"When Ed and I were first dating," my grandma once explained to me and my sister, "we used to make love under the street light."
You can't imagine the wailing and ear-plugging and eye-gouging that took place after hearing this statement. Burned in my mind's eye forever was the image of two old people doin' it right out in the open. Illuminated by a street light, no less.
"What!" My grandma appeared confused. Perhaps even indignant.
"Mom," my own mother interjected, "that doesn't mean the same thing to kids today that it meant back then."
"Making love, mom."
"What? It just means KISSING. Oh! You thought I meant SCREWING!"
Great. Now I was doubly-traumatized. Once for getting the image of my flabby old grandparents copulating in the middle of the street, and another for hearing Grandma say the word "screwing."
Of one thing I was positively certain: Old people and anything remotely having to do with sex should never mix. Ever.
Learning about the mechanics of sex was not so upsetting as a kid. My mom took out a piece of scratch paper and proceeded to draw a coloring-book style uterus and set of fallopian tubes with little wiggly fingers at the end. She explained that each egg was so small, so small, that they'd fit on the tip of a pencil. With this, she flipped the pencil over to let me inspect the pointed bit of lead, now covered in imaginary eggs. I remember a pretty impressive sperm drawing, as well, but have either blacked out the part about mom explaining how exactly the sperm and eggs got in the same party house together, or these details were glossed over. I can't recall.
Either way, it was some time before it became clear to me. Once it did, I was absolutely certain, POSITIVE, in fact, that my parents never did "that stuff." Totally gross. Still is.
As a teenager, I witnessed a 30-something popular local television news reporter leaning up against the side of a building in the Loop, vigorously making out with another 30-something person. I was appalled. Yelling "Get a room!" was my only defense against dropping to the ground in piles of my own vomit. These people were old. Embarrassing. Twisting their heads back and forth in some kind of soul-sucking freak show. His hand was on her leg. Ew. I could see her leg. Get a room.
Here's the deal. Somehow along the way, I became that 30-something person who teens would be mortified to see kissing on the street. And it's not just that I'm a teacher, and knowing that teachers do things like grocery shop, go swimming, see movies, and, God forbid, ever kiss someone is more than emotionally scarring to any student. It's that I now belong in that group that should never, ever, ever be seen kissing in public. "Making love", 1930s-style, if you will.
This morning, I was talking to a student about going to hear an author speak last night. (Ellen Hopkins. It was fabulous.) Anyway, the author, who is a woman in her 50s, writes pretty edgy young adult books, and revealed that she's currently working on an adult title- one which dives into the darker side of parenthood and middle age. Drug use. Affairs. Nervous breakdowns. Identity problems.
"Gross," the students says. "It's gross to think of adults having any of those problems. It's okay to read about that stuff when it's talking about teens, but...gross."
I got it. No worries. That kind of book wouldn't appeal to a 13-year-old girl, nor should it, probably. But, then she continued. "In fact, no offense, Ms. Maret, but people over 21 should NOT make out. Ever."
People over 21, she said. Should not make out. Ever.
"What about if it's not your parents?" I asked, for some clarification.
"Nope. No way. Gross."
"Like, just some random girl and guy who happen to be over 21? Not okay?"
Now, here's another deal: I'd be just as traumatized to be in the middle of some parking lot smooch just to open one eye and see a teenager that I knew. In fact, I'm pretty certain I'd drop to the ground and army-crawl to the nearest vehicle, then lodge myself under there until the coast was clear. I'd change my name and my hair color, quit my job, and move far, far away with little to no explanation. I no more want to see you in the same vicinity of even a mere embrace than you want to see me. You won't ever see it.
And in that case, you can keep on thinking that kissing never happens. I know it doesn't with my parents. Ew.