Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Night That Defined Me As A Parent

After a week of reading everybody's takes on abstinence-only sex-ed, I suddenly remembered that I, too, have a story to tell. This happened when I was 17, and is the driving force of pretty much everything I do as a mother. If you know me, you'd know that a large part of my parenting is quite unorthodox. Here's why.

I was a bookish, bespectacled teen raised by rather strict parents. The outcome of this combination was that at seventeen, I left home and went to college not having the foggiest idea about real life. Up till age ten, I did not know where babies came from. Then my best friend told me ("he puts his what in her what?!") I came home and asked my Mom if it was true. With a straight face, she told me no. All you had to do was really want to have a baby, and bam, it mysteriously appears in your stomach. I believed her. I vaguely remember being deadly afraid during my preteen years that I would accidentally feel like having a baby and get pregnant from that.

Though by age seventeen I knew how babies were made, I was still unaware about many many things. I believed that sex was a chore. People had it once, twice or three times in their lives in order to make a new kid. I did not know people actually did it for pleasure. I did not know what the pleasure was about. My Mom told me that, if I touched myself down there, I'd grow a penis. I believed her, so I didn't. I had never had a boyfriend. Once when I was in a trauma unit in a hospital, a guy tried to kiss me and I ran off in horror. The guy was on crutches, so it wasn't hard.

At age seventeen, I had also never been drunk. My Dad was a complete prohibitionist when it came to drinking. There was never a drop of alcohol in our house, except on holidays, when my parents let me have a sip. I had never gotten drunk with my friends, because I was a nerd, plain and simple. My looks changed a lot for the better at seventeen - I was blonde and skinny with forever legs and serious boobage, but still a nerd at heart.

With this horrifying lack of street smarts, I went to a big city to take my college entrance exams, passed them, and stayed on for the mandatory two weeks of community service. Mom's aunt left me a key to her apartment. She was away for the summer. Every day after my community service was over, I'd walk around the city, looking at sights. When I got tired of walking, I'd sit down on a park bench, read a book for a while, and move on when rested.

It was on a park bench that I met Max. He was short, bearded, and 11 years older. Max sat down next to me and struck a conversation. He asked what I was reading, then told me a little about himself and asked about me. Max lived in an apartment close to the park with his mother. He had been married, but was long divorced.

"So you're new here," he said. "Have you ever seen how they raise the bridges?"

As you may know, St-Petersburg is built on a river and is often called "Northern Venice" for the multiple canals running through the city's center. Naturally, there are a lot of bridges for people to get across. St-Petersburg is also a port, so at night, they raise the bridges for the large ships to pass through. Then they lower the bridges again at dawn. It is a fun thing to watch. I watched it once with my friend and her cousin. But that was some years later. Back to Max.

"Do you want to see the bridges raised? They're going to do it in a few hours. Let's walk around and then I'll show you."

Of course I wanted to watch the bridges raised. We decided we'd walk around the area and have some ice cream while we waited. Now here's something you won't see in your Dairy Queen. Back in '84, in Russia, in an ice cream shop, you could get a glass of champagne. Nobody asked you for ID. Max and I walked down the stairs into a small ice cream place and had a scoop of ice cream and a glass of champagne each. Half an hour later, Max suggested that we do it again in a different ice cream shop, so we did.

Before long, Max had taken me to five or six ice cream shops and I was plastered.

part II
part III

The Goldie has spoken at 6:13 PM

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