This story needs background, so please bear with me.
I first asked my mother what sex was when I was a very little girl. I was in 3rd grade, and I think about 7 years old. I went up to her crying, because one of the girls had said I had had sex. Sobbing, I told her that no such thing had happened. My mother, credit to her for not laughing her guts out, sat me down, wiped away my tears, and asked me what had happened. I told her the whole story tremulously, and promised I hadn’t had sex at all.
Of course my mother believed me, because I hadn’t the foggiest idea what sex was in the first place. In my mind, it was like holding hands with a boy. She then asked me why I thought it was such a bad thing; which is something that stayed with me unconsciously many years later. She said that there was nothing wrong about sex, and it was a way that two people who loved each other could express that love.
Cut to a few years later, and I had a little more understanding, a lot more fascination, and none of the horror of sex. I went up to her and asked her what it was. By this time, my classmates had cooked up innumerable theories, and trying to keep them straight was doing my head in. So I went to the most reliable source of information I knew of: my mother.
She explained all right. She started with the X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes of DNA. I kid you not. She began to explain the physical differences between a man and a woman from a genetic level. [My mother has only ever encountered cis-gendered, straight people. She has developed boundless inclusiveness for other orientations and gender identities since [thanks to yours truly], but she wasn’t aware of those realities at this juncture in the story.]
She then went on to explain that sex was a biological need that every living being had, right from humans, to animals, birds, fish, and plants. It was in their gene pool so that they could procreate and have babies to love and grow their families. Sex was not something to be ashamed of, but to be celebrated and done with consent between two adults of sound mind.
I don’t remember the full conversation and its particulars, but I left her side that afternoon profoundly disappointed. Sex being taboo is honestly one of the contributing factors to its overall mystique. When it is reduced mercilessly to a biological need, and [easily grossed out people please skip this next part] akin to the need to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate [seriously, I remember THIS very clearly], it loses 99% of its allure.
Years passed, and I am now in my 30s. I have come to realise that my mother understands the concept of sex, or “making out” as she persists in calling it, even though I have told her different many, many times; but she is blissfully unaware anything related. For her, it was basically a love-making act between husband and wife. End of story. I have since educated her a lot more on the actual goings-on that happens between closed doors, and always been rewarded with widened eyes and a jaw that has quite literally dropped open. When my father was there, it was even funnier. He shook his head at me trying to tell my mother these things, and walked off with no little embarrassment.
I have to say; I am fortunate to be able to have had these conversations with my parents. They are by far the coolest pair I have ever encountered.
So on to the incident.
We had just moved back to Mumbai from Goa, and were in the process of resetting a house that had not actively been lived in for a while. Plus, there was a lot of a junk that my grandmother and aunt had collected [both being human squirrels] that we needed to jettison as they were either useless, broken, or both.
One afternoon, my mum was clearing out the contents of the toiletries shelves. This was a mass repository of spares and extras for toiletries in active use, those that had been bought at some point and merrily forgotten thereafter, and the detritus of travel. Because my aunt worked for a time in a flight catering company, and both my parents were hoteliers, there were innumerable tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, travel sewing kits, shaving cream, disposable razors, mini soaps, and associated paraphernalia.
I, on the other hand, was sorting through paperwork. I don’t exactly know when the mantle of dealing with paperwork fell on my shoulders, but if I ever get a time machine THAT’S what I would alter in my timeline. [Obviously, I am being facetious.]
Anyway, whilst in the midst of this purge, I get called to the kitchen by mum. She has something clutched in her fist, and she’s looking at me with all the fascinated trepidation that a child has when encountering something forbidden for the first time.
Her eyes as round as saucers, she asks in a whisper, in case my father hears I presume: “Are these condoms?!” and opens her fist. And I look.
In a small plastic ziploc baggie, there are two small, mound-shaped, orange objects made of what appears to be styrofoam. They were NOT condoms; but old-timey earplugs that airlines used to give out to passengers with sensitive ears.
It took me a minute for my mind to process these few things:
1. These are old, but fairly pedestrian, ear plugs.
2. My mother has clearly never seen a condom in her life.
3. I’m an only child.
4. How am I an only child?
5. I don’t really want to know, but I can’t really stop following that train of thought.
In the time that it took me to think these things, my mother was standing there like a deer caught in headlights. “Well,” she demanded with urgency, and that broke the mute spell I was under.
“Mama,” I said, as I tried very hard to control the tremor of wild laughter bubbling up inside my throat. “These are earplugs. How come I’m an only child, if you have no concept of what birth control looks like?”
The deflating look of surprise did me in though, and it was with a very sheepish: “Don’t laugh at your ignorant mother!” that I left the kitchen in peals of laughter.