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.