The great toy divide

Lego Ad

This picture and article showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. When you click, it will open in a separate window. I recommend reading the article first as it has more pictures comparing then and now of specific toys.

I’ve commented before that I read a blog called Raising my Rainbow and how Colin was a lot less girly than C.J. at that age. And in many regards that’s true. Colin loved The Magic School bus and Thomas the Tank Engine when he was little. And dinky cars (the brighter and more metallic the better). He could, and did, drive them around for hours. But, at the same time, toys were a lot more gender neutral. Lego came in bright primary colours and bicycles pretty much did too. The only real difference between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike were the bars connecting the seat to the handle bars. Colin got Kait’s hand-me-down bikes for years without any comments.

We had dress up clothes in the living room and both my kids loved wearing them but they were odds and ends I’d collected. A sheer sequin covered shawl, a tiara, and some foam masks I picked up at the dollar store. A lavender slip and a lacy nightgown that looked a lot like a wedding dress, both bought from a second hand store. And a pair of ballerina flats because I thought the dollar store high heels were too small and slippery. Both kids had lady bug wings from Halloween costumes and there was a wand kicking around but that was it. Actual costumes were for Halloween and got packed away with the decorations.

I just went through our photo albums. The fanciest their Lego got was a set of Winnie the Pooh Duplo; that came with a handful of plastic flower/leaf shapes and a spiral slide. Otherwise they had riding sticks with plush animal heads, basic Lego, Tinker Toys, Sesame Street figures, Teletubby figures, dinky cars, a Thomas the Tank Engine set, and an Oneida tea set complete with Oreo cookies. The kids played interchangeably with all of them.

Years later, the kids and I were walking through Walmart and I was floored to see Disney princess dress up clothes mixed in with the regular clothes. The boys, of course, had super heroes. This was nowhere near Halloween, these were for every day use. I was floored.

Then my sister got pregnant with her second child. The ultrasound said she was having a girl but there’s always a possibility it’s wrong. I went to Old Navy to pick up a neutral newborn outfit only to find those didn’t exist. I could not buy a pale green or yellow sleeper. They were either pink and labelled princess or blue and red with sports themes. There was no in-between.

I like bright colours and picked bright clothes for my kids. Plus I tend to buy in second hand shops and just pick the ones that appeal to me. Not to say they never wore boys clothes or girls clothes but most of the time they just wore jeans and bright t-shirts. Last time I went clothes shopping with Colin, it was an exercise in frustration for both of us. Literally half the mens department was Duck Dynasty and the rest was camo and dreary. Colin picked out one shirt that he loved but it was hand wash and lay flat to dry, which translates to “this will never be washed”. That won’t work for him. And the younger sections are even worse.

Note, I’m not saying that the past was wonderful. I know it wasn’t. I went to high school in the 1980’s and remember overhearing classmates bragging about driving to downtown Toronto to “throw rocks at the f*gs”. No one came out in high school at all. I had a friend who everyone was pretty sure was gay, and he was, but he certainly didn’t come out then. It wasn’t safe. Meanwhile Kait went to the same high school I did, just twenty years later. She attended a school with pride flag stickers plastered everywhere, announcing this was a safe environment. Several of her friends came out in grade nine.

I can’t help thinking though that we’re making it safer for teens and adults to come out while segregating and compartmentalizing our children. Colin loved pink when he was little, it was his absolute favourite colour. He had several pink stuffed animals and a pink baby stroller for his baby. But that was pretty much it, the rest of their toys came in primary colours. Most of their clothes were in those colours too. I can’t help but wonder what his choices would have been if everything was split between blue/red and super heroes or pink/purple and glitter with nothing in between. No choice to simply be a kid.

Colin was invited to a birthday party when he was four years old. The birthday girl’s mother bought Barbie napkins for the girls and plain blue napkins for the boys. Colin insisted on having a Barbie napkin because pink was his favourite colour. I have a feeling, in this gender oriented marketing environment, he’d probably be almost as pink as C.J.

Advertisements

Musings on sexuality

What I remember the most was how dark the room was; that and the giggles of my sisters and their friend. I can’t remember who picked the game. I’d hoped for Barbies, we could sit for hours sorting through all the different clothes. I even had a Barbie with me just in case. Instead, a new game was suggested.

“Let’s turn out the light and we’ll all take our pants and underwear off. Then we have to try and touch each other’s privates.”

This wasn’t something I wanted to do at all. I wasn’t curious. I just wanted to hide, and I did just that, I crawled to the farthest corner of the room and curled in a ball and waited for the lights to go back on. Then it got worse.

“How come I haven’t heard Michelle? Nobody move. Michelle, you have to touch someone now.”

I was still holding my Barbie. My heart pounded as I reached forward, hoping they wouldn’t tell the difference between my finger and a Barbie foot. Seconds later there was a yelp, followed by a giggle and “Yep, she did it too”. Then I retreated back to my corner until the lights came back on. People talk about experimenting when they were younger. This was as close to experimenting as I ever got.

Years later I found myself staring at my mother in blank astonishment. I’d been teased and bullied for years but suddenly a new word was being thrown in my direction. Homo. My mother stammered through her explanation while I listened in bewilderment. People honestly fell in love with someone of their own sex? I had no idea. I’ve always had a good imagination but this was something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. The name didn’t stick and the kids soon moved on to other forms of bullying and harassment.

During one of my first classes in high school, the teacher announced that any gay students could feel free to talk to him in private if they needed an ear and he wouldn’t tell anyone. He’d done so plenty of times before. The room erupted with kids either laughing or wanting to know exactly who he’d talked to. Once again, I listened in astonishment. While I couldn’t understand why people fell in love with someone of the same sex, I also couldn’t fathom why anyone else would dislike them for it or tease them about it. It didn’t seem like it was anyone else’s business for one thing and love didn’t seem like a reason to tease anyone, not that teasing or bullying seemed to make much sense to begin with.

My thoughts on sexuality were black and white. You were either straight and liked the opposite sex or you were gay and liked the same sex, there was no in-between. Of course, this was the ’80’s and I was hardly alone in this thinking. Heck, I’d hardly be alone in that thinking these days.

Eventually I grew up, got married, and had two children. My ex-husband was taking a college course and he loved to quote his teacher, including all the jokes his teacher made. We were visiting friends one afternoon and my ex-husband decided to share the latest joke.

“You know, I get that people can be gay or straight. What I don’t get is bisexuals. They’re just being greedy and need to pick a side.”

Absolute complete and utter silence. I looked at our two male friends and wished I was anywhere but there. This wasn’t a “joke” I liked to begin with and it seemed horribly inappropriate to bring up here. The silence lasted for a few more heartbeats then one friend piped up.

“I’m bisexual,” he announced quietly.

My ex-husband made a few stammered excuses and the conversation moved on, although obviously it was one I haven’t forgotten.

My thoughts on sexuality had transformed to include bisexuals but I still was thinking fairly black and white. People were either 100% straight, 100% gay or right in the middle, liking both genders equally.

Along the way I got connected to the internet and began chatting on parenting forums. That was when I got another surprise. There were several posts about famous female actors and I was astonished by the number of woman who identified as straight but would sleep with those actors if they had the chance. That’s when I started to realize sexuality had a lot more shades of grey than my current thinking allowed.

By this time, Jeremy was an adorable blond haired, blue eyed preschooler who had a habit of climbing onto the laps of close family friends, patting their cheek and saying, “I wuv you. When I gwow up, I’m gonna mawwy you.” I think he proposed to all my friends, regardless of gender. They all thought he was sweet. I thought he was sweet too but, at the same time, something nagged quietly in the back of my brain.

That quiet voice was what prompted me to join with several members of our church in support of a teenage boy who wanted to bring his boyfriend to the school prom… and to bring four year old Jeremy with me. There’s pictures of us in an album somewhere. Jeremy’s clutching a big rainbow sucker someone gave him, looking curiously around while I’m holding him alongside the other church members in front of a rainbow flag. I’d explained to him why were were there, neglecting to mention my extreme dislike of crowds. I’d never have gone if it wasn’t for him.

I’m pretty quiet on my own but, for Jeremy I’ll move mountains.

And an update of sorts about the GSA at Jeremy’s school. I got a call from the vice principal about rough housing on the school bus today and took the opportunity to ask if the GSA had restarted. Only to find out it had never stopped at all. She had no idea why Jeremy and I were told “I don’t know” when we contacted the office or why I’d eventually been told it was on hold due to the lack of a teacher to sponsor it. Jeremy’s supposed to hear back from the teacher by the beginning of next week. At least I have a name now, so if I haven’t heard anything by Wednesday, I’ll be using my whole 15 minute lunch to contact her.

Edited to add: I just showed this entry to a friend of mine and zie shared a link with me, which I’m now sharing with you: How to Explain to Someone that Bisexuality (or Pansexuality) is Real.

But I wasn’t worried

Years ago, Jeremy was invited to a birthday party. He had a great time and his friend’s Mom made sure to take several pictures on Jeremy’s camera so I could see the fun too.

I stopped by their place several weeks later and we sat, chatting in the living room. After a while the conversation turned to her son’s birthday and she commented that they’d watched some sort of sporting event during the party and there’d been cheerleaders.

“Jeremy was absolutely glued to the screen when the cheerleaders came on,” she assured me, entirely unprompted. “You don’t have to worry about him. He’s not like that, he likes girls.”

I don’t know which was worse, that she thought I was worried or that she made it sound like this was a long standing conversation of ours, one where I was frantically worried about Jeremy’s sexual orientation. We weren’t the only two in the room, she had another friend visiting who, as a lesbian, was like that. So there I was, trying not to yell at my friend while also trying not to give her friend the impression that I was dancing for joy over my son’s apparent straightness. I ended up in a stammering, tongue tangled mess.

Okay, it couldn’t have been that bad of a mess because I ended up staying friends with both of them, but it felt like it at the time. It was one of those “please let a hole open beneath me and swallow me whole” moments. Entirely awkward and entirely unnecessary.

Over the years I’ve had several such conversations regarding Jeremy, where someone’s taken it upon themselves to try and reassure me that I shouldn’t worry. Unlike my friend, they don’t actually come out and say what they’re worried about but it’s pretty obvious. They also make this announcement in a tone usually reserved for one that ends in “… it’s probably not fatal”. It’s obvious they’re expecting me to be worried and figure I have pretty good reason.

And they’re right in one way, I am worried. But it’s their attitude that worries me, not Jeremy. Their attitude is the one that says a teenager shouldn’t come out because they’re just confused. Their attitude is one that would never let their boy paint his nails or wear pink flip flops or pull on a dress (even at home). Their attitude is one which thinks it’s normal and a sign of affection when a man and a woman hold hands but a political statement if two men or two women do the same.

I love Jeremy just the way he is. I agree with him that he’s completely fabulous. I just wish the rest of the world could be a little more welcoming.

I did a little light reading this week and found a blog entry with similar concerns as mine, titled It could be worse, and an article on Huffington Post titled 10 Ways to Support Your Gay Kid. Both are worth reading.

Advice and what I didn’t find

I was all excited yesterday when I found a site with a section titled “Supporting your child who is coming out”.¬†Bingo. I’m not the most tactful person on the planet and I’m pretty sure I could do better with helping Jeremy. I figured I could use some advice and tips from people who have already gone through this.

I clicked on the link and… my heart sank. This wasn’t what I was looking for. Instead of advice on how to support Jeremy, it started off assuring me that it’s okay to wonder why he’s telling me this. That thought hadn’t crossed my mind at all. I knew why he was telling me this, I’m his mother and he trusts me. I scrolled a bit further and read the titles about how it was okay to grieve and to wonder if he’s sure or just simply confused then I closed the page. I’m sure there are all sorts of parents who find this link and are relieved. I’m just not one of them.

What I want to know is how to support Jeremy so that he knows I have his back no matter who he falls in love with. How to assure him that the rest of his family will still love him, without putting that worrisome thought into his head that they might not. How to connect with other parents without outing him, which kind of cancels out joining PFLAG. This is ironic because I already know two people who belong to the local group.

So, since I didn’t find any, I’m offering my own advice. Yeah, it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind but I’m giving it my best shot.

1. Let your kid come out when they’re ready.
Okay, I stink at this one but I need to be honest here, I like to know things. I read books twice, the first time to find out what happens at the end and the second time to pick up on everything I missed while speed reading through the first time. My managers at work come to me to ask who’s working that day and when everyone starts and finishes. Yeah, I actually go through the schedule and check all this. Last time I took the kids on a vacation, I had everything booked ten months in advance. I don’t like surprises. I’ve suspected Jeremy wasn’t straight since he was about two years old. It’s probably my greatest accomplishment that I waited until he came out this summer before chasing him around the room threatening to tickle him if he didn’t clarify his interests. Even so, I should have waited longer.

2. Be your kid’s biggest ally.
I remember telling someone casually years ago that I would never have to make a big announcement to my kids, telling them that I love them no matter what and will continue loving them no matter who they marry. They already knew this. Well maybe they do. Maybe, like me, you hug your kids regularly and tell them you love them. But reinforcement never hurts. I honestly felt it wouldn’t make a difference and then I said those words to Jeremy. I could almost see him relax.
I flat out told Jeremy that I unfriended every single person who supported Duck Dynasty on Facebook and let him know that I’ve made so many pro-LGBT posts that I’m getting same sex wedding ads. He relaxed even further. He also thought the marriage ads were hilarious.

3. Don’t expect consistency.
I watched as a young friend of mine came out, then claimed to be straight, only to come back out again. This repeated multiple times over several years. Now I’m watching Jeremy do the same thing. I know, I’m going by two examples and I’m sure there are plenty of youths who come out and stay out, but I’m equally as sure Jeremy and my friend are not the only ones who have installed revolving doors on their closets. You can be as supportive as you can but there’s a whole big world out there and our kids are getting a lot of those messages. Don’t be surprised if they want to go into hiding every once in a while.

4. Watch what you say.
I know my relative didn’t mean anything offensive when he drooped his wrist and lisped something about being a good father when him and his son were working on that Rainbow Loom. He has no idea about Jeremy. He has no idea about his son for that matter, who hasn’t reached puberty and hasn’t started talking about crushes yet. And I’m sure most people don’t mean to be offensive when they joke about someone not fitting societal norms of any type. If we want our kids to know we’re their allies, we need to let them know we don’t consider them to be the punchline to a joke.

5. Follow your child’s lead.
I started out using neutral terms when referring to dating and relationships while talking to my kids. My own children are close in age and I ended up talking to them together, especially when they were younger. Emma made it clear she’d prefer I refer to boys when talking to her about relationships, while Jeremy prefers gender neutral terms. Go with what makes them comfortable and, if you’re unsure, neutral is a safe choice.

6. Don’t make sexual orientation/gender identity the biggest part of a person.
A friend of mine said he doesn’t want the most interesting thing about him to be where he puts his penis. Blunt but true. No one has ever introduced me as that straight woman, so why should someone be introduced as LGBT?
Note, I’m not saying to hide it entirely, just don’t make it the most important part of a person. For example, I wrote last month about how Jeremy discovered two of the singers in the group Pentatonix are gay. I’d already read about the group and knew this, but it wasn’t relevant to the conversation, which was about their singing skills. It became more relevant when they brought it up in a video. I also shared a video with Jeremy this morning that involved Kelly Ripa and Neil Patrick Harris inhaling a chemical that made their voices deep. I didn’t point out that Neil Patrick Harris is gay, although I did explain the lotion in the basket reference. There was a picture this fall of Neil and his husband dressed up for Halloween with their two children and I showed that to Jeremy several months ago as a “hey, cute picture” shot. Finally, I talked to Jeremy about¬†Ali Choudhry today. This is when being gay was the most important part of the conversation.

Also, when did it become a normal conversation starter to ask if someone’s teenager has a boyfriend or girlfriend yet? I am so tired of this question. I’ve had friends, coworkers, and random strangers in the elevator ask me if Jeremy has a girlfriend yet. It’s no one’s business at best and incredibly uncomfortable at worst.

If anyone has any advice on what to say or do when your child is coming out, I would love to hear it.

Jeremy and Jaffa Cakes (among other topics)

I took Jeremy out for dinner yesterday evening. Before we got to the restaurant, we stopped off at a little British shop that Jeremy desperately wanted to visit. There’s a show on YouTube called the Yogscast and one of the people eats Jaffa Cakes all the time. Jeremy, of course, had to have them and the only place around here that sells them is this British shop. I got him two boxes last night and they were gone by the time we got home. Every time I looked over, he had a cookie in his hand and was mumbling, “Sorry Mom, I couldn’t help myself”. I guess it wasn’t a surprise when I asked for a blog topic and his first response was to say, “Talk about Jaffa Cakes”.

I didn’t think I could write an entire blog post on these cookies/biscuits so asked for alternative ideas. Jeremy looked at me blankly and I laughed and told him he wasn’t being much of a help. Couldn’t he give me any ideas or maybe some advice to share? He thought for a moment.

“Umm, you could say to let people come out when they chose.”

I blinked. “I did let you come out on your own.”

He shook his head. “Mom,” he retorted. “You chased me around the living room threatening to tickle me.”

I had to admit I had, but… “You came out before that,” I replied. “This summer, on the balcony.”

Jeremy looked surprised, apparently he didn’t remember this, then he grinned. “I never came out at all. You put words in my mouth. I never said anything.”

I just shook my head. “I told a friend of mine that your closet has a revolving door. You’re in then you’re out then, whoops, you’re back in again.”

Jeremy didn’t refute this at all. His grin widened. “That makes me kind of like Superman,” he commented, waving his (thankfully empty) spoon for emphasis. I got the idea of what he was talking about. Superman needed to duck away to change, although I was pretty sure he used a phone booth and not a closet. I was also pretty sure Jeremy didn’t want a lesson on comics.

“Except for the lack of super strength, flying ability, spandex tights, alien ancestry, or job at a newspaper,” I pointed out instead, deliberately skipping mentioning Lois Lane. “And you don’t even have glasses.”

I had a bite of my own meal then added, “You know, I think I read somewhere that the Green Lantern’s gay.” So much for avoiding comic lessons.

Jeremy nodded. “I thought so, he looks gay,” he replied.

It was my turn to be surprised. I’ve never seen the cartoon (maybe movie?) and have no idea what this character even looks like. “Why do you say that?” I asked. Jeremy shrugged.

“I dunno. Just the way he talks and acts,” he said after a moment. “Him and Robin too.”

I didn’t need to ask if Jeremy thought he acted or sounded gay. A few weeks ago I wasn’t sure but we’d had a conversation earlier where I admitted that I thought one of my young coworkers might think Jeremy’s gay.

Of course Jeremy’s first question was, “Why?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I told him about your issues trying to find the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) at your school,” I replied.

He eyed me skeptically. “That’s it?”

I must admit, that was a good point. Straight people join the group as well, hence the S in the acronym. “I talk about you at work,” I finally said. “I talk about the things you say and how you act.”

Jeremy nodded. “That would do it,” he mused.

As for the issues with the GSA in his school. This is a group that’s run in most high schools in our area. This fall I hoped Jeremy would join the GSA at his school. I asked his teacher and was informed that they met on Mondays at lunch time. Every Monday I’d ask Jeremy how GSA went. Every Monday I’d get a sheepish look, a shrug, and an “I forgot.”

A month went by and he still hadn’t gone. I had the next Monday off work and finally snapped that if he didn’t go to this meeting, I was going to school and walking him to the next one. I hoped he wouldn’t call my bluff, I already had plans for that Monday. Instead he glared at me.

“Mom! I don’t want to go to that stupid group,” he yelled, his fists tightly clenched by his side. “I want to hang out with my friends at lunch, not get stuck with those people.”

“What are you scared of?” I yelled back, just as angrily. “That you’re going to meet kids just like you?”

He stared at me white faced then turned and stormed from the room without another word. His bedroom door slammed shut moments later. Not my best parenting moment, that’s for sure.

The next day he came up to me and quietly asked what people do in the GSA. I asked a couple of young friends (including my young coworker) then explained that they support each other and work at organizing school activities to make everyone feel more welcome in the school. He nodded but didn’t say anything else.

Several weeks went by and I didn’t mention the GSA once, to Jeremy at least. He’d commented before that he never heard any announcements for the group so he didn’t even know where to go. I did call the school and ask one of the secretaries if she knew where and when the GSA met.

“I don’t know. Bye,” came the immediate reply. Seconds later I was listening to the dial tone. I didn’t bother saying anything to Jeremy. There didn’t seem to be much point.

He came home from school one day and tossed down his backpack. “Mom,” he said quietly. “I can’t find the GSA at all. I never hear any announcements and I’ve been listening. Plus one of my friends and I walked around the school on Monday and we couldn’t see anyone meeting anywhere. And I went to the office today and asked about the GSA. The secretary said she didn’t know anything then she got up and walked away. Turned her back to me and started talking to the other secretaries.”

I wrote a note to his teacher asking about the group and saying Jeremy couldn’t find it. The next day I got the message that the group was discontinued for now because of the lack of a teacher to sponsor it. But the group would hopefully start up again in the new year. I guess we’ll find out more soon.

Christmas Gifts

I started buying my presents at the end of October and began to feel pretty smug. At the rate I was going, I’d be done shopping well before Christmas. Kait’s presents were bought by mid-November and I knew what I was going to buy for Colin. Then I stopped getting scheduled days off during the week. This was great for my pay cheque but stunk for shopping time. Colin loves to shop and would want to know why I was going without him.

As the weeks passed, I began to grow more worried. Eventually we got into December and I realized my next weekday off was one I’d booked months earlier. Christmas Eve. I pulled my boss aside and begged her to send me home early one day so I could finish my shopping. She looked at the schedule and told me she’d send me home early the next day. I was elated and told several of my regular customers.

True to her word, I got off after working half a shift and immediately went out to shop. By lunchtime I was done and everything was safely tucked away in my closet.

I went into work the following day and one of my regular customers greeted me with a huge grin.

“So, what did you get Colin for Christmas this year?” she asked eagerly. “I want to know what sixteen year old boys are into these days.”

I looked at her, feeling much like a deer gazing into headlights. She either wanted to know what I’d got Colin OR what sixteen year old boys are into. There wasn’t a lot of overlap. I took a deep breath.

“I got him a ceramic hair straightener and a fondue pot for Christmas this year,” I informed her.

She stared at me in disbelief. “You got him what?” she blurted. Her expression said she was positive she’d misheard.

“I got him a ceramic hair straightener and a fondue pot,” I repeated clearly.

She shook her head. “Well now,” she muttered as she walked away. Apparently she had been looking for a more generic boy’s answer and not what I’d actually bought.

As she left, I figured I could only be grateful I hadn’t managed to find the rainbow elephant stuffed animal he’d also half-jokingly requested.

Sex Ed (aka Why Mommy Wants to Drink)

First of all, I’m going to mention that I started writing this blog because of the blog Raising My Rainbow. In it, the mother (Lori) details raising her son CJ, who describes himself as a boy who only likes girl things. While Colin is not as girlish as CJ, the blog brings back a lot of memories.

The flip side is the blog brings back memories. It doesn’t help with what’s going on now. CJ is in grade one and navigating primary school. Colin is in high school and navigating… well, he’s not navigating much. He goes to school then comes home and stays here. If I didn’t send him on errands or take him grocery shopping, he wouldn’t go anywhere.

When he was younger, he was my social butterfly. He didn’t hang out much with other kids but he was out all the time. Every shop in the area knew him by name and we couldn’t walk anywhere without someone yelling, “Hi Colin” from a car window. But he’s slowly withdrawn to home and we’ve moved since then. Now almost no one knows him.

I realized that there was no way I’m the only one dealing with this teenage minefield and, that maybe our struggles might help someone else. I wrote the introduction and showed it to Colin. He was horrified and wanted me to delete it immediately. Why would I write that? He’d told me those things in confidence. I explained how I’d felt about reading Raising My Rainbow and he looked at me thoughtfully.

“You’re not going to use my picture are you?” he asked. I hastily assured him I wouldn’t.

“Can I read the post to you?” I asked. He nodded then started smiling as I read. Some parts made him laugh.

“Okay,” he said once I was done. “You can post it.”

Now, at one point Lori wrote a brief post on Sex Ed, mainly dealing with who gives the sex talk if one of the children is gay. There’s no discussion on who’s going to deal with sex ed in my house. I’ve raised these kids on my own. All the discussions fall onto my (woefully inadequate) shoulders.

Over the years I’ve made it a point to talk to both Kait and Colin openly and honestly, answering their questions as best I can. Since I was raising two children of opposite genders, I couched my answers in gender neutral terms. Kait was a preteen when she informed me she was straight and I could just talk about dating boys when I talked to her. Colin never commented and I still use gender neutral terms with him.

Often our conversations occur at the dinner table or out walking. And while the conversations can make me feel uncomfortable, I’m still glad we have them. Some of the misinformation they overhear or simply come up with on their own can be mind-bogglingly wrong.

We were on a walk home from the library about three or four years ago. We were chatting about something completely inane then Colin asked, out of the blue, “Mom? Why do people have anal sex when it kills them?”

My mind went right to AIDS and other STIs but I’ve learned over the years to ask questions instead of just assuming. Especially with Colin, whose mind tends to wander in some pretty odd directions.

“Umm… what do you mean?” I asked cautiously.

“Well, you know, they explode,” he replied.

His expression said he felt this was perfectly obvious and I was a tad slow. Kait erupted into a fit of giggles while I stared at him in amazement.

“Hon, no, they don’t,” I quickly assured him. He shook his head.

“But Mom, that’s where poo comes out. Nothing’s supposed to go there, so they explode,” he informed me seriously.

His sister was laughing so hard by then, she was squeaking. I began to worry she’d wet herself. We were a good twenty minutes from home.

“Colin, trust me on this. No one’s going to explode. I swear I have yet to hear of a single person exploding anywhere ever from any type of sex.”

“Dorkface, you’re an idiot,” Kait helpfully added between giggles. “No one dies from having sex.”

He eyed us suspiciously then shrugged. “Okay, I guess so,” he said grudgingly.

To be fair, it was funny as hell, but kids come up with absolutely wrong ideas and sometimes there are devastating consequences. How many young teens end up pregnant because they thought she couldn’t get pregnant the first time, or if he pulled out, or if she stood during sex or douched with pop? How many kids have tried (and failed) to make homemade condoms to protect themselves from STIs or pregnancy? I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me with questions, no matter how odd or embarrassing those questions might be.

Kait never had any issues asking me questions. Colin, on the other hand, found it quite awkward to talk to Mom. I signed him up for a comprehensive sex ed program. The good news was it covered EVERYTHING. The bad news was it encompassed two full weekends of information. Colin’s been suspected of ADHD before. He doesn’t listen to two full weekends of information.

Then one of his teachers decided to organize a sex ed class. I found the letter at the bottom of Colin’s backpack, crumpled into a ball.

“I should sign this,” I mused, smoothing out the crinkles.

“Don’t bother,” he mumbled. “I don’t want to go. I learned everything in my other class already.”

“I know you learned a lot but there’s always a chance you could learn more,” I replied and reached for a pen. He plunked himself down beside me and scowled.

“The teacher asked the class if there was anything they wanted to discuss and I said ‘gay stuff’. Then she told me not to be rude. I asked her how I was supposed to ask and she said she didn’t know but not to ask like that. I don’t think they’re going to mention anything and I don’t want to go. Can’t I just stay home?”

I looked at the crumpled paper then sighed. Colin was already coming home at least once a week due to anxiety issues and I didn’t want to add any more missed days to his already spotty attendance.

“How about if I write that I want them to discuss same sex relationships and intimacy? Would that help?” I asked. He nodded then sighed with relief.

I quickly penned my agreement and note, wondering what the reaction would be then put the paper in his backpack. At least he’d brought the form home with him. As far as I could tell, the permission forms for his school field trips were going into the recycling bin at school. I never saw those.

I was talking to his teacher several days later on yet another day he was coming home early.

“Did you get my note regarding the sex ed class?” I asked cautiously.

“Yes,” she replied. “You actually didn’t need to write it. We already had that on the agenda. Colin’s very good at advocating for himself.”

Colin felt she hadn’t listened to him at all but I didn’t say that.

Once I got home from work, I told Jeremy about the call. He flashed me a mocking grin.

“I only told them I want to discuss ‘gay stuff’ to piss them off. It’s not something I’m interested in,” he informed me.

“Don’t!” I snapped. He looked surprised. “I will stand up for you but I will not play games and I will not support you teasing your teacher. If you want to discuss ‘gay stuff’ in sex ed, I will fight my hardest to get you that information,” I replied, complete with air quotes. “But I refuse to take a serious issue and use it for bullying.” He nodded.

Several weeks later, I asked Colin how the class went. He shrugged. “It was boring,” he admitted. “I learned nothing.”

“Did they discuss anything to do with gay relationships or sex?” I asked. He shook his head. My heart sank and I tried to figure out how to bring this up with his teacher.

The next day I got a call from his teacher. Colin was coming home, again. I headed into the stock room and leaned against one of the shelves. This was the most privacy I could find at work.

“Colin said same sex relationships weren’t discussed in the class,” I said hesitantly.

“Really?” his teacher replied. “I don’t know why he’d say that. This was penciled into the schedule and I was there, in the room, during that part of the discussion. He got silly for some of the talk and had to leave but he was there for that part too. It got really controversial with some of his classmates arguing that they thought being gay was wrong.”

I rubbed my head and hoped I’d remembered to put the bottle of pain pills in my purse. I knew I’d need them.

“Colin,” I said almost as soon as I walked in the front door. “I talked to your teacher and she said that gay stuff was brought up in the sex ed class, that it got really controversial and she was there when it was discussed.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he protested. “Just ask anyone like… no, not him. His parents wouldn’t sign the form. Maybe you could ask so-and-so.”

The name washed over my head. He was someone Colin hadn’t mentioned before. I wasn’t going to track down a random student.

“Honestly,” he continued. “It was never brought up. She’s lying. I don’t know why but she’s lying.”

Both of them were totally, completely serious. And both were making the exact opposite statement. I looked at my son and wondered if it was too late to start a drinking habit.

“At least you learned about same sex relationships in the class I signed you up for,” I said pragmatically. He stared at me blankly then shook his head.

“They talked about a lot in that class,” he said quietly. “I got tired of listening.”

He thought for a moment then shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anyways because men and woman have a lot more sex than two men would.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked cautiously. I was reasonably sure he still didn’t think people exploded during sex.

“Because gay sex would hurt,” he replied logically.

If I wrote a book on all I know about gay sex, it would be pretty much blank. However… I used to lurk on a sex forum for parents and I did read a thread on anal sex before. It had been at least five years since I’d read that thread but I had to remember something.

“Umm… sex doesn’t hurt if you do it right,” I replied, thinking so hard I’m surprised smoke wasn’t pouring from my ears. “You’re supposed to use lube and go really slowly.”

He looked at me, his expression blank with surprise.

“This is new information, isn’t it?” I asked and he nodded. Damn. I thought hard again, remembering a scrap of information I’d seen on a safe sex notice somewhere.

“And use two condoms too,” I added, hoping I wasn’t misremembering. Another look of surprise.

I barely felt qualified to give my daughter information on straight sex. Now I’m really flying blind.