Elderly mamas condom query throws an adult son for a loop

It was the moment of truth! I didn't think that this day would come — at least not yet. But I should have guessed. After all, Mama was already 95, so it was time. We had to have a heart-to-heart talk about…you guessed it…(You didn't? So I'll tell you…the facts of life!)

So how did it all begin? Well it started with THE CENTER. Well, to the Ladies (Mama's friends) who sat in front of the building in the warm weather, it was a place to go to…or not to go to. Rosie From Apartment 3-C spoke up.

"The Center, I don't need. All old people kvetching about their aches and pains. Better I could stay here and talk about my aches and pains. Why walk three blocks? Just for a free cup of coffee and maybe a prune danish? Not for me."

Her opponent was Lilly With the Hair and the Red Nails.

"Rosie, you're an old stick-in-the-mud. You sit in one place like you're glued to the spot. What you need is a change from scenery. And today there's going to be a speaker at 3 o'clock sharp and afterwards tea with the fancy bakery cookies."

Maybe it was the bakery cookies, but Mama got interested. "So what is he going to speak about? If it's like last month when they had that skinny lady who talked about drugs I'm not interested."

Lilly was quick to respond. "First of all it's not a lady; it's a man. And in the second place, you loved when the good-looking man with the glasses and the sport jacket talked about eating healthy. You remember, you even raised your hand and gave your recipe for blintzes with low-fat cottage cheese. And in the third place, what do you have to do today that's so important in the first place?"

Mama was convinced. So she went. The next day I came to visit. It was raining, so I knew that Mama would be "stuck in the house." First there was the talk about the children, then the weather, then the neighbors and then, "You know yesterday I went with Lilly — well, we went to the Center. In front of the house I can always sit, I figured, and what was to do here? Just gossip about all the people, such nonsense talk. Better I should go where maybe I could learn something. So I went to the Center where they had this nice man who was a speaker and then there was tea and prune danish. They promised bakery cookies, but the woman in charge forgot."

I listened obediently and interrupted almost before Mama could tell me about the prune danish that was too sweet and that one of the women grabbed two and put one in her pocket book wrapped in a napkin. (The danish was wrapped in a napkin, not the pocketbook.)

"Mama," I asked, "what did he speak about? What was his topic?" (Better to talk about that than the danish.)

And then Mama took on a serious expression and she looked me straight in the eye. I tensed. "Yes?" I prodded. She hesitated for a minute and then asked, "So explain to me, what is a…a…condom?"

I swallowed hard. It was the moment of truth. I could speak easily about the facts of life to my children (well, almost easily) and to my college students…but to my mother?…even though — or maybe especially since — she was well past 90.

This called for some thinking, but I could see that she was waiting for a reply and so I began slowly at first, and looking past that gentle face into the doorway beyond, I explained in simple terms about things like "protection," like "unwanted pregnancies," like "sexually transmitted diseases." And she listened without interrupting. She didn't seem to be embarrassed when I told her about how important it was for people to "be careful when they…when they…"

I never finished the sentence. After all, there are still some matters that are better off left unsaid. She was past 90, and as the Bible said about Sarah, "well past the way it was with women." But I thought that I had done a credible job and so I asked, "Any questions?"

Mama smiled. "No, dahling. That's all very interesting. So smart you are, how you explain things. But still I don't understand one thing."

I closed my eyes and asked, "What is that?" She didn't lose the smile.

"With the condom — how is it different from a co-op? Lilly's daughter wants to move into one of those condoms in Florida and this man never told us the difference."

Condom? Condominium! My eyes were still closed. My lecture on birth control was just another one of those days when I was spinning my wheels until Mama said, "But I liked what you said about being careful. Maybe you could talk at the Center sometime. Only then when you speak, I'll make sure that they have bakery cookies. You can believe me."

And I assured her I did.