I'll never forget being sixteen years old and riding in the car next to my mother. She turned to me and said, you know that...if you were to ever get pregnant...you could tell me...right?
I don't know what prompted my mother to ask me that (bear in mind, I was well on my way to nineteen when I had my first kiss). Maybe she heard a story on NPR. Or had that afternoon shared lunch with her girlfriends. I don't know why she felt the need to offer up those words--I mean, I was so far away from sex. In both thought and action.
And yet, that simple admission was this unbelievable gift.
My parents would love me. No matter what.
They would support me. No matter what.
They would forgive me by imperfections and celebrate my humanity.
I was loved.
In that moment my mother gave voice to a mother's love.
When I was newly arrived at school, and wide-eyed in the city, I met a boy. And my mom did something so incredible, so completely selfless, and (to be quite honest) relatively uncharacteristic. And when I say uncharacteristic I mean that this was the woman who didn't want me to move off campus and leave behind the 24 hour security guard. This was the woman who though sleep away camp was just not such a good idea. It was always my father who would convince her to let me fly (one step at a time). So, when the first year of college my mother wrote me a letter I was in awe (oh God, she's gonna die that I'm revealing this--I might even get an email telling me to take this down immediately). She wrote me a letter and made me promise not to speak of it with my father. It was an open love letter to womanhood. A letter encouraging me to explore and experiment--encouraging me to embrace love in it's many forms and to understand that the act of making love (though a holy experience) does not have to be reserved for marriage.
Now I know we all have different views on this subject. And I know many (maybe even most) will disagree with my mother's letter and I respect your opinions--your decisions-- wholeheartedly, I even understand them. But what my mother's letter gave me was an invitation to trust my body.
It's a funny thing about being with a someone. You might think you know exactly what to expect. You might have even have limits constructed for a much dreamed of hypothetical. But when you enter into that very tricky dance with someone, if you're listening, you're body will tell you exactly what it's willing--exactly what it wants--to do. And the body doesn't lie. I'm not talking about the ebb and flow of hormones. I'm talking about about a deep knowing that comes from the gut. The part of you that says, this is right, or...nuh, uh, stop.
You see the point of my mother's letter...well...she wanted to make sure that I could understand (on an experiential level) the difference between having sex and making love. And that I would then spend a lifetime in pursuit of the latter, with the man so lucky as to call me "wife".
That was the first half of the letter. The second half was classic mom all the way. She wrote something along the lines of, that being said, you sure as hell better be safe about it and why don't you get yourself a really good book that explains everything, but don't go to the Barnes and Noble across from school because someone there might recognize you and maybe you should try one on the east side.
And so I did. Get myself a really good book that is. Took me a few years, but I finally got it. The Guide to Getting it On by Paul Joannides. This is not to say my mother didn't balk when, in ordering some books from Amazon, she found it in her cart.
So I mentioned the book briefly in my last post, which I guess then showed up on Paul Joannides' google alerts, and don't you know I got an email from him today offering me a complimentary version of the latest edition. Oh my goodnes, did I laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh. But then I started thinking. You see, the book is a pretty brilliant look at the nature of sex, physically and emotionally. It approaches it with a sense of humor, coupled with reverence. And it never loses sight of the fact that we are human. We need touch. And most importantly, we need love. And it is our responsibility to figure out what all of it means to us, as individuals.
Many of you will never give your daughter a letter, as my mother did. You will read this post and disagree with her decision. But let me say this...she raised a daughter who does know the difference between making love and the act of intercourse, and who has never once taken that distinction for granted.
Though the stanza of her favorite book may read,
I'll love you forever,I'll like you for always,As long as I'm livingMy baby you'll be.
...the letter was her way of saying, you know...it's okay to be a woman now, it's okay to grow up, and you get to make your own decisions...right?
Thank you Mom, I couldn't have asked for a more generous gift.
PS: Paul's email included some probing questions about what it's like to be a single woman after the college years have ended. I have my own ideas, but I think I'm gonna post about it later so that you all can weigh in on this subject as well.
AND please note...I in no way believe or advocate that sex/making love equates to womanhood. I simply believe that it is a decision that is different for each individual. It must be made factoring in beliefs, feelings, and the knowledge of the body.