Making Out: Jump, Just Land

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

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You know how the universe conspires sometimes to toss you about in waves of awareness and epiphanies? This happened to me in the space of about 12 hours last Saturday. The day began with my son Andrew asking me to accompany him on a shopping trip. He needed last minute items for Homecoming and said could use my advice. Okay, he probably needed my cash, but being asked to spend time with him is a rare occurrence these days as he’s knee-deep in his senior year of high school, taking AP classes and working at the theater around the corner from our house. I played it cool and responded in the most casual voice I could muster, “Sure.” Inside, I was ecstatic.

Even though I’d advised him to order a corsage earlier in the week, he forgot, so we had to scramble. He also realized that he needed a shirt in a different shade of red than he’d originally planned. He offered to drive and I let him. At the department store, he put his arm around me and thanked me for coming. Behind us a mother was yelling at her son, “Kevin! No! I won’t spend 45 dollars on a shirt for a dance you’re going to with a girl you don’t even like.” Andrew and I stifled our giggles.

I asked Andrew to tell me more about his date. I only knew her name. He reiterated that they were just friends. They agreed that Homecoming would be more fun if they had someone to dance and pose for pictures with—though he also mentioned how smart she was and added that she was nice. I let him play his music as we tracked down a florist who would take pity on us. Our time together was lovely. We were glad to be in each other’s company and we had fun catching each other up on our lives. We even made a date for this coming weekend—I’ll be helping him with his first college application. Gulp.

As he departed to Homecoming, my husband acted as chauffeur and dropped my daughter and I off at the Orpheum in downtown Phoenix. The Orpheum, a historic theater, was the location where Gloria Steinem was to give a talk. It felt remarkable to have such individual and meaningful time with both of my children in the space of a day. Steinem was inspiring. Her wit, and confidence and deep sense of the world radiated from the stage to where Lilly and I were seated. At one point, Lilly held my hand and we smiled at one another, tickled that we were witnessing such an important figure in the quest for women’s rights.

Then, I began receiving phone calls and texts at a frantic pace from both Andrew and my husband. I shit you not, they had each witnessed a plane burst into flames and plummet into a house several blocks to the south of our home. Miraculously, no one was killed. The pilot and passengers who were performing for a Civic Center festival managed to parachute out of the burning plane to safety. The couple in the house where the fiery single engine plane crashed were able to get out the door before their house caught fire. The wreckage landed in their backyard and not on their heads.

It was such a strange end to a delightful day and evening. When I woke up the next morning, I obliged the instinct to check on both of my children—listening to their breath as I had done so often when they were much younger. I wondered how my son’s Homecoming festivities panned out given the excitement in the skies before the dance was to begin, but I also wanted to let him sleep. I checked my mail and thought to look at his Twitter account. We’re connected there, so it didn’t feel like a violation. And, there was indeed a picture. There stood my handsome son in his red shirt, navy suspenders and khaki pants with his arm around a stunning young woman clad in a form fitting, lacy, fairly revealing, short dress.

In my mind, I saw my three year old, angelic, rosy cheeked boy next to some kind of teen harlot. My first instinct was to judge her because, hello, that was my baby and her lovely body was really close to my baby. I messaged some friends my distress call. Slowly, it dawned on me that I was judging a young woman for having the confidence to wear something that clearly made her feel beautiful. I remembered how my son described her to me the day before—before the realization that my children were young adults with sexual futures came crashing down in a firestorm of what-the-f*&%.

If it were not for my network of smart mothers, I may have succumbed to my first impulse to judge a teen girl by her outfit. Such judgment would omit much of what Gloria Steinem has spent her life trying to reverse, not to mention that it would also negate many of my own principles. Instead, I was able to go through a sort of 5 stages of denial-of-the-fact-that-your-kids-are-sexual-beings. Those stages include: outrage, omg panic, a bucket of nope, is this even happening, and finally, acceptance.

Somehow, I’m surviving the impact of last weekend. It might take pulling the ripcord on the experiences and good sense of my phenomenal friends a few more times to process that my little boy is pretty much a man. I can say that while the view isn’t easy, it is simultaneously lucky and beautiful.

Full disclosure, I imagine that the parents of my son’s date might do a double take about how his hand rests so low on their daughter’s hips. Sweet lord.

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