By Catherine O’Neill
I grew up in Ireland, an island heavily salted with saints and lightly peppered with scholars incapable of teaching sex ed. As a mother, I shadowed my son, Jack, who was in the fifth grade. I had signed off giving him permission to attend “the talk” with his school nurse and principal. I was determined history wouldn’t repeat itself.
Nothing had prepared me for sex education, I wrote in my diary about Miss Horan, the science teacher who ambushed me at age 14.
“What is menstruation?” she asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” I answered hoping she’d move on, but she zoomed in with the mirrored glee of an alien abduction ship.
“What is menstruation?” she repeated.
“I’m afraid I don’t know that one,” I responded for a second and third time, hoping she’d take a polite hint. Menstrual cycle wasn’t on the radar.
“Say the word slowly.” She urged me to break down the syllables.
“Men-stru-ation – Does it have anything to do with men?” I sighed.
“You’re hilarious,” she said. The class laughed hard. The joke was on me.
“The talk” day rolled around for Jack. He returned home and went to his bedroom before I called him for dinner hours later.
“So, so how was your day?” I asked.
“Okay, you know the usual,” he said, giving his artistic ketchup signature to his burger .
“Well I meant, how was “the talk?”
“Okay. The girls sat on one side and the boys sat on the other side of the class with the school nurse and Mr. C, the principal, at the front near the blackboard,” he said.
“Hmmm, so did you have any questions?” I asked.
“No, I think I’m good,” he said and started tracing the tracks of the ketchup with mustard.
“Good, so everything was cool on the playground then?” I asked.
“Not really. The girls didn’t want to play football anymore. Awkward, you know what I mean? The boys went to one side and the girls went to the other side of the playground – And the boys kept giggling every time Mr. C said the ‘A’ word.”
“The ‘A’ word?” I thought of all A words remotely related to sex.
“Yeah you know the ‘A’ word.” He took a large bite of his burger.
“Well, I think I know what the ‘A’ word is.” I wondered if my fifth grader had learned about anal sex or anus. “So did Mr C write the word on the blackboard?” I interrogated.
“Nope, he just said it.” He answered.
“Hmmm – tell me what your ‘A’ word is, and I’ll tell you if it’s the same as mine.”
“A-Jac-Ulation,” he answered, making a doodle of ketchup and mustard. I choked a silent giggle. Mr. C should have written it on the board and saved me sweating it out.
“Mine is the same, except I think it might begin with an E.”
For weeks, I doubted whether either of us was ready for sex ed. Is anyone?
Catherine O’Neill is a debut author working on her memoir, Zero Balance, about the effects of gambling. Catherine returned to her love of writing in her forties, graduating Grub Street Memoir Incubator program in 2017. She received an honorable mention in an IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) literary contest and read at Tell-All, Boston.
Catherine O’Neill is a debut author working on her memoir, Zero Balance, about the effects of gambling. Catherine returned to her love of writing in her forties, graduating Grub Street Memoir Incubator program in 2017. She received an honorable mention in an IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) literary contest and read at Tell-All, Boston