Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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1737 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Caught in the Act

by T. Nicole Cirone

One night while you and your husband are making love, you hear a tiny knock and then the bedroom door creaking open just a crack. You think it might be the cat because he frequently slinks into your room at night, and you know it must be at least midnight because you went to bed after 11:00 and it feels to you like at least an hour has passed since you and your husband started kissing and fooling around. But it is your ten-year-old daughter in the doorway, asking what you are doing and if she can have a glass of water while your husband is fumbling around trying to find his boxer shorts. You tell her that it is late at night and that she knows she can get a glass of water anytime she wants in her bathroom upstairs. She asks your husband, who is sitting on the edge of the bed with the sheet placed strategically across his lap, which you know is bare underneath, what he is doing, and he replies, “I’m setting the alarm for tomorrow morning. I forgot to do it when we went to bed.” You gently but firmly remind her that it is a school night and that she needs to go back to bed.

You waited until late to make love in the first place, to make sure your daughter was asleep. She has recently had the habit of coming downstairs long after you have tucked her in, just to see what you are doing. In fact, when you tuck her in, she asks, “Are you two going to talk after I am in bed? What are you going to talk about?”

You can’t help but notice that this new wandering around late at night has come on the heels of your recent sex talk, which you had to have when she came home from school one day with some very creative ideas about sex and was able to demonstrate in charade-like theatrics a variety of very bizarre-looking sexual positions—most of which you are almost certain are impossible, or, at least unrealistic for the average couple. However, she demonstrated a keen knowledge of the body parts involved, so you realized it was time to have The Talk, the one your mother never had with you—in fact, sex was so shameful for your mother to discuss that even on paperwork where it was necessary to indicate male or female, your mother would never say the word—just spell it: “S-E-X.” And her version of the “period talk” was to give you the “Growing Up and Liking It” kit that included a book with disco flowers printed on the front and a kit of maxi pads (no tampons! The nuns told you in health class that it was a sin for you to touch yourself in your private area). You somehow figured out the maxi-pad contraption (they came with a belt in those days) from the cartoon diagram in the book, but you still weren’t prepared when you got your period on the bus in 7th grade and you prayed to the Blessed Mother that you would make it home before the blood soaked through your Blackwatch uniform kilt. You did. You lit a lot of church candles for that in the years to follow.

Your first sexual experience was in 9th grade. Ray, your first boyfriend, who was a skateboarder/punk rocker/artist, who made your parents cringe and whom you liked all the more for that, got to 2nd base—up your shirt—at Anne K’s Halloween party. It was uncomfortable at first because he just kind of stuck his hand—and then his head—up there, pushing your padded bra out of the way and groping at your nipples with one hand and his tongue. But then you liked it—you really, really liked it. You would grow up—and you would like it! Just like the book title told you to.

While you did your fair share of experimenting with the teenage male body—as well as your own teenage body—you didn’t actually have sexual intercourse until college. The reason for that was purely romantic: you couldn’t imagine losing your virginity in some groping tussle in the backseat of some high school boy’s Dodge Colt hatchback. No, you wanted the act to be unforgettably grand, so when you gave it up, it was in college, to an older guy—a junior to your freshman status—in his fancy room at a fancy university in Washington DC. You had it all: older guy, fancy digs, experience, classy location. Except that it hurt—a lot. No pamphlet prepared you for that. And you found out about your latex allergy pretty quickly when you had a terrible reaction to the condom that he used. To top it off, your lover—for that is what he suddenly became—had turned on the radio as you lay in his bed, and the playlist, in succession, was Don Henley’s “End of the Innocence” and Bette Midler’s “God is Watching Us From a Distance.” The good Catholic girl in you was horrified by what had just happened. You could never, ever talk to your mom about this.

Which is what you want to prevent your daughter from experiencing. You are so sure that in laying the groundwork for an open communication about sex, she will come to you with every question. She will talk it over with you before she ever lets a boy touch her. So while you were not really expecting to have The Talk so soon, you will not back down. Your daughter will not be given some rainbows and butterflies pamphlet to guide her. No, you will be the source of information for all of her wondering, the wealth of correct information that she will not learn kinesthetically or by reading Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. So on the night she came home from school demonstrating the circus-like contortions that Tony, her very advanced classmate, told her were “sex,” you knew the time was right at least to introduce The Talk. The Talk, which you had over tortellini with peas and sun-dried tomatoes and a wonderful arugula salad—which you managed to enjoy nonetheless—went well in that you thought you managed to explain everything very clearly, with no room for grossness or funny words or fits of laughter. And you asked your daughter not to reproduce any aspect of your talk in the school yard. You didn’t want angry parents or their sheltered kids ostracizing your daughter, an already sort of socially vulnerable kid, even more.

Yet, your daughter is ten. Armed with the arsenal of information you have supplied her, your daughter has become an amateur sleuth, seeing double-entendres in everything and giggling hysterically at anything that can remotely provoke the response, “That’s what she said”—which you had to explain to her after one of the boys came to school with the iphone app that made the comment in a variety of tones, ranging from sleazy to sardonic. One push of the button left all of the fourth-grade boys in fits of laughter, and because the boy who came in with the app was the one who’d told her all about sex, your daughter immediately intuited that it also had something to do with sex, and now, it has become her favorite expression. You haven’t received any angry phone calls from helicopter parents yet, and you are grateful for the fourth-grade boys, who, with their “dirty words” in the schoolyard have absorbed the attention of the teachers, principal and other kids, leaving your daughter and her proper scientific information alone for now. At school. At home, she giggles and says things like, “I’m going out to play wiffleball. I have a bat but I don’t have any balls!

You are fairly comfortable with the fact that she is not yet interested enough in boys to feel any inclination toward sexual experiences, but for the moment, of concern is her overactive imagination and curiosity about yours and your husband’s nightly agenda. You wonder how much she witnessed. “How long do you think she was behind the door?” you ask your husband, who, with his, “Probably not long” response is less convinced than you that you have traumatized the kid forever. You never saw your parents even kiss, and you are convinced to this day that they only had sex twice—once for you and once for your younger sister. In fact, the thought of them naked even turns your stomach. You don’t even want to acknowledge that your mom was once young and beautiful, your dad a studly star athlete. But at the same time, it is this unhealthy attitude toward “S-E-X” that you intend to change in your daughter.

So when she asks you in the car one day while the two of you are driving to Rita’s water ice if you and your husband have ever “tried sex” you have to answer her honestly. This is about a week after The Talk and a few days after you were caught in the act. “Yes,” you tell her. “That is what married people do.” She is quiet for a moment, then asks, “When? On your honeymoon?” Yes, you tell her, on your honeymoon. You don’t tell her that you and your husband enjoy a very active and interesting sex life, or that it is rare that you have sex fewer than three nights a week. You might save that for when she is older—when she doesn’t want to hear it. “Mom,” she says in a very serious tone, “I know I’m only ten, and maybe this advice isn’t appropriate. But on your honeymoon? I think you should try sex again.” And you smile. You smile because you can maybe convince yourself that she didn’t see anything the night she walked into your room. You smile because she is not afraid to openly discuss sex with you. And you smile because somehow, beneath all the giggling and fourth-grade imagination and circus-sex moves, she seems to have grasped the importance of sex to a loving relationship. You have succeeded in encouraging a healthy attitude toward sex. And you only hope the teenage years will be this easy.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

T. Nicole Cirone

is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, whose publication credits include poetry in Red River Review, Philadelphia tories, Philadelphia Stories Best of Anthology, and Perigee; and essays in Serving House Journal. She is a teacher and tribal bellydancer, and she lives in Mickleton, NJ with her husband, daughter, and cat.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury