Sunday, July 17, 2016

By Herself

Tonight's cocktail is a Blueberry Buck, which I had during a recent visit to Atlanta.

Blueberry vodka (I don't really like the flavored stuff because I prefer to infuse it myself, but it was OK), lime, ginger beer, shaved nutmeg.
In the spring, I had the honor of reading an original piece for Listen to Your Mother, a multi-city project that "gives motherhood a microphone" by asking people to present stories about mothers and motherhood. I was in the D.C. show, which you can (and should!) view in its entirety here. Part of the proceeds for every show go to nonprofit organizations that help local mothers in some way. Our show benefited My Sister's Place, which provides shelter, transition, and support services to survivors of domestic violence.

While many of the stories in the show were poignant and insightful and will make you cry when you hear them, mine was not one of those. I was part of the comic relief. Regardless, participating in the show was one of the best experiences of my life. Here's my piece (text below), before which I was announced thusly: "Kathleen Gordon is avoiding a work conference and bringing shame upon her family to read for us today. She deeply apologizes to her beloved mother for what you are about to hear."

My mother is a Southern church lady who would just as soon praise the Lord as bless your heart. She serves on the altar guild, is past president of the women’s service league, and attends weekly Bible study in addition to church services. On her night table is a well-worn, bookmarked Bible, and she is always praying for somebody. Most likely it’s me.

My mother missed the sexual revolution altogether. She grew up in a strict Southern Baptist household and, in the early 60s, attended a women’s college where she wasn’t allowed to wear slacks and had to have written permission from her parents on file to leave campus. When she was 21, she married my dad, her high school sweetheart. By the time of the 70s Equal Rights Amendment movement, she was busy raising me, and she didn’t think much of those “women’s libbers.”

During the Judy Blume stage of my childhood, when I asked my mom questions about periods and where babies came from, she would always answer truthfully - there was no talk of storks or euphemisms for genitalia - but she never mentioned that sex was supposed to be fun. Imagine my surprise when I realized for myself that it really, really is!

Past settling the birds-and-bees issue, I hardly ever talked to my mother about sex again. After I graduated from college, I spent the summer traveling in Europe, and my mom decided to join me for the last two weeks in Italy. Traveling by train to major cities in Europe with a woman who has spent almost no time outside the United States and who does not understand for the life of her why people will not put more ice in her drinks was sometimes a challenge, but we had a good time. We saw transcendent art, strolled through the sun-bathed lanes of history, and ate delicious gelato and pasta. One night, I even got my mom drunk on cheap Chianti to the point where she was giggling and singing a slightly risque song from college called “Minnie the Mermaid” while walking beside the Arno in Florence.

Then, we got to Siena, and awkwardness ensued. It was hot, and after we pulled our suitcases uphill to the hotel, I wanted to take a shower. My mom said that was fine, and she turned on the TV. I didn’t think much of it until I turned off the water and started to hear noises from the TV. Moaning noises. Sexy noises. Wrapping myself in a towel, I poked my head out of the bathroom to see my mother sitting on the edge of the bed, her eyes wide as dinner plates, staring at the quickly turned-off TV.

Me: Mom, are you OK?

Mom: [a little too fast] “Yes, I’m just fine.”

Me: You look upset. Did something happen?

Mom: [reluctantly] Well, I turned on the TV to see if there was any news in English, and I got to this channel, and it was very strange.

Me: How so?

Mom: Well, there was this woman, and she was very … excited. But she was by herself.

Me: Mom, what were you watching?

Mom: I don’t know. But she was REAL excited. And I didn’t understand, because she was by herself.

Me: [horrified, but trying to be soothing] Well, sometimes they put stuff on TV in other countries that you wouldn’t see in the United States, so it sounds like it was pornography. You can just ignore it, don’t worry about it.

Mom: [increasingly agitated] Kathleen! You do NOT underSTAND! She was VERY exCITED! And she was BY HERSELF!

Me: [to myself] Really? Am I really going to have to explain this? Sigh.

Me: [aloud] Mom, some people like to watch women … touching themselves. And enjoying it. So they made a movie of it. But it’s OK, you don’t have to watch it.

Mom: [indignantly] Oh, Kathleen, you don’t understand anything.

I let that one drop like a stone. We changed the subject and never discussed it again.

But, now that I have a preteen daughter, and I’ve had a few sex talks with her, I’ve thought back to that conversation with my mother. I don’t know if my mom was truly unaware of female masturbation or was too embarrassed to admit that she knew about it, but either way, it made me kind of sad for her. So I made sure to tell my daughter that even though sex sounds “so gross, Mom,” that it feels good, and it’s a nice thing for consenting ADULTS to enjoy RESPONSIBLY when they’re READY.

I also got completely indignant when I saw that the American Girl body book doesn’t label the clitoris on its female anatomy diagram, and I made a point of telling my daughter what it is, what it does, and that nobody gets to touch it without her permission. Which she said she is “never going to give anyone, ever, because ew.” That’s fine by me. But at least she knows, and likely the information will come in useful at some point in the future. Even if she is BY HERSELF.

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