So here’s a story.
When I was in sixth or seventh grade, the biggest excitement of the year, easily, without a doubt was Judy Blume’s Forever.
You know. THE SEX BOOK.
Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it. You have. Don’t try that with me. You know what it is. You read it, secretly, right around the time you read Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) and Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret, and of course Flowers in the Attic.
My friends and I passed around Forever that year. It went from person to person pretty quickly, because we each probably read it in one night, under the covers, eager to see what THE SEX BOOK was all about. (At least I did. No shame here.)
I wasn’t about to go home and wave it around, and be like, “Hey! Mom! Look what I got! Judy Blume’s sex book!”
Now, normally, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. My parents were pretty tolerant. At least, my mom always was. She let me take books out and never gave me the third degree. My dad was probably like, “Oh, Annabelle’s got her nose in a book again. Shocker.” They all looked the same to him.
But the one day – joy of joys, o happy day – when it was finally my turn to bring home Forever, you know, THE SEX BOOK, my mom suddenly took an interest in what I was reading.
I mean, let’s be frank here. What kind of mother is going to see her twelve-year-old – her rather naive twelve-year-old at an all-girls’ school – reading THE SEX BOOK and not have alarm bells go off in her head?
So my mom picked up the book, read the front, read the back, flipped through it (I’m sure it opened up right to page 85… you know, where we and Katherine meet Ralph) and opened it to the first page. The first line in Forever is:
Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.
I’m pretty sure there was a raised eyebrow – my mom was, and still is, the master of the raised eyebrow to convey all sorts of emotions – and she asked me if I knew what that meant.
If I remember correctly, I replied along the lines of “Um, it means she had sex?” (Definitely with the question mark at the end. I had no idea, honestly). And that, I figured, would be the sum total of my experience with THE SEX BOOK, and everyone else would have read it, and they would all be worldly and knowledgeable, and I would still be picking up The Baby-Sitters Club, trapped forever in a world where boys were mysterious and babysitting was the height of awesomeness. (I’m 34, and both are still true. But I digress.)
But then my mom did something really awesome.
She just sort of closed her eyes for a second, in a Lord-give-me-strength-why-is-my-little-baby-reading-smut kind of way, and handed the book back to me, and told me that if I had any questions that I should come to her and she would answer them for me.
Not gonna lie: I was completely floored. As I said, she’d never censored me before, and she had always been clear that I could talk to her about all “the girl stuff” (which I hadn’t, because, come on, I had friends to ask about that), but we were in uncharted waters here. This was a book with pretty explicit sexual content. I hadn’t even read the book yet, but based on what I heard, there was all kinds of scary/great stuff to learn about. Sex! Teenagers! The Pill! Wow! Take that, Ann M. Martin!
I read the book, and didn’t understand a lot of it, and, as it turned out, didn’t ask my mom any questions, but I felt a little older. A little more mature. I had learned an important fact. Penises had names. That would, I have no doubt, be valuable knowledge as I navigated the wild world of men.
The reason I’m recounting this story is to ask all of you out there about not only your first experience with more grownup books, but how your relevant adults reacted. I have a friend who has taken a complete hands-off approach to what her 14-year-old reads. I have a friend who pre-reads books before she lets her tween daughter read them. And I have yet another friend who has put her foot down and refuses to let her tween daughter read anything even remotely PG-rated.
At what point do we censor or not? Or ask lots of questions? Or prohibit? Or declare ourselves neutral (and open or closed) parties?
(P.S.: Thanks for being so understanding, Mom.)