I have recently begun using Pandora. This is not because I wasn’t interested a year ago when everyone else was already using Pandora, but rather because the logistics of downloading the app and signing up were far too complex for a bear of little brain. It was finally accomplished about a month ago, to the delight of Zachary and Lilah, who were tiring of my car’s steady musical diet of Simon & Garfunkel and Bruce Springsteen.
Last week, I added a show tunes channel. Whoever put together said channel seems to have forgotten there are any musicals other than Wicked and Wicked. Seriously. Every other song was from that damned musical, and since all the songs in Wicked sound more or less the same, it was like being stuck in an elevator with Elphaba. Now and then, however, a song from Rent comes on.
“Rent!” Lilah declared. She likes to read the titles off the display on my dashboard.
“What’s Rent about?” Benjamin asked.
“It’s about AIDS.”
I expected more questions, but perhaps he was busy doing quantum physics in his head, because nothing.
A few days later. “Rent!”
“What’s Rent about?”
“It’s about AIDS.”
“It’s a disease.”
“What kind of disease?”
“Well, it stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. So, let’s think about what that means. ‘Acquired’ means you can get it, rather than just having it. You acquire it some way. Now, what does ‘immune’ mean?”
“Oh!” said Zachary. “Like your immune system. That keeps you from getting sick.”
“Or helps you fight off illness, right. Now, ‘deficiency.’ What does that mean?”
“Like, not enough.” Zach again.
“Correct. And a syndrome is like a condition of your body. So, an immune deficiency syndrome?”
“Your immune system is deficient. Like you get sick a lot.”
“Correct. Your body has a hard time fighting off illness.” If you think I was stalling for time, hoping the drive home from religious school would be over before we got to the methods whereby one can acquire said syndrome, you are correct. No such luck.
“Well, at least I know I won’t get that.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I’d already have it.”
Crap. “No, no, you can acquire it at any point in your life.” Truly, setting the children up for the next question. I mean, like as though I put the question on a tee and then handed them a bat.
“How to you acquire it?” And there it was. Ben was apparently in charge of questions and Zach was in charge of answers that day. Lilah, as I mentioned, was in charge of identifying musicals.
“Well, you can get it through bodily fluids. Not like kissing, because it doesn’t live well in saliva. I mean the virus that causes it. It’s actually caused by HIV, which stands for ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus,’” I explained, fumbling the pronunciation of the second word. Like I said, bear of little brain. “Not everyone who gets HIV gets full-blown AIDS. It passes between people by sharing fluids.”
And, and, wait for it… “How?”
It’s only a mile-and-a-half between religious school and my house and it was a Sunday, but there’s a lot of traffic out of the parking lot, otherwise we’d have been home before the next Wicked song came on. Instead, here I was, explaining… blood transfusions! Which didn’t last long enough, because once we got through the fact that the blood banks test all the blood they take in, we were back on other methods of spreading HIV.
“So, you can also get it through sex, which is why people have to wear a condom when having sex.” FTR, here? Lilah doesn’t yet know what sex is. “You can also get it through a dirty needle. When a needle goes into you, especially into your veins, a little bit of blood can come back out into the needle, and if someone reuses the needle that someone else has used, that little bit of blood could go back into the next person. You know how when you go to the doctor and get a shot, they throw the needle away in that red box right afterwards? That’s to protect against infection. But if people are using addictive drugs, they may need the drugs so much that they aren’t careful and use whatever needle is there, and if the person who used it before has HIV, you could get it from a dirty needle.”
And we were home. Pulling into the driveway, parking, unbuckling, and no further questions about safe sex.
Until, as we were taking our shoes off, Benjamin asked, “So what if you’re married to someone? What if that person has HIV?”
“You mean like me and Daddy? We’ve both been tested. Neither of us has it, so we couldn’t give it to each other.”
“Well, I don’t have to worry,” Zach interjected. “Because I’m not getting married.”
That was it. The parenting moment of truth. The decision I needed to make between honest education about safety and not really being ready to discuss sex with my five-year-old in the room. All the rest was more or less splashing about in the baby pool. This? This was off-the-diving-board, deep-end-without-swimmies, made-for-grown-ups parenting.
“You still might have sex even if you’re not married, and you’ll need to wear a condom every time.”
Now who wants some goddamned Halloween candy before anyone asks me what a fucking condom is?