Courtesy of Ayelet Waldman
Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace.
Ayelet Waldman is an essayist and author. Her most recent book is
After 14 years of declining teen birthrates, we've now seen our second year of increases. They were small — 2 percent in 2006 and 1 percent in 2007 — but they're undeniable.
Everyone has his own theory about the source of the rise. Conservatives lay the blame on our permissive culture, where teenage sex permeates the airwaves and even young children get the message that sexy is the new cute. They've got a point — have you ever seen a Bratz doll? But study after study has shown that teaching abstinence just doesn't keep kids from having sex.
This debate is anything but academic to me, the mother of a teenage girl. My eldest is 14; she will start high school in the fall. I remember standing years ago in the schoolyard, watching the Halloween parade. In middle school, some girls will apply black eyeliner with a novice's shaky fingers and slink around the neighborhood in their sexy witch (or sexy kitty or sexy vampire) costumes. Another kind of girl will construct a bulky costume that conceals as much of her body as possible. Making liberal use of cardboard packing boxes, she'll go as a box of cereal or a jack-in-the-box or a box of movie popcorn.
As I watched the column of middle school sexy witches and cereal boxes troop by, I turned to the woman standing next to me and asked, "Which is yours?"
With a sigh she pointed to the sexy flight attendant. "At least she's not dressed like her older sister," she said, nodding in the direction of an eighth-grader wearing hot pants, fishnet stockings and Vegas showgirl makeup and tottering along in 5-inch heels.
"Wow," I said. With neither a cute set of ears nor a tail nor devil's horns, exactly what species of sexy the costume was going for was hard to determine. "What is she?"
The mother gave another one of those convulsive pick-your-battles sighs. "A ho."
"A ho?" I asked. "A ho?!"
"Yep," she said.
We watched the lower grades now making their giddy way across the blacktop. "I wonder what kind of seventh-grader I'm going to have?" I said. "A cereal box or a ho?"
"Oh, honey," the mother said, sizing up my miniature flapper in her black fringed minidress, sequined headband and rolled stockings. "You've got yourself a ho."
So far, thank God, while my daughter looks like a sexy witch, she thinks like a cereal box. Her approach to boys has yet to shift beyond the most tentative of curiosity.
But I'm ready for her. A while ago I ordered some birth control for myself and my husband. When the box arrived, it included a freebie: a pack of 50 candy-colored condoms. I was about to throw them away, but after an internal debate that seemed at once to encompass every attitude, preconception, goal and belief I have about parenting, I took the bag and put it on the very top shelf of the cupboard in the kids' bathroom.
A few months later, I heard a shriek of horror. I ran in to find my kids staring aghast at the bag of condoms.
I smiled shakily, "At some point in the very distant future, you'll be having sex. And you'll need protection."
"God, Mom," my daughter said, turning her back and stalking out of the room and into the cereal-box world in which she will be living for such a very brief time to come. "That is so gross."
Ayelet Waldman is an essayist and author. Her most recent book is Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace.