My mother called me the other day to tell me that my nephew and his
wife were expecting another child. I did a double take on that piece
of information. Hadn’t the two of them, Andrew and Susanna, just
gotten home from the hospital with their last newborn?
“I know, I know,” Mom sighed. “And Susanna really had a hard time
with that last pregnancy. Someone really needs to talk to your nephew
about the birds and the bees.”
It took every ounce of self-control I had not to laugh out loud at
that last part. For my mother to speak now, in her golden years, of
the birds and the bees was almost too comical to be believed.
In the home of my youth, the birds and the bees were mythical
creatures. They simply didn’t exist. This, my brothers and sisters
and I inferred from our mother’s conservative views, was a good
thing. Because if the birds and the bees somehow did manifest
themselves and got within three feet of each other, Mom would give
them the beating of their lives.
Sex simply was not discussed under my mother’s roof. Any time my
brothers or sisters or I dared broach the subject, we inevitably
received the same exasperated reply:
“Why are you asking me that? You’re not old enough to tie your
I was 12 the first time I caught that response. I thought for a
moment to inform my mother that I had been tying my own shoelaces
since I was 4, but one look at her expression told me it was best not
to push it.
It was a bit confusing, growing up with five brothers and sisters
in a household where the birds and the bees did not exist. My
siblings and I would all look at each other and logically conclude
that we had to come from somewhere. But to our sternly Catholic
mother, even the fable of the cabbage patch was too racy a tale to be
It was even more confusing given that my siblings and I all came
of age in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. We would read the papers and
magazines or sneak into an R-rated movie at the local theater, and
everywhere catch glimpses of couples who seemed perfectly adept at
tying their own shoelaces. You couldn’t tell us something funny
wasn’t going on.
But to hear Mom tell it, nothing was going on. And judging by her
reactions whenever this mysterious nothing occasionally intruded into
our living room via the TV set, whatever it was that wasn’t was
enough to send our mother into raging fits.
“Ay! I can’t believe they’re showing this on television! Davey!
Mickey! Close your eyes! This is an outrage! Diana! Close your eyes
and get me the phone! I’m calling NBC!”
You might say that Mom’s abject denial worked for that brief
period when her children were little, but one by one, as we hit
puberty, the mystery of the birds and the bees became a subject that
simply could not be ignored. Since Mom refused to speak on the
matter, we turned to our friends, each of whom was ready and willing
to give us advice that would give a high school guidance counselor
I can’t speak for my brothers and sisters, but I had just enough
common sense in me to realize that half my friends’ advice would get
me nowhere with the opposite sex, while the other half would probably
get me arrested. But still, all the half-truths and myths and
boastful lies that teenage boys are famous for telling each made the
mysteries of romance seem even more mysterious and all-important.
Finally the answers came, as they did for so many youths in my
town, in the form of the legendary eighth-grade sex-education
lecture. It was the lecture all the kids had been whispering about
since elementary school, the one where entire classes of
eighth-graders were reportedly led en masse into a big auditorium
like pledges to a secret society and finally let in on the Big
Secret. None of us little kids knew exactly what was discussed in
that shadowy auditorium. But we knew that whatever it was it must
have been huge, because it required a signed permission slip from our
parents. To our knowledge, no other academic lecture required such
And if any of us fool kids got it in our heads to forge that
parental signature, our health teacher admonished us in the most
solemn tones, we would immediately be expelled from school without
trial and never get into college and be bums for the rest of our
“So whatever you do, make it look real, dude,” I warned my friend
Buck as he forged my mom’s signature for me. The forging of the
eighth-grade sex-education lecture had become a rite of passage among
the Silva children. My brothers had both forged theirs when their
time came, just as our sisters had before us. If our mother wanted to
live in denial, so be it.
And finally, the big day came. Our health teacher, Mr. Reinstein,
walked into class, examined our permission slips one last time, then
had us all stand and follow him out of the room to the big
auditorium. After having us take our seats, the girls on one side of
the room and the boys on the other, Mr. Reinstein walked on the stage
and pulled down a yellowed and torn projection screen.
Then the lights dimmed and the rickety projector started to roll.
And over the course of 30 minutes amid grainy, 1950s-era images and
the voice of a narrator who sounded a lot like Walter Cronkite, the
big mystery that everyone was talking about and no one was talking
about was at last revealed.
The lights came on, and we wordlessly stood and left the room, the
boys avoiding eye contact with the girls like our lives depended on
it. Buck and I glanced over at each other, the expressions on our
faces conveying the same message:
We knew it. Something was going on. THAT was what was going on.
Buck and I walked home in silence. The big mystery revealed, the
world suddenly seemed a thousand times more mysterious.
* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident, is a Times Community News
editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.