“OK. So what’s a blow job?” She forced herself to ask as soon as she opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat without even so much as a glance in the direction of my face. The question didn’t particularly alarm me considering my adolescent clients keep me well informed on the milieu of current middle school culture. Oral sex is certainly a popular enough category for me to have estimated this type of conversation at some point.
“Well, I’m happy to unpack that with you, but can you first help me understand the context and why you’re asking?” I responded and watched her entire body sink into her seat as though she had been waiting for permission to wave her white flag and surrender all that she had been containing throughout the day.
She proceeded to share the details of a narrative involving a new friend being propositioned to perform oral sex on a male classmate in exchange for money, a school suspension, and perhaps even an expulsion. I could see her initially fighting back tears and then with another exhalation she let go of any remaining composure. The tears began to stream down her cheeks and eventually found their way into her lap.
I imagine those tears tasted of confusion, of the experience of indirect shame as she bore and divulged this narrative, of grief at the sense of her childhood innocence dissipating. These are often the most painful conversations I have with my girls. How can I explain sexual exploitation in a way that doesn’t frighten them? How do I name the horror of a world that has a long history of sexualizing and objectifying women and girls while buttressing their own capacity for agency and empowerment? How do I talk about the ways our culture has deprived boys and men from believing that they were made for so much more while keeping hope alive that there are boys and men who understand what it means to honor themselves and the women they know and love?
With courage. That’s what I’ve come to rely on heavily in these recent years of navigating the terrain of mothering adolescents. I have transitioned from being a mother of strictly little girls into a mother of little women rising. So with each step, with each conversation, I grab hold of the courage to just show up, to open up, to talk about the things no one ever talked about with me. We sit in the messiness of it all together so at the very least, these little women rising are not left to sort it all out on their own.