When I used to have students ask me to write their letters of recommendation for the colleges they thought they longed to go to, one of the boxes I was almost always required to check was the student’s level of “intellectual curiosity.” To be honest, I think this is a great quality for other people to have. I just don’t think I’d rate very high on the scale.

I mostly enjoy reading mindless detective fiction and watching unchallenging (but well-written) TV shows. If I stumble across something on the History or Discovery channel, I’ll rarely hang around to watch. I only want to learn about what I want to learn about—something about the next city or country I’m going to visit, that kind of thing.

Today, though, I was thinking about how my mom had spectacularly lied to me when I was young and curious. It probably happened when one of our neighbors or relatives was pregnant and I asked her that dreaded (at the time) question about “how does the baby get out of her tummy?”

Even though my mom was an RN, I could tell my question made her uncomfortable. It was the 60’s and I’m sure I must have been in elementary school at the time, and we simply never talked about reproduction or bodily functions. Never.

So, she took a deep breath and told me that when it was time, a “natural opening” in the body, “the bottom” opened up and the baby squeezed through. I’m sure, at the time, that I thought the whole thing was just gross and certainly had no follow-up questions, but the image stayed with me—for years. We had all been crapped out of our mothers. That was just how it worked.

Imagine my surprise when my nervous sophomore biology teacher got to the chapter on human reproduction and was determined to find a way to make a discussion of sex boring. He succeeded admirably. But imagine my confusion when he threw up a transparency on the overhead projector showing the outline of a pregnant woman in the process of giving birth, and the baby was headed in entirely the wrong direction.

I think by then I knew what a vagina was so I knew there was another “natural opening” but I kept staring at that diagram and trying to reconcile it with what I had been told and had believed for maybe 7 or 8 years. I felt the impulse to raise my hand and try to clarify things, but even then I was smart enough to realize that there was a pretty good chance I was going to reveal my total ignorance if I did.

Since during those hormonal years I was mostly concerned with simply finding a kind girl who would let me experience all of the fun stuff that comes before pregnancy and birth, I didn’t feel scarred by the experience. I could understand why my mom struggled with treating the subject clearly and rationally. I soon learned that friends and heavily dog-eared books were much better sources of information than parents.

Even though I tried to be much more open and matter-of-fact as a parent, it became clear to me that it was a subject that kids don’t quite always know how to talk about either. I hope your generation is doing better at it that we did, but I’m not at all sure. After all, we never talk about it.



The Answer Is…I Have No Idea

In a comment I posted recently, I mentioned that I had met my wife when we were both juniors in high school and that we later (in 1974) were married and continue to torture each other to this very day as we approach our 42nd anniversary.

One of our writers asked what was the “secret” to having stayed together for so long, and I hope I can give a reasonable response. It won’t be complete or in some cases helpful. Sometimes I think, when it comes to relationships, there is an awful lot of luck involved.

We were celebrating year number 36 at a swank hotel in Coronado, eating appetizers and having an afternoon cocktail, when Mary asked me, “Did you ever think we would still be married after 36 years?” In one of my shining moments as a partner, without preparation or pretense, I honestly answered, “It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t still be married after 36 years.”

So there is something about commitment and expectation that makes a big difference, I suspect. I wrote earlier about how Mary and I first met at a youth retreat and my first impressions of her were that she was strong-willed and looked terrific in the jeans and snug t-shirt she was wearing. For me, it was a powerful combination. I did have to wait around a bit, dating friends of hers, until she ditched a tenuous boyfriend, and I could swoop in. Yeah, I was the rebound guy.

But for all intents and purposes from age 18 to age 21 when we got married, we were each other’s everything. She was extremely faithful, and I never found the wild oats that I guess I was supposed to sow. One time, I put our romance on hold for about two weeks to give me space to consider if I might have a vocation to the priesthood (I’m a recovering Catholic), but I happily realized that giving up my affection for women was not an acceptable compromise and our relationship intensified quickly.

So, right. Longevity. I might be completely off on this, but I think the sexual freedom that young people have enjoyed over the past few of decades (we just missed that particular wave) has made them a little uncertain about the viability of a long-term commitment. The number of serious partners that young people now have between the ages of 20 and 40 seems to make them feel unsure about the possibility of a union that will last a lifetime.

Believe me. I’d love to have a wonderful, guilt-free affair. Truth is though, I can’t even be unfaithful in my dreams. No, I’m serious. I have turned down the advances of beautiful women in my dreams and hated myself for it in the morning. I am a terrible liar, and I find myself feeling guilty about things that I have only thought about doing.

It has not been easy. We pretty much lost ourselves in the 25 years we dedicated to child rearing. Our children continue to mean everything to us and continue to challenge us. It turns out that being the parents of young adults is just as tough as dealing with the terrible twos.

Both of us worked in demanding jobs that we loved. I cared deeply about becoming the kind of teacher that could, on a good day, change lives. As hard as I worked, Mary worked harder. She spent incredibly long hours as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Her workdays seemed to have no end. All of that took a toll on us as a couple. And while we certainly went through periods of time where we felt more like roommates than lovers, we persevered, believing that eventually the bond we had initially enjoyed would return.

In retirement, we are now healing. We’ve identified some of the dynamics that have continually driven us apart and are now much more aware of each other, appreciative of each other, loving toward each other. We still have work to do, but now we feel like we have the space and time to make things special again. It doesn’t hurt that she still looks great in jeans and a tight t-shirt (yes, I really am that shallow).

I do believe that relationships can last. I’m not sure I’ve done the subject justice. Maybe our combined stories will weave the tapestry that creates an answer that satisfies.