“Change is the only constant in life.” — Heraclitus
I have two sons, a teenager, and one soon to be. When they were younger, sometimes the only way I knew to how to show up was to just stone cold fake it.
Whether it was pretending that I wasn’t terrified of flying in order to get my then five year old to board a plane, or acting like the toddler classes at My Gym were fun, and not actually the tenth fucking ring of hell, faking it has always been a useful strategy in my mommy tool box.
People say little kids can tell when your lying, but I’m happy to call bullshit on this myth because my boys fell for all of it.
Pretending I was relaxed and in control allowed me to be what I thought was a better version of myself, and I wanted that for my kids.
But lately faking it has started to feel, well, fake.
Last weekend, for example, I drop my oldest off at his sex-ed class, you know, like you do.
(I’ll for sure be writing more about the whole sex-ed thing. It’s a great program you can learn about here.)
Afterwards, I’m in the car with my eleven year old, who’s using my phone to find an age appropriate educational podcast we can listen to on the way to the park (not really – he was playing Doodle Jump), when a text comes in. It’s the teacher of the class, a friend of mine. From the back seat, 11 reads it to me. “We need fifty condoms, asap”. Apparently there was some kind of game planned for class that day and they were short a few supplies.
“Tell her I’m on it!” I chirp. I am the go-to mom, I think to myself, with satisfaction. Yep- cool and capable, that’s me.
On a roll, I decide to take advantage of the teachable moment and make sure 11 is up on all things condom. I keep it real matter-if-fact, like they tell you to, explaining to him in simple but accurate language, how they are used and why.
I’m doing great, I think to myself.
But as we get out of our car and enter Rite Aid, I start to feel the tingle of something like embarrassment creeping up on me. I try to shake it off. Buying condoms is a life skill, I tell myself. “Come on, let’s make it quick, kiddo!”
(Time out— Just so you know, I am not usually hung up about sex stuff. Seriously. It’s probably one of the few hang-ups I don’t have, but I haven’t bought condoms since grunge bands were a thing, and apparently I am a little out of practice.)
So after going up and down every aisle, passing right by all the normal mothers who are there for sunscreen, or Claritin, we finally find aisle seven, now more aptly known (by me) as The Sex Aisle.
“What are those?” My son asks.
“Condoms,” I answer brightly, “like we were talking about in the car.” No biggie, I think, perusing the vast array of choices.
“Why are there so many kinds?”
Clearly, I am a what they call an “askable” parent. Awesome! But I ignore his query for the moment, and dig around in my purse for a pair of readers.
“Back up honey,” I say, “Mom needs to see.”
Someone passes behind us. Did I imagine it, or was that a snicker? I feel my face flush. I just need the cheapest, biggest box, and I need to get it before anyone comes and judges me for being all sexed up and desperate for rubbers at two in the afternoon.
Peering over my shoulder to get a better view of the merch, 11 asks, “Do they mean the skin of an actual lamb?”
Reader, I’m totally down with this conversation. I read Meg Hickling’s book, and at the right time I am capable of answering all these questions and more, but at this moment, I am feeling fifteen years old and I just want to get the goods and get the hell out of there.
I lift the plastic door of the case to grab some Trojans (brand loyalty is alive and well) when–DIIIIINNNGGG! An alarm sounds, making us both jump.
“What’s that?” 11 asks, but I’m busy reading the box I’ve snagged. Twenty-six, not nearly enough. Shit. I go in again.
“Are you stealing?” My son asks, as I frantically search for a bigger box, knocking something called a Pleasure Pack to the floor. I’m intrigued, but need to stay on task.
I reach in and quickly try to put it back—
For the love of all that is holy, can a person not just buy fifty condoms without the world knowing??? With sweaty palms, I fling open the cabinet, and try for a different box.
“Security check on aisle seven!” blasts over the store intercom.
“Let’s get out of here,” I hiss.
As we make our way to the registers, I grab a few other things— index cards, pencils, Us Magazine, just to round out my haul.
“You dropped these,” 11 says, handing me a supersize box of Stimulations Ultra-Ribbed. My eyes dart around as I shove them in my basket.
At the front of the store, the cashier on register #1 looks a little judgey to me. Reguster #2 is some poor high school kid, so I opt for the zoned out woman on the end, and casually place my items on the counter for her to scan.
11 is watching me with a smile that says, “who are you trying to fool?
I have to laugh.
Once again, I’m trying to fake being cool, but he sees right through the act.
And you know what? It’s a relief.
The last thing my kids need is yet another person in their lives who is pretending they have everything figured out. Life is awkward, and strange, and sometimes you get embarrassed even when you know you shouldn’t be. Being myself is the only parenting trick I have left, and it’s no trick at all, which doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
The automatic doors slide open and we leave behind the frigid air of the pharmacy, plunging into the warm afternoon sun.
Just for a moment, the change takes my breath away.