some man has broken into my house and left his clothes in the basement to be washed and folded.
the clothes keep coming back and it’s always the same duds. the intruder doesn’t damage the house or make a mess. but he does steal.
he has stolen time from me. a theft so insidious that it leaves me in a shapeless sighing heap wondering: “where has it all gone?”
my oldest son is now almost 13 and wears size 14 pants and adult small t-shirts. his socks could be mine; his underwear is not 3T anymore. he is the culprit who leaves his clothes. this is the same round-headed kid with the cherry lips and enormous, knowing eyes that graced this aching world and changed my life in the spring of 1998.
he is the one who made me care about China. the country, not the serveware.
while building a lego batman car the other day, he asked me about sex. this inquiry came on the heels of the “family life education” classes they’re teaching in school so i was ready for it.
i didn’t bristle and stammer. i sighed.
he looked at me and asked, “why are you sighing? i can ask dad – is this difficult for you?”
i vigorously shook my head “no.”
i feebly explained said, “it’s not difficult to talk about, that’s not the issue for me; it’s that you’re … well … you’re asking about it instead of me assaulting you with it.”
his big eyes looked up from the batman-car to let me continue, “you’re not building a garrison to protect yourself from an endless barrage of unsolicited Hallmark-card-esque advice like i did against the awkward moments about ‘love’ and ‘special’ and ‘meaningfulness’ and ‘respect.'”
i added, “you’re not running and hiding from this conversation like i did when my mother literally couldn’t wait to hold a summit to talk to me about it. so, what is it? what do you want to know?” i said, brightening and sweeping the hair from my eyes.
he wanted to know about STDs. i was so grateful for his appropriateness and yet not surprised. it’s not that i don’t want to talk about the Hallmark moments, it’s just that i want to match his approach. no sense wearing designer taffeta to a bar-b-que picnic…. but the grown-up in me reminds me to be careful to not mistake his quiet accord with comprehension.
he sat patiently while i explained things to him like transmission of the diseases and answered his queries betwixt the sweet gifts that betray his sophistication and advancement: “look at this — when i turn the steering wheel, this bat-shield comes up…” and then lightning bolts of reality that belie my ease, “so condoms can really protect people…” to which i emphatically and silently nodded my head, gripping the carpet to suppress the relentless wave of vertigo and welling of tears in my eyes.
when his younger brother, now 10 who seems ready to open a combo teen social club, fashion revue and recording studio walked into the playroom, my older son said, “stop. not now” and then quoted my favorite not in front of the kids phrase, “little rabbits have big ears.”
i blinked almost territorially and did one of those Looney Toon head-shaking/clarifying speed shakes without the sound effects; thinking about him and almost sneering at him with suspicion, “who invited you to the grown-up conversation?”
a year ago, he was mystified by the “mechanics of sex” as he put it. in recalling, his questions seem beautifully detached, just interested in the engineering. he noticed girls. sort of. now it’s a little more frequent, this sort-of noticing of girls.
“how? i mean, really? how does that happen? how does it work?” he asked, with profound disbelief. he didn’t laugh about it or squirm like some kids could, he just didn’t understand. he said, “well, if that’s how it works and that’s how we all got here, i guess i’ll just have to figure it out.”
that discussion i decided to opt out of — i asked if i could leave that for his father – i said, “i don’t have one; well, what you have. i don’t… i’m a girl. i can explain to you the biology of it all, but if you’d be able to wait for dad to handle this, i would be most grateful.”
he assented and said, “i don’t have anything going on, i’ll wait for dad.”
i stifled a smirk and sniffed, “k. thanks; i’ll go get the mail.”