“What does it mean, Mom? When you masturbate?”

We’re in the middle of a commercial break during The Big Bang Theory, which isn’t my favorite program, but these boys think Sheldon is hilarious. In my opinion, some of the material is a bit racy for nine and eleven year olds, but I can’t bring myself to sit through another episode of Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil.

“It’s when you touch your body in a special way, and it feels really good.”

“Oh,” Rory scratches his head with the pointy end of his Spirograph pen. “I do that, you know.”

“Really.” I must admit, I am surprised. Not just with my youngest child’s behavior but his complete lack of self-consciousness with regard to sharing these details.

“Oh, yeah. All the time.”

“You do not. Desmond vehemently disputes his brother’s claims of self-love.

“Rory, you aren’t doing masturbation. I would know.”

“Sure, I am. Especially in the shower, when I wash and stuff. I do it like every night.”

“That’s disgusting, Bro.”

“No, it’s not. And besides, it’s private.”

“If it’s so private, then shut up already.” I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“That’s enough, fellas. Masturbation is a natural, beautiful thing,” I tell my sons. And even though I wish I felt more convinced of this statement, I want them to believe I am delivering the truth. “But it’s also a pretty sensitive subject, so you probably should keep the details to yourself.”

One thing I appreciate about my children is they do seem to be listening to what I have to say. They don’t always cooperate, but their ears, brains and hearts seem to be working together with basically good intentions. Parenting is a big responsibility. I try to give them as much information as I can. They’re gonna need practical resources in order to survive and hopefully thrive in this modern world.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Yes, Rory.”

“What does it mean to be a closeted homosexual?”

“Well, first of all, it’s not a polite thing to say.”

“Why not?”

“Because it may or may not be true. To suggest someone is hiding in the closet means that person doesn’t feel safe enough to share whether he or she likes boys or girls.”

“Why does it matter?”

“It doesn’t.”

“Then how come people care so much?”

“Because they’re nosy. And afraid of stuff they don’t understand.”

“Why do closeted homosexuals have to hide?” Rory asks.

“Maybe they haven’t completely figured out their feelings yet. They could be nervous about what family and friends might say. And some folks can be very mean.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, I like boys and girls.”

Desmond sits on the rug beyond the edge of my bed. I don’t actually see him slap his hand across the side of his own face, but I can hear the sound it makes. “Oh, God,” he mutters under his breath.

I issue a mild warning. “Knock it off, you.”

Our older son has strong opinions. And although broad-minded in the fields of science and technology, he struggles with emotional issues. This subject matter clearly presents a challenge to his linear thinking.

“You can’t like boys and girls at the same time,” he tells his brother. “You have to pick one kind.”

“Is that true, Mom?”

“No, honey. You can like whoever you want.”

“So, that means I’m bi-sexual, right?”

I pause for a second and think that one over. “Sure.”

It makes perfect sense that, if given the choice, Rory prefers access to many options. More just seems like a better idea. He has a bold appetite for life.

“What about you, Des?” I ask. “Girls or guys?”

Desmond is thoughtful with his response. At almost twelve years of age, he stands cautiously at the gate of adolescence, looking through the fence. He’s not in a hurry to take on all that confusion. “I think I’m supposed to feel something, and I don’t feel anything yet. I’m not making a decision until that happens.” He rubs his eyes. It looks as though he might cry, but instead chooses to let this awkward moment pass.

“It’s okay if you’re gay, you know. I’m always gonna love you,” Rory says. “I’ll still be in your wedding.”

“And I promise to love you, even if you’re straight,” I tell him.

“I don’t think I’m gay.”

“Fine, whatever. I don’t care.” Rory holds up the piece of paper he is working on, so I can admire his drawing.

“Nicely done, Bro.”

“Mom, Rory probably likes girls more,” Desmond says. “He’s just too young to realize.”

“No. I’m definitely bi-sexual,” Rory insists. “I want it all.”

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