Grapes of a Mom’s Wrath

As Momalom throws down the gauntlet on the theme of lust, my mind drifts back to a time of innocence on the cusp of carnal knowledge, a time before men were from Mars and women from Venus, a time when more than one or two languid high school afternoons were spent with my girlfriend, listening to Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars, literally barricaded in her sister’s bedroom and trying to figure out just how far we should go.

Being a fairly clueless kid, but with strong feelings of loneliness and water-wings of desire, I’m not quite sure how I ended up having a kind and sensitive girlfriend, but this was the first time that I started to feel hope and joy again in the years after my best friend’s death at my fourteenth birthday.

My girlfriend’s older sister was also a friend, a very sophisticated and brainy girl who had seen Annie Hall a few too many times, but underneath those hats and vests pulsed a “let’s read a lot and tear up the world” way of being—the sort of girl with whom you ended up at Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Biograph theater (where Dillinger saw his last), throwing rice and feeling a little like you were finally living in a Goddard film, even in Chicago, even in the nineteen-seventies.

In these Jules and Jim days my two new closest friends both liked the older sister, but I only found out which one was actually going out with her when I ran into him at the front door of the house where the sisters lived—he picking up the racy older sister for a date and me the relatively naïve and dreamy younger sister.

The little sister, by a year, was awfully cute, and while her mom saw the older sister as ready for any and everything (even going so far as to teach her exercises to make sex more pleasurable, or so informed the friend who had started really seeing her), yet there was no way that me and the younger sister were going to be doing anything like that.

The mom worked, so after school I would go over to my girlfriend’s house and we would hang out.  The dad was usually there, a man who looked and talked rather like Porky Pig.  You could expect him to be sitting at the Formica kitchen table listening to the radio; “It’s a folk festival!” he might call out in his singsong voice, his face flushed pink with cultural excitement.

He never left the kitchen table, and so we would slink upstairs with excitements of our own.  My girlfriend’s bedroom was impossible to defend, so we would take the sister’s room (being glamorous, she was always out doing something precocious, possibly involving sex and Pop Rocks candy).  We grabbed that other room ostensibly because it had a stereo and a turntable and records like Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” and Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.”  Of course we really took that front-facing bedroom with the lovely afternoon light playing golden on the honey colored floors because one could slide the heavy bookshelf across the floorboards and block the door—Sartre, Camus and Kafka serving as sentries to guard our fumbling rendezvous.

With “Venus and Mars” playing on “repeat,” we would snuggle up in bed… and do not a whole lot.  Our private time together meant little more than a little touching, a little kissing but mostly stopping or being stopped.  While we both had hormones going (and were both more than a little confused and scared about the world of sex), I look back and see that what we really shared was a need for hugs, for closeness, for touch.  We were sweet kids who comforted each other and enjoyed being cozy.  She was a youngest of four, my parents were always really busy… and so we had a lust for kindness and connection more than anything else.

And then one day her mom came home early.  It was not the throes of passion that kept us from hearing the knock and the heavy stuckness of the door against the books, it was the music we loved and liked to turn up loud; we might even have been dozing.  But all at once, perhaps owing to the super-human power of moms when their babies are trapped under cars, or locked in bedrooms with boys, the entire bookshelf came heaving over and the door flew open, smashing into the overturned shelf above which sat my girlfriend’s mother’s face—blown gigantically into a fright-mask of shock and indignant shame-blasting horror.

The fact that we had the covers up and over us made the scene look much more primal than it actually was—we were fully clothed and half-asleep, only she could not see that from her vantage point.  The bookcase had always been a fortification against our own shy embarrassment and uncertainty about what we were up to, but now it was Scarlet A proof of our having shared some slice of carnal apple and I was a disgraced Adam and a teen age Reverend Dimsdale rolled into one.

“Get out!” she hollered, my ears hearing it as a faraway and surreal muffle.  The mom vanished in a swirl of pique and I slouched down the stairs and out of the house from which I was, from that moment forward, forever banished; I had been cast from the Garden without ever really tasting the apple, and once again totally alone, just as I had felt before I got a girlfriend—the worst of both worlds.

Thus having drowned in the kiddie pool of emerging sexuality, I would mostly stay away from the water but for an uncertain toe now and again until well into college, when I was to fall awkwardly into the deep end of sex, alternately waving and drowning until rescued into true love (and lust) late into my twenties, into the blessing of the relationship in which I am now lucky enough to abide.

While sex may be as old as the hills, so is the struggle of how young people stumble over their fears and desires in trying to deal with it all, not to mention how parents must confront their own eventual descent, bodies ever changing on the Ferris wheel of the life cycle, just as our kids are riding it up on their hormones, lusts and longings.

I suppose there is generally a great divide between the way we might have made our own ways into sexuality and the idealized map we’d like to draw for our children.  When we compound our wishes to serve and protect with the fact that sexuality is private and often furtive, especially to begin with, how much can we really know about what our kids truly think, much less do, about sex?  How much do we want to know?

We can have a lot of pretty talk about sex being natural, and kids needing to wait until they are emotionally ready, and about how it’s much trickier raising girls around this issue, and how important it is to educate our kids about birth control and STDs and yet sex is one of those totally organic forces that will explode from the gate whether we batten down the book cases and clap on the virtual chastity belt or not.

When I was younger I worried, or at least imagined, about what it would be like when my kids became sexual, but now I wonder when curiosity and desire will get stronger than fear and late blooming genes.  My kids may even be later blooming than me (which may be a good thing in the end, but not always easy in middle and high school)… I just hope they live very long and healthy lives because it can take some of us quite a while to figure all sorts of things out.

Ultimately I think of Woody Allen’s response to the question, “Is sex dirty?”  Answer:  “It is if you’re doing it right.”

Have a lusty and loving day.  Namaste, Bruce


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12 Responses to “Grapes of a Mom’s Wrath”

  1. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    When I was a house mother in a girls’ dorm at a boarding school, I had all sorts of stilted and awkward conversations with my teenage charges about sex and “hooking up.” As a house mom, it was my job to patrol the halls during “parietals,” making sure that the doors stayed open and both the dorm residents and their male guests had three feet on the floor at all times. Interrupting couples in the act of heavy petting or watching boys leave the dorm oddly flushed felt weird to me and weird to them. I suppose I could have had authentic conversations with them about hormones and feelings and love, but I didn’t.

    I wonder how it might be to have your essay serve as a launching point for frank conversations about sexual coming of age between kids and their parents or mentors. I know it would have helped me.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Interesting idea, frank conversation… I fear that even when the grown-ups are willing, the kids are all about differentiating and working things out without us.

      I suspect, however, that the more we are open all along the way, and loving but respectful of boundaries, the more confidently and organically kids will arrive at nourishing sexuality (rather than the wounds and disappointments that it so often brings).

      I also wonder how much of the extra charge at a boarding school derives from kids being sent away and needing touch, hugs and soothing. Once that mingles with hormones “conversation,” might go about as smoothly as the running of the bulls in Pampalona.

  2. Natalie Says:

    Sometimes, your writing is just too painful a reminder of my own awkward youth. I hope you’ll take that as the compliment in which it is intended.

  3. Christine Says:

    Really enjoyed this post Bruce. I met and started dating my husband at 15. At the time I felt so old and mature. Now I realize just how young I was. And that frightens me for my own children. Mine are young, but I have friends with older children and I often remind them of this when their kids start dating.

    There is, as you say a “great divide between the way we might have made our own ways into sexuality and the idealized map we’d like to draw for our children.” But there is also a great divide between what we would like for our children and what the media teaches our children. To me that’s the scary thing. Without the responsibility of having to teach the depth of sexuality, they far too often lead our children astray by the surface of it.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I agree, and might add that the lion’s share of the media have no desire to teach our kids anything—only to get their attention and exploit their insecurities in order to sell them crap that they don’t need.

      It’s our task to teach our kids the way it actually is so that they can think for themselves.

  4. joely Says:

    I find it interesting on an evolutionary scale, we were intended to want sex during the teen years and make babies. Now that society has changed in its attitude about when to start a family, our bodies are still thinking along evolutionary lines that will not change. How can we expect teens not to want sex when their bodies are screaming for it?

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      This certainly is part of why they invented cold showers, but a lot of kids really want love, hugs and attention (as well as to release sexual tension) and if we can at least provide the love and permission to understand both urges and the value in waiting they may still want sex for sex’s sake, but maybe at least not look for love and comfort in all the wrong places.

  5. joely Says:

    I have been reading Anam Cara and wanted to thank you for referring me to it. As a family we are going through a tragedy. My brother in law and his wife had a baby last week and the baby is dying. The baby has trisomy 13. Religion is not something my husband believes in but he was willing to listen to words from that book. They have been comforting words. I believe in fate and I believe there is a reason I found you and you gave me that book. Namaste.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Oh my gosh, Joely—I am so sorry to learn of this tragedy (and just after jokingly responding to your previous post, apologies, but I guess life brings us smiles and then tears and it’s hard to know what’s coming when).

      I’m so glad that Anam Cara brings comfort, it was suggested to me as well, and its ideas have really been resonant for me (and I’m sure you’ll end up passing it along as well). O’Donohue died early, in his fifties, and so his spirit in this sense carries on in our world in a tangible manner.

      I too believe in fate, and in a much bigger picture of which we can only understand through our relationships with each other. I have no words that can change the truth of your family’s loss and the impact which ripple through the entire group, the vulnerability and helplessness we face before such forces bigger than ourselves.

      In that spirit I can only say that I am glad that you share this with myself, and with my readers who may come upon these words and join me in sending love to your family and to that ailing baby. We can always choose to love, even when we cannot understand.

  6. Sarah Says:

    Bruce, you had me embraced in this very poignant story. And the thing that made me identify the most? Ziggy Stardust. Funny, but true. Me and a girl at boarding school and a whole lot of Ziggy Stardust. There were no bookcases blocking the door, however. We were much more foolish than all that.

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Smart. Funny. Honest. And Beautiful.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thank you so much Sarah for circling back here in the wake of so many hundreds of posts that flew into the world in the wake of five-for-ten—thanks for your very kind words. I love the notion that we are cosmically linked through the mesmerizing force of Ziggy Stardust with Bowie as some kind of unifier of all opposites (at least in certain bedrooms on certain random evenings and afternoons).

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