I remember the day as if it were yesterday. My son, who was 11 years old at the time, excitedly walked into my room in the middle of the afternoon.
“Mommy, I’m a man now!”
I choked on my water, literally.
I sat there with my mouth wide open and really didn’t know what to say. Then I asked the first thing that came to my mind: “Well, where did you put it? I hope you didn’t touch the doorknob.” Needless to say, he informed me that he hadn’t and had already washed his hands.
I always knew the day would come when puberty would strike and he would have questions. Sure, there was a health-education class in school, but that would never be a substitute for a good sit-down with a parent.
As a single mother raising a son, I thought that the logical thing to do was to get my son’s father on the phone. We called his number but were not surprised when it went straight to voice mail, since it was during the workday. We left a message, but my son was still hell-bent on talking about what had occurred. I was never one to discourage my son from being open and honest with me, but I still felt unprepared.
When I was growing up, there really wasn’t any sort of open communication in my household, especially about the ways a body changes during puberty or sex. Everything I learned came either from health class, Judy Blume books or a trashy romance novel. Even though my mother was around, I still didn’t feel comfortable discussing sex with her. And she never brought it up. I guess she figured that if we needed to know something, we would eventually ask.
I appreciated the fact that my son felt comfortable enough to come to me and discuss what had happened that day. After I took a few deep breaths, we had the “talk”—the birds, the bees and everything in between. I told him that bodily functions, especially ones dealing with arousal, weren’t anything to be ashamed of.
For me as a woman raising a son, and co-parenting long-distance, it was one moment (of a few in my son’s life) when I questioned whether I was equipped to properly help a boy become a man. Throughout the conversation, I was second-guessing myself. I even went so far as to “phone a friend.” I needed a man’s advice, and thankfully there were a few around to give it to me.
I’ll never proclaim to be the best advice giver, but once we were done with our conversation, my son gave me a hug and thanked me.
The next day I received a phone call from my son’s father. He joked about the expression I probably had on my face, as well as the conversation he had with our son. Although I wasn’t expecting a pat on the back from him, I appreciated that he was supportive and encouraging. He didn’t go into detail about the talk he had with the kid, but I’m sure it was a lot more specific than the one I had with him.
Today my son is a 14-year-old high school freshman. The same openness he displayed at 11 is still there, and I’m grateful for that. We’ve had conversations about girls and the best ways to approach and respect them. I stress the fact that being a gentleman 24-7 is important, but so is being able to determine whether a girl is right for him.
As I look at him growing into more of a man, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. I truly hope that the openness that my son and I share is something that will always remain. I may not be able to properly throw a football or relate to the physical changes he’s going through, but I will definitely instill in him the common courtesies that all people need to extend in order to be successful adults, whether they’re male or female. I’m also instilling in him that women like the toilet seat left down. After all, it’s the simple things that count.
Yesha Callahan is a full-time writer and single mother living in Columbia, Md. She has written for BlogHer, Jezebel and The Grio and has been seen on HuffPost Live and TV One’s NewsOne Now With Roland Martin. She is currently the managing editor of Clutch magazine and is a former comedy and politics writer for BET’s Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes.