My son, Evil Genius, is going to be eleven this year. Even after a decade, I still can’t believe that I am a mother. I can’t believe that something, somewhere saw fit to bestow upon me the esteemed honour of shaping and protecting another life. But it happened, and here we are.
As I’ve discussed before, upbringings are complicated. Mine was the opposite of what you would define as “liberal”: double-standards between brothers and sisters, no sexual education to the point of oppression, and an almost-permanent grounding that gave way to being kicked out of the house as a 15-year-old teenager, i.e. when things got too dramatic. (Though, I must note, I was well-fed, had a nice house to live in, and a closet full of clothes. I was, despite resistance, loved.)
When I hit puberty, all hell broke loose. I vowed that if I ever bore children, I would not become my parents. Luckily, I haven’t seen too much evidence of their strategies in my own parenting skills. I am vigilant in looking for signs that Evil G is in need of a friendly ear, and I do not attach any kind of stigma to sexuality, which, for me, is an important ideal. With all the work I do in sex-based communities, I want my son to have a keen understanding of what’s around him and in his home. Having vowed to be completely honest when asked any question, I’ve had conversations with Evil G about gay sex, masturbation, condoms, orgasms and even incest. (Although I’m still just a little bit terrified of what will happen if Evil G ever surprises my husband and I while we’re intertwined in some deliciously filthy act.) Answering questions with age-appropriate dialogue can be a crazy maze to navigate, but I think things are coming along just fine.
I want to ensure Evil G has a good grasp of who his mother is. I never really had that with my own matriarch, as she never talked much about her life. It wasn’t until she passed away 11 years ago that I started learning things about her by way of stories from my sister — who was close to my mother’s sister, and probably heard a lot more gossip than I ever did — and by going through her things when they had to be packed up. The discovery of tasteful nude photos of her gave me a glimpse into her being, and, therefore, a way to look through a small crack into who I am. I always knew my mother was sexy. My sister described her as one with “movie star” looks: she would dress in a pencil skirt and tube top, heels, lipstick and giant sunglasses just to go to the mall for groceries. As a pre-pubescent girl, I was fascinated by this, and promised myself I would do the same when I was her age. I have faltered a bit in that department, and trips to Metro for milk include an elegant ensemble of blue jeans and flip-flops, and a raised hood if my hair is a mess. (Don’t even ask if I’m wearing lipbalm, much less lipstick.)
Growing up, I would get the occasional peek into my mother’s inner life. I found a Playgirl under her pillow. I would sneak through her makeup drawers, twisting tubes of Clinique lip rouge, and opening her bottles of Chanel No. 5 for that whiff of mumness. I would try on her jewelry, and marvel at the height of the heels lifting her black leather boots. But these were the surface treatments, and I rarely got any other information about her underneath the glossy exterior.
Based on photos and a few distant memories, I know my parents would attend parties — the ones that brought close communities together for wine and cigarettes, the ones that heard stories about life back in Argentina. There are a couple 8mm films that show laughing women in mini skirts, arms poised at that glamorous cigarette-smoking angle, while a few feet away on the floor of a dark corner, babies lay in their portable carriers, sleeping through all that laughter and music until the crisp darkness of morning. I was one of those babies. But as I, the last of four children, lost my portability, the party attendance waned until there were no more.
As my mother desperately held on to her sense of self for many years, it often felt she did so at the expense of her children. While she made sure we had the essentials, I don’t remember her talking to us that much. I remember the days of coming home for lunch, with my ham sandwich and juice at the ready. Yet she wouldn’t sit in the kitchen with me. I wanted her to tell me what it was like to be a young girl in a faraway place. To explain the jokes in Spanish that made her and my father laugh over afternoon wine breaks. To find out how to make a marriage last forty-two years, until her passing. I even wanted her to give me style advice (although she was always dressed impeccably, I received my brothers’ decidedly un-sexy hand-me-downs). What I got instead was a quiet forty minutes of my day.
Because of that memory, I make sure that when Evil G sits at the table for a major meal, I’m there with him, asking him about his day, and generally ensuring that he’s happy. He’ll ask me about mine, and I’ll tell him that I’ve had to write my column, set up a nude photo shoot, talk to models, help a friend in need, finish a frustrating design project, or whatever it is that filled my day. If it’s been especially egregious, I’ll discuss why it was bad. I want him growing up with the understanding that his parents are real people, not some nebulous entities that refill his plate and organize his underwear drawer. And, because of the nature of my work, I want him to learn that sex and art are legitimate bedfellows, and being an adult means meeting challenges head on.
I really want to be a friend to my son, as cliché as that may be. Once I reached the age where I could form my own opinion about things, my parents switched from having fun with me to becoming the “Authority Figures,” people to be listened to no matter what the level of ridiculousness their logic carried. I am determined to not have that happen with Evil G. At that same time, I am also committed to not losing myself as a unique person, with my own needs and desires. I can still be a sexual and sexy person even though I am a mother (don’t get even mention American Pie, okay?) — and it’s not something I’m going to hide from my son.
This past Mother’s Day, I found myself trying to reconcile being true to myself as a sexual individual with the ideals of being a mother connected to her son. I could be doing it all wrong, and I could wind up inadvertently forcing Evil G into a monastery. But I’m hoping it will be more about helping him pick out his clothes and condoms for a hot date. Until then, I’ll have to work on ensuring we learn as much as we can about each other, while teaching at the same time.
I think my mother felt the need to disguise her true self in order to be a “mother,” picking one identity over the other. And that’s a real shame. We could have laughed a lot more together.