Friday, May 18, 2012

Sex Ed-less

Middle school is rough.  Catholic middle school is worse.  Catholic middle school sex ed is hell.  My memories of this hell came back to me yesterday as I read an op ed piece railing against sex education in schools

For the "family life" unit in 5th grade we were separated by gender, the boys shuttered away in one room to learn man stuff while the girls were herded into another to listen to old Ms. Mayernik read from a scripted text about the "exciting joys of becoming a woman."  I kept losing focus, distracted by the terrible art in the musty 1970s pamphlets,the obscene crinkly sound of feminine hygiene product wrappers.  But I heard one word crop up again and again and it left me thoroughly confused:  vagina.  

As Ms. Mayernik droned on and on about one's vagina I got increasingly worried.  All the other girls had these knowing looks on their faces so I had no clue how I could have missed getting one.  Were they passed out that one morning I had come to school late?  Or even worse, what if I HAD been given a vagina and I had lost it.  It must have been in my homework folder that I had left at home on the kitchen counter. 

This was the worst.  Not only did I not know what this vagina was but I had already lost it.  How could I find what I had lost without knowing what I had lost?  I started worrying about how much a new one would cost.  Would it have to come out of my allowance?  Were vaginas expensive?

Finally, I couldn't take the stress anymore.  I turned to my friend Caitlin and whispered "what is a vagina?"  She blushed crimson and giggled, pointing to her lap.

oh. my. god. Crotch.  My crotch was a vagina.  No way.

I was mortified at my ignorance.
I was angry no one had told me I'd had one all along. 
It was the only thing sex-less, education-less Catholic school sex ed taught me.        But a very useful thing to know.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rise of the Thunderballs

I love watching the young neighborhood kids strut down the street in their crisp new sports team uniforms.  No grass stained knees yet, no smears of dirt or fraying seams; the first week of team uniform ownership is 0% effort and 100% pride.  The rest of the season is for sweating, for smelling, for getting that overpriced polyester outfit so caked in dirt you're indistinguishable from the opponent.  But that first week, it's an unspoiled stretch of infinite possibility: a perfect season, hitting nothing but home runs, a Slurpee after every game. 

I know all of this because I never participated in team sports as a kid.  And NOT having something is the pathway to observing it the most keenly.

This omission was born not out of lack of opportunity or shoddy parenting but my borderline pathological fear of organized sports as a child.  I hated gym class, excelling only at dodgeball, the sole sport devoted to avoidance (which was my entire sports strategy).

Eventually though convention dictated that I had to choose a sport.  So I joined a bowling team.   Once a week I would go with my older sister to the Bowl-o-Rama where we lobbed our hot pink 6 pounders down the shiny wooden lanes.  Surprisingly, it wasn't all that bad.  I could pretty much forget I was on a team at all, there was such a low degree of teamwork, technique, or athleticism.  And the bowling alley was an exciting place full of danger and sin.  Cigarette smoke!  Greasy pizza!  Fat men with tattoos drinking foamy yellow water!

Soon it came the time for coming up with a team name, and as intellectual competition has always been more up my alley, I set out to pen the greatest name possible, something that could summarize bowling's great legacy and athleticism.  As I had zero actual interest in bowling itself, I came up with something completely trite and forgettable.  My sister though, ever a more devoted fan of the lanes, had a brilliant idea.  It sparkled like a star, snapped off the tongue like the crash of a strike.


Our little democracy of elementary school junior bowlers put all the names to a vote and of course her submission won unanimously.  I was so proud of my big sister, so proud to actually be part of a team.  We were the Thunderballs, title of champions, an elite crew who knew our stuff.

Well, why then when we went to our first bowling meet did everyone else in the alley laugh when they announced us over the loud speakers? "Frrrrrom Bremerton Washington, in lane 4, theeee THUNDERBALLLLLLS!"

And whatever did happen to those team uniforms we had been promised?