“Some days I just need to get quiet and stay out of the way.” from Courtney Martin’s blog, an interview with Liz Powell, palliative care nurse
Some days I long to disappear. Instead of turning left and heading to New Leaf grocery store then driving through Lulu’s Coffee for an Africano to sip through a slit in the lid while driving, I’ll turn right. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll head north on Highway 1 and make my way an hour and a half north to San Francisco. I’ll stop for lunch, look in shop windows, get a haircut, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, my short absence is a welcomed relief for all of us.
You likely know by now that I live with my grandchildren. Actually, two of my grandchildren live with me, here in my house, in our house, the retirement home my husband and I remodeled for the two of us to live out our final days. We have plenty of those ahead. We are in our seventies. We have been inside this lovely home ALL FKN YEAR. We live in the forest with two children, Grandpa, a non-shedding dog, five chickens, an outdoor cat, with birdbaths and bird feeders to fill, branches to drag and gardens to tend. The children’s Dad lives alone next door. ALONE. My daily life is consumed with activities toward nurturing four living beings, collecting eggs, sprouting seeds and asking the others to help me.
Pandemic Proximity Bonding
With social isolation during this Pandemic year the compressed nature of our household relationships includes less talk. We ask questions that no longer get answered. Want to make buttermilk biscuits for dinner, turn the compost, check the worm bin, feed the chickens, gather eggs, fill the feeders with seeds or check the dog for ticks? Want to help make dinner? Make it on your own? The kids are now eleven and fourteen, teenagers with budding breasts, size eleven hiking boots and eyes that roll, shoulders that tense and hands that dig fingernail moons into their palms. They tell dirty jokes, keep secrets and eat a lot. They wear the answers to my questions on their faces. My granddaughter typically wears “No.” My fourteen-year-old grandson dons a “yes” but doesn’t really mean it. I notice his hands, the pause in his step, the way he glances at his feet hiding his real feelings, keeping peace.
This year we have become experts at reading one another. We display moods with eyebrows, stiffened toes, fingers and a twirl of our hair. We fling hands to feign disbelief, laugh in disgust, slam the door, stomp a foot, shed tears, chortle out the side of our mouths and stifle giggles. Like a mother watching her infant sleep, keenly aware of every twitch, fisted hand, eye flick or purse of lips, we know one another. Oh I remember those creased puffy legs, knees to chest, pedaling feet, soft, pillowed toes. So sweet. Each dimple alive with meaning. Attention is the language of survival, reciprocity and love. Living close, cave-dwellers, sharing air, counter space, food, odors, music, temperature and energy all day long, week after week and month after month. We no longer require words. Like a murmur of birds’ in an un-choreographed sky ballet, we feel our way through the dance of each day, each of us an attentive parent.
I understand that teens need us to back off, to leave them be as they strive for independence. They push us away. But they want us to pull them close and squeeze them, too. It’s a time I remember. The way it felt, I felt. Confused. Teens circle, like a cat finding a spot of sun, flop on their beds, to think, imagine, fret and touch themselves. Privacy. My two make decisions everyday about the amount of school work they do, how much game time, which friends to call, side chats to engage in as the teacher plays a booming rendition of the War of 1812 during a lesson about U.S. History. Teens make their own decisions, but like all developmental shifts, they are not yet good at it. Who is? One foot planted on home plate, they dare take off. The young child still hovers inside, fingers twitching as they feel the blanket silk at their feet during the first of six zooms of the day, a stuffy perched next to the 11-year-old’s computer screen, she holds up to the screen. They demand to be left alone and need for a snuggle, my touch, giggle time and car rides for long talks to sort things out.
On one of these car rides, doing some chores with my fourteen year old, I had an agenda. “Sex talk, consent and personal safety.” Destination? CVS. His topic was quite different. “Why do humans fear others that are unlike them? Why target Asians? Haven’t we done enough damage? Jeeze. I hate being a white man. We are the haters. How do I stop this?” How could I say, “sex is like offering a cup of tea” after that? I’d had it planned. So we drove along the shore stopped and watched the birds, waves and surfers. We discussed social equity and human nature, people who do the work, our change heroes. I praised his sense of justice and caring. We ate a scone, had coffee and hot chocolate, his with whipped cream that I dipped a finger for a taste. I told the tea story, a consent analogy.
He has a girlfriend he met in 7th grade. They talk every night. She’s coming to visit for the first time. So far they have seen one another for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, infrequently. But we are vaccinated, immune, and he’s a teenager who needs to socialize, so we agreed. When I asked what they were going to do he had no idea. I suggested a bike ride, a walk, art, cooking, watching a movie. He told me she’d be picked up in five hours. He said she hates hiking, bike riding, and does not like art. What does she like? Games on her phone. He doesn’t know. “She likes me.” Oh, does she now?
Sex Education and Health is part of his home-school curriculum. I chose units online and we were to begin next week. But today we’d look at condoms. He’ll think I’m expecting sex during his friend visit. I talk about STDs, how condoms are used for any sexual contact, not only intercourse. I ask him to watch the video on Monday and read some articles and we’d talk afterwards. “You need to be comfortable using condoms so that when you are 20 and want to have intercourse, condoms are already your best friend.” He nods. “These are not for your girlfriend visit. These are for you as we get into our studies, so you are familiar.” OMG. Who am I kidding?
We locate the condoms on the “Feminine-Hygiene-and-Family-Planning” aisle. Neither topic directions for a 14 year old looking for condoms. Another customer stands reading labels, so we make a U-turn. I get some paper products on aisle 7. He goes to the toy aisle. Digging through a rack of stuffed animals with huge eyes, he actually puts one to his cheek, letting me know he adores it. I flap my hand and he puts it down. The student of feminine products has moved on, the aisle clear. Girls are giggling an aisle over. My grandson sneaks along the boxes reading, shaking his head, “ribbed for stimulation, lubricated inside and out, super sensitive, more sensation.” I open a box and look at a packaged condom feel how sticky it might be. It’s blue and slimy. He shakes his head.
“I tried these on a banana once in sixth grade. I don’t know how to choose.” He grabs a 3-pack, no super duper claims, “protection and safety,” cheaper than the others. I stick a tube of lubricant in my bag and he drops in his condoms and we go to check out. He looks back to be sure he doesn’t know the gigglers in the next aisle. He doesn’t.
At the check out counter he plays with a model race car. Seriously. He opens the hood. It’s both childlike and somehow sexual. The cashier, a guy tend years older than my grandson says, “Cool car,” and spins the wheel. Back in our car, I say, “at home you can try one on. May be a tidy way to pleasure yourself.” I said that, I did. “There’s so much we can do on our own. No STDs, no pregnancies.” I said that, too. He looked out the window.
Size matters, Grandma
Would we have done this trip together had it not been for the Pandemic? We stopped to browse at our bookstore afterwards where he found book about being a man in today’s society, about preference, gender, being sexual and kind. That’s how he describes the book. It must be our long-term proximity that accounts for my 14-year old participating so willingly. It’s a result of our familial bonding, or maybe sex is just so damn interesting. I smile as I think about us, a grandma and a teen talking sex, condoms, responsibility and equity. Back home he steps out of his room and says, “These are huge, way too big.” I didn’t think about size. Eee-gads. I send him a website on measuring for a condom, length and girth. “I guess size matters after all, Grandma.” He laughs.
The next day I get some singles, picked up a handful at the grocery store for him to try. Then, I wisely step back, get quiet and stay out of the way. His girlfriend comes tomorrow. I mean visits. UGH. We already had the STD field trip, So I’ll save the video for next week. Is there an age-appropriate field trip for a fourteen and seventy year old on our next topic, “Porn”?