Monthly Archives: August 2015

Breached Boundary

photo by Carol via Flickr

photo by Carol via Flickr

I have experienced some internal squirming when Lena has brought up the topic of bondage. Like many kids, she’s really sensitive to her mother’s body language–so, I’m sure she’s noticed, in spite of my best efforts to conceal my discomposure.

The only way I could have hidden that from her, I’m convinced, would have been to keep that “inappropriate discussion” off-limits. I know myself well enough to know that.

All parents are adept at drawing those kinds of boundaries under the hale banner of propriety. We set them consciously and unconsciously, sometimes wisely and sometimes out of shame. Once we do, though, the boundaries take on a life of their own, rife with messages that penetrate slyly, deeply. Boundaries drawn out of shame are insidious that way.

Would I have felt like squirming (so to speak) if my own daughter’s sexuality hadn’t been involved? Whatever the answer to that may be, I doubt that she understands the subtle distinctions that might be possible. I resolve not to cordon off that topic and let her speak her mind. In so doing I expose a part of myself–something unresolved and awkward, that I now have to deal with.

Lena sees only the surface ripples of my discomfort, not what is fomenting them. Not that I’m entirely sure what foments them myself. So, here we are: Lena changes the world by starting with me.

I’ve been on the receiving end of several concise homilies about bondage from Lena, cut short by my own awkwardness rather than by a lack of passion on her part. I’ve heard about how one shouldn’t be taken in by stereotypes and conventional judgments. About what bondage really could or even ought to be for it to provide sustenance, as Lena believes sexual acts should.

Lena just feels driven to be educating everyone about every angle of sex. She just wants to alter the world’s sexual pH in the direction of optimal health, much as others are driven to find a cure for seemingly intractable diseases. But I also think Lena lectures me because she just wants to make sure that whatever she decides to do in her life, her mother will be okay with it, and will still love and approve of her.

This is so much like all the other areas of our relationship, but it’s so easy to forget that.

The Final Frontier

photo by Kmitu. Courtesy of Dreamstime.com

photo by Kmitu. Courtesy of Dreamstime.com

For the final frontier at Velvet, Lena and I spread the sumptuous aubergine curtain. We are in the bondage section.

The conservative faction of my mother instinct is reeling!—yet Lena is the very girl who just moments earlier identified the sleeve and the harness for her mother. In this section we note the variety of ropes, cuffs, chains, floggers, crops, spreaders, clamps.  There are simply framed 8 ½ by 11 printouts indicating the store’s philosophy of bondage: that it must be safe and consensual in spite of its veneer of roughness and intimidation.

Lena is inspired to repeat to me a trope I have heard from her before—that there has to be tender mutual regard and respect at the basis of healthy bondage play. I gather that she has formed opinions about BDSM in discussions with her core group of curious, internet-savvy kids. These kids have hammered out a consensus about this matter at the lunch table. They are confident in their opinions as a result, and less lonely for their interests. I’m glad that the lunch lady didn’t tell them to knock it off, though I can’t imagine that she would have heard them over the lunchroom din.

I am reminded that Lena criticized Fifty Shades of Grey to me once or twice. She was incensed that it represented the lunatic fringe of BDSM as the mainstream, the veneer as substance. Lena obviously sympathizes with the mainstream, and I note happily that she’s on the side of the angels once more. Lena, on the other hand, just feels happy because Velvet does not carry Fifty Shades of Grey in the book or film version.

Chat with the Sex Store Clerk

Crew Dragon Artist Depiction

Crew Dragon Artist Depiction

At the top of the stair, facing forward, are the items that the majority of shoppers come for. There are the usual suspects: vibrators, condoms, cock rings, more lotions and lubricants. There are a few things I don’t recognize. “That’s a sleeve, mom”; and “that’s a harness.” Lena is so polite, so devoid of condescension in how she tells me these things, and I am so glad not to feel trivialized. (At least, I had heard of that last thing….)

Lena busies herself examining the label on a tube of lotion. She is vegan and doesn’t want to buy something that violates her commitment to not use animal products. I leave her to her task and walk on to the next part of the store, the one not immediately apparent from the top of the stair. A Velvet employee communicates with her facial expression that she is attentive to any wish for assistance.

The clerk is a young woman, ostensibly in her mid twenties. I, the ever-friendly mom type and a teacher, am once more on the lookout for ways to engage and encourage the young! I am also not without sociological curiosity. So, even though I am shy and reserved and would probably prefer shopping with a bag over my head in this place, I strike up a conversation with her.

I don’t ask her about products that have piqued my curiosity. Rather, I ask her if she ever has parents coming into the store with under-age teens. The whole time I speak with her I feel she is sizing me up. She is large enough to be imposing. Her face is at once sensitive and brusque. I feel I detect an old sadness, a roughed-up quality, about her eyes, however smooth the skin that surrounds them.

She smiles respectfully in the face of my mother-ness, and I realize that she is dealing with a new kind. She doesn’t exactly answer my question, but diplomatically offers that the store is very open and appreciative of parents bringing their teenagers in. She says that the store offers classes and that, though she doesn’t know it for a fact, minors are probably allowed with parental consent, and that events calendars were available at the check-out.

My daughter has in the meantime traced my footsteps toward the velvet curtains that conceal the last remaining part of the store to explore. She stops on her way to chat with me and the store clerk. I think Lena is curious about what it must be like to work at a store like this, and thinks of the young woman as a fellow traveler in a great journey toward a sex-positive world. I see that she would like to bond with her, peer to peer.

She praises the woman for the row of silver earrings protruding from multiple piercings of her helix, and fesses up with an awkward grin to belonging with me, and to perhaps not belonging in the store without her consenting adult mother. Lena and I chuckle, aware that we are breaking new ground at least for ourselves. The store woman joins us.

Paydirt

 

photo by Elisa Clayon

photo by Elisa Clayon

Before very long I sense a lull in her browsing and notice her fumbling in her clutch for her little pink fabric teenager purse. I glide on over with all the apologetic subtlety that my clunky wooden heels will allow. She’s my precious little one and I don’t want to overwhelm! Naturally, though, she is aware of my approach and freezes slightly.

I smile sympathetically before launching into a super embarrassing talk! I say “Lena, I promised you a gift because of what you accomplished, and I’m so proud of you! “—Oh GREAT! Here? And she’s going to give me money in front of everyone? Can I just evaporate on the spot? I take a moment to guess lamely at the content of her teenagerly mind, from my no-doubt quaint mother’s vantage point, and I feel a little sorry. But I’m all pumped up with righteous maternal adrenaline and nothing will stop me from issuing important life lessons now!

I pull out my wallet and hand over several bills. Her eyes dance furiously, furtively, then become excruciatingly fixated on the bottom edge of my wallet. “And when you work at things that are important, there are rewards for that.” Her pursed lips are anxiously bemused, and she shifts nervously. I continue with my job. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you by giving you this money.” She nods, quickly, eyes darting again. I hand the money over. She says a thank you almost like a question and our transaction is completed.

On to the second floor, where I know they keep the toys, ropes, and books.

Thanking My Lucky Stars

We part ways for a time. I station myself among the fishnets, not only because I can imagine wearing something like that, but because they are displayed in the area that adjoins the lubricants shelf. That is where Lena has busied herself reading labels.

Lena is an educated consumer. She knows brands and she knows, of course, which kinds you can use with condoms and which you can’t. Everyone in her peer group knows these things: they talk about it at the lunch table. They have all read customer reviews of the various products and know a heck of a lot more about them than I do, I’ve gathered.

It occurs to me that Lena probably doesn’t have enough money for what is likely a rather expensive purchase at this pricy store, and I remember my promise of a reward for her admirable report card. Lena has never been motivated by grades, per se, or by peer pressure. She does not live to please others. School, private or public, has simply not provided a motivating learning environment for this child; and I am always looking for ways to send the message that applying one’s self (in this case, in high school) carries rewards.

Should I be thanking the Creator of Us All to have found a reward that Lena actually cares about, a lot? As that Loving Presence is the Creator of Sex, perhaps more than He/She is the creator of formal education, with all of its strictly delineated disciplines, its carefully negotiated emphases–I do.

Corset Mania

photo by Brenda's Cakes, Ohio

photo by Brenda’s Cakes, Ohio

Lena and I spend a few moments flipping through a generously stocked rack of beautiful corsets (“best in the city!”—according to a reviewer at Yelp), a bit listlessly given Lena’s thing for corsets. I have been aware of this thing for some time: I’ve observed Lena shopping for corsets online with the same apparent absorption that other kids play video games, or Facebook.

Once, in an effort to remain open to my child’s unorthodox self-concept, I allowed her to purchase a rather pretty handmade corset with birthday money from grandparents. Last summer, Lena even won an obnoxiously shiny and pink PVC corset as a prize for answering some questions about sex correctly on a British alternative young women’s site, to her great pride and delight. (As long as she takes her obligations and responsibilities seriously, I tell her.) Perhaps because we are just warming up to the particular subversion of going to a sex store while being mother and daughter, we are now treating these corsets with such coolness. Not that I exactly see why there should be subversion in this.

Lena pulls out a black corset with an elegant brocade panel and suggests that I might enjoy trying it on. I assure her that, as pretty as this one is, I couldn’t be comfortable in one. And besides, hadn’t women worked so hard not to have to stuff their bodies into these things? And therefore, why on earth would I put one on now? For her, perhaps, putting one on is as subversive as taking it off was for the feminists before us. But I am grateful for my uncorsetted life, thank you.

 

Velvet

callasOff the school bus, Lena hops into the station wagon beside me. We head for a territory that few mother-daughter teams have explored before us–of that I am quite certain.

As a reward for Lena’s vaunted straight-A report card, we are going for a visit to McLane Way, an inconspicuous foot-traffic alley in one of the city’s “B” neighborhoods. McLane Way happens to be home to two sex stores that I had visited on several prior occasions with my boyfriend: Velvet, and Please!. I steer in the direction of Velvet first because I like its elegantly sensuous environment (understated lighting, floor-to-ceiling aubergine velvet curtains gently dividing section from section, customer from customer), and I like the cordial, professional yet relaxed manner of the young staff.

The first time I had visited the store (actually the first time I had ever ventured into a store like that) I had marveled at these kids’ matter-of-fact ways of answering customers’ questions. A prior version of myself would have wished for a rock to crawl under at the excruciating immodesty of it all, but thankfully I am no longer troubled by such feelings. Having happily succumbed to the charms of this store on that first visit, It seemed like the nice choice for my daughter’s first sex store experience.

This is surely not an outing ever suggested by our Sunday paper’s “For the Family” section, and I’m hardly recommending it should be. But I have pondered this choice very carefully for my particular daughter, and so here we are. Are you crazy!—the conventional branch of my maternal instincts repeatedly declares its outrage. Yes, I am–out of my mind. I have been feeling my way through this, and I don’t feel my intuition is steering me wrong.

We go in.

The Report Card

reportcardLena has never been particularly motivated by school and school work, but she just brought home a straight-A report card and I am so happy! I want to do something nice for her, but I want her to understand from that not simply that I commend this particular behavior, totally awesome as it may be. I want my message to be: diligence proffers rewards. I feel good about that message: it seems unassailable, plus delivering it gives me the pleasure of doing something special for Lena. So, I start to wonder what she would most enjoy. Dinner at a favorite restaurant? A clothes-shopping junket? Some plain-old cash?

I had just visited a sex store with my boyfriend, which I partly did because Lena dreams of owning a store like that when she is older, and of running an educational program under its auspices. Lena is no stranger to the world of sexual paraphernalia—this I know because she periodically mentions sex toys that she has heard of.

She is not unhappy when I mention that I would like to take her out for dinner. She does not brush aside my offer to take her clothes shopping. But I know her to have an extreme level of curiosity about sex, and I want her to be happy in a way that leaves an impression. We had spoken a few times of the two sex stores on the same block of our nearest large metropolitan area and of her wish to visit them with a friend. I find myself cautiously asking her if she might enjoy going there with me. She cautiously replies that yes, she might like to do that. The next day, she confirms with a poorly suppressed grin that she would dare to go to a sex store with her mother. I enjoy returning a less-poorly-suppressed grin, and we set a date.