a Women Writers' Showcase
Telling the Truth
By Cindy Petricko

I bought Ultra thin Lubricated condoms, I guess.  I didn't notice in the store.  I just sneaked into the pharmacy aisle, grabbed a box and stuffed it into my basket under the bread and bananas.  I paid the cashier without looking up, and rushed home. Pulling the long strand of plastic packets out of their box, I feel heat prickle into my face. Each one has its brand stamped on, and the expiration date January 2006.  Later tonight, I have to stop blushing and show them to my daughter.

I'm doing this because I know what it costs to have sex too soon. Over fifteen years ago, as a high-school senior, I entered my first sexual relationship.  I believed it was the wrong thing to do, but did it anyway.  I didn't use artificial contraception, though:  at some point, my boyfriend asked if he should "get something." Horrified, I ignored him.  My mother guessed what was happening, and for the first time, tried to get me to talk to her about sex.  I remember sitting on the top step of our townhouse with her.  My face was prickling.  I covered by saying,  "You're crazy! What makes you think I would do that?" but thinking, Can I really tell her?  What will happen? Despite frantic attempts to come up with a way to say it, I told my mother nothing. I told myself "it doesn't matter, because I'm never going to do it again."  A few months later I was pregnant.

It's a familiar story, I know.  I grew up; I sacrificed.  I learned to make practical decisions for my daughter's sake and my own.  The thing that shocks me about it is that getting pregnant was actually a glorious gift. I've flourished while raising my daughter; nearly all of my accomplishments can be traced to a moment of terror and self-doubt that I plowed through, in order to set an example for her. Even more shocking is my thirty-something realization that if I hadn't plunged into motherhood
as a rebellious teenager, I would probably be too afraid to plunge at all.

So far, I have taught my daughter what the Bible says about sex, just as my parents taught me.  I also tell her that sex is a great thing, and that I want all great things for her, in time.  I tell her it is a big responsibility, and that I hope she will wait until she is an adult, and preferably married.  I tell her that no matter what, I'm on her side.

As I'm contemplating plans to sit down with my daughter tonight, I want to explain more than the nuts and bolts of safer sex. My embarrassment over the condoms and details is fading.  Frankness seems easy, now, compared to sharing some uneasy truths about myself: As always, I will list for the goals she's inspired me to reach. I will explain all the reasons why I don't regret becoming a mom too young. But there's more to the story than the rosy parts. I'll also tell her a little about isolation and panic, a little about being unprepared to take care of her (or myself) on my own, a little about how grown up moms really have to be. I don't think she needs to hear another "After School Special" style sob story--I don't want to scare her, and I definitely don't want to paint a regretful picture of myself with her as its cause.  I just want to show her enough of the whole truth to help her make choices with all the possibilities in mind.

Cynthia Petricko is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who lives and works in Monroe, MI.  She thinks raising a teenager is like walking a tightrope-- difficult and tense, but great work if you can get it. Contact Cynthia.