hope for is that his dad and I have instilled in him the values that will dictate good decision-making on his part.
It was actually two of my close girlfriends who informed me one night over dinner that, now that my son had a girlfriend, and being of the age he is, it’s time to buy him some condoms and have that talk with him. Not the sex talk—the birth control talk, the protection talk. I was horrified. Although I remember what my own mother did for me, I wasn’t prepared to deal with this with my own children—let alone my son.
But the more I contemplated it, the more I realized that they were right. I could live in denial that my son was even thinking about sex; I could try to convince myself that his relationship with his girlfriend was innocent and platonic; I could close my eyes to the fact that when I was 16… But it was no use. The inner voice that spoke the loudest in my head was the one saying, “Yeah, and while you’re busy trying to fool yourself, he could be getting her knocked up. At sixteen.” And the imagined implications of that scared the daylights out of me. Two young lives potentially detoured irrevocably, forever.
I had the birth control talk with my son—a straightforward, brief monologue on my part which (hopefully) hid my wrecked nerves, while he stood with a stricken look on his face, very much like a deer in headlights. But even after the talk, I realized that, at whatever point in time he actually decided to become sexually active, it was highly unlikely that he would have the means or the nerve to procure condoms himself. And if one thing led to another, as they so often do…well, one time is all it would take.
The next time I went to Target, I had condoms on my mind. I couldn’t bring myself to go down that aisle, though. For the next few weeks, the condoms mocked me every time I ventured into Target. Eventually, I was able to casually push my cart down that aisle, glancing at the condoms in my peripheral vision as I glided by. Finally, a few days ago, I once again found myself at Target. “This is it,” I told myself. “This time, I’m doing it.”
I approached the aisle. I ventured a casual glance to see if anyone else was in the aisle; when I found it empty, I rolled my shopping cart down the linoleum and stopped in front of the condoms, and promptly began to hyperventilate. Words jumped out at me in neon script: “Pleasure Pack,” “Easy Glide,” “Ribbed for Her Pleasure,” “Fun Colors!” Holy mother of god! I don’t want to think about my son having fun! Or pleasure! “Don’t faint, don’t faint, just breathe, nice and easy…” I told myself. Finally, at the bottom of the display were the no-nonsense, plain condoms. How many to get, though? Crap! Six? Twelve? I finally decided on the economy pack of 36—not because I wanted him to have that much sex, but because I never wanted to find myself in this aisle on his behalf again.
I threw the box in with my paper towels and cereal and Pine Sol and diapers, and made my way to the front of the store to pay. My heart was thumping and I felt very close to tears—this was some kind of bizarre milestone in my childrearing career, for sure. Of course a twenty-something guy manned every open checkout lane, only recently out of high school themselves, no doubt. I briefly felt embarrassed about my loot, but I couldn’t worry about what the cashier might think for too long.
I deposited the box of condoms in my oldest son’s bathroom and sent him this email:
Up on a high shelf in the cabinet in your bathroom, you will find a bag. Inside the bag is a box of condoms.
I realize that just reading this will probably horrify you – your mom buying condoms for you?? Blech! I know. Believe me, it wasn’t any easier for me to buy them than it probably is for you to be reading this. However, as uncomfortable as it might make either of us feel, the fact is that you are of a certain age when things might happen, and because I love you so very much, and care so much about your well-being and your future, as a responsible parent, I have to ensure that you are protected.
This is not permission from Dad or me. Sex, as we have talked about before, is a huge responsibility with tremendous implications, and the truth is that it’s best left to adults. I hope you will wait. But to count on that would be unrealistic; I realize that you will make your own choices in this regard, just as I did when I was your age. The best I can do is to encourage you to make those choices with intelligence and respect, and armed with protection.
This is an informational video about how to use a condom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdSq2HB7jqU
I love you.
We haven’t spoken of it since. He didn’t acknowledge my note, but I didn’t expect him to. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of that Target bag up on a high shelf in his bathroom cabinet. And I know I did the right thing.