Plant Parenthood or When Two Plants Love Each Other Very Much…
In the fourth grade, my teacher asked our class to write down what our parents did for a living. Easy, I thought- my dad taught PE and my mom worked for ‘Plant’ Parenthood. My teacher got quite a chuckle out of this, after all, my mother worked for Planned Parenthood, not some lab that cross-bred orchids or a nursery that adopted ferns out to doddering old ladies.
Looking back, her working at Planned Parenthood (as a community educator and women’s health advocate among other roles), made a lot more sense. My mother first tried to explain the facts of life to me when she was pregnant with my brother. I was not yet three years old and most of what she was trying to tell me went way over my head. By the time she was done explaining, I was convinced she had an eggplant growing inside of her. She must have tried again a few years later. In first grade, I was pulling my classmates under my teachers desk to try to explain the birds and the bees to them (complete with the correct names of all anatomical parts).
Having a mom who worked at Planned Parenthood definitely had its moments. In sixth grade, I made a new friend- I’ll call her Annie. Annie and I had been friends for a few months when we excitedly scheduled our first sleepover at my house. It was your run of the mill sleepover – magazine quizzes, makeovers, and junk food- until my mom knocked on the door and asked if we wanted to watch a movie. This might seem like an innocent enough question, but knowing my mother I immediately went into panic mode. It was too late- Annie wanted to watch a movie. We went into the living room where we spent thirty (long) minutes being guinea pigs watching a film strip called, “Am I Normal” while mom inquired, “so do you think this is appropriate for kids your age?”
Annie sat quietly- probably in a state of shock, until the end of the film, after which we resumed our sleepover activities and never spoke of the “movie” again. (The first rule of puberty films is that you never talk about puberty films.) I recently asked Annie what she remembered about this incident and she has conveniently blocked it from her memory.
In high school, I was so (over) educated about the dangers of unprotected sex that I avoided dating all together. While other kids were getting hot and heavy in the back seats of their parents cars, I was snug in my bed with visions of herpes dancing in my head. My friends would even sometimes take me as a chaperone on their dates as if my wealth of knowledge alone could protect them from unintended consequences.
There were some also some upsides to my mom’s job. While other kids were working at fast food restaurants, or babysitting, I was trained as a Peer Educator. I got paid to teach classes on teen health, birth control, decision making, and peer pressure at my own and other local high schools. I went on lobbying trips to my state capitol and got to meet my state and U.S. Senators. I was living proof that giving kids accurate information about sex and birth control does not make them more likely to be promiscuous.
What I have written so far only scratches the surface of a childhood filled with both awkward and enlightening conversations, questions that made me want to be swallowed up by the earth, and far too many TMI moments. (I really didn’t need to know about the condoms my mom put in my cousins graduation cards.) Yet, it could have been worse. I can only imagine what the conversations would have included if my mom had truly been able to fulfill her occupational goals. What she really wanted to be was a sex therapist. Thank goodness for small favors.