By Ilonka Michelle O’Neil
My 13-year-old daughter comes out of our bedroom, holding the tiny square package with the tip of her index finger and thumb like it’s a stinky sock.
“Is this a condom?” she asks.
I look up, and sure enough, it is.
“Where did you find that?” I inquire.
“In Dad’s drawer,” she replies, her face half curious, half disgusted.
I don’t have time to consider why she’s snooping in her father’s dresser drawer. Game on. It’s a condom. I’m up to bat. Quickly I calculate it has to be a very old condom. My husband had a vasectomy years ago, and I am no longer fertile. And incidentally, why is he never home when things like this happen?
I take it from her. Judging from the look of the package it is old. It’s likely been in the back of his drawer for years, surviving several moves to several states, keeping his socks and tightie-whities company all this time.
Our 11-year-old son, never one to miss a juicy conversation sidles up to have a look-see.
The condom is in my hand. I pause for a second.
This is a teachable moment.
“Let me show you how they work.”
I tear the condom wrapper and gingerly and take it out, “You have to be careful not to tear it with your fingernails,” I mention casually.
Hmmm…. I glance over my shoulder around the kitchen. It’s a fine day to be out of bananas.
Raising my left middle and pointer fingers like a closed peace sign, I point out the reservoir tip as I begin showing them how to roll the condom down, over my fingers.
“You want to make sure it’s on right, and that it’s secure at the base.” I unravel the whole thing. “If not, it can come off inside the woman.” (Ask me how I know).
I am all business. I give it a nice tug at the bottom, to be sure it’s in place.
“This jelly stuff is spermicide. It kills any sperm it comes into contact with making the condom extra effective against pregnancy and some sexually transmitted diseases.”
“It looks gross,” my son says, wrinkling his nose.
They are mesmerized.
“You both need to know how to use condoms. It is mandatory. When you are older, much older, and start having sex you will always wear a condom. If your partner gives you a hard time about it or refuses, they do not really care about you. It’s up to you to respect yourself enough to protect yourself.”
“When you get married, or are in a serious long term monogamous relationship and are using other forms of birth control, or you are trying to have a baby ... then you can stop using condoms. But until then, always a condom. Every time.”
We’ve talked plenty of times with our kids about relationships and what to look for in a partner. How they should be treated with respect and how they should treat their partners with respect as well.
“So, we’re allowed to have sex, but not unprotected sex,” my daughter says.
“You’re not allowed to have sex right now, but when you are older you will likely have sex. And when you do, you have to wear a condom, yes.”
I add, “Save your non-condom virginity for your spouse.”
Inwardly I catch how much it sounds like a liberal’s version of a promise ring, or chastity pledge. I hope my children give my advice more merit than those attempts at stifling human sexuality generally receive.
They nod understanding.
My daughter says, “I think I’ll wait ’til I’m like, 20, to have sex.”
She’s a young 13, and though I know it could likely be before she’s 20, I tell her,
From her lips to God’s ears. Please wait.
I roll the condom off my fingers, and toss it in the trash.
“Never flush them,” I say as an after thought. “It will clog the toilet.”
Check. Check. They’ve got it. They walk out of the room, discussion over. They each go to their own separate spaces with lots to think about. I mean, a condom in Dad’s drawer?
Washing the rubber smell off my hands in the kitchen sink, I think about what just happened.
The whole thing took maybe five minutes.
Ilonka Michelle O’Neil’s work has been featured in Literary Mama, The Imperfect Parent, Cool Cleveland and various other publications including two parenting anthologies. She is author of the memoir Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, and she blogs at www.fullsoulahead.com.