I’m not sayin’ I’m some kind of genius or anything, but when it comes to coverin’ my arse, I’m one of the smartest guys I know. Take last week – Minnie was on her way out the door to go to bingo with Joan and Evelyn and them and just as she’s gettin’ her shoes on, she says – Make sure the kids do their homework.
I learned a long time ago, when Minnie’s headin’ out the door and she casually tells me to do somethin’ over her shoulder, you can bet the farm it’s the first thing she’ll ask about when she gets home, as if it was the most important thing in the world.
Now there’s two ways to go about this. I could yell upstairs to Little Bill over and over until he finally hears me and takes his headphones off, basically wrestle him down the stairs and sit him at the table until he lies to me about his homework and doesn’t really do it anyway. Or I could just spend ten seconds askin’ Rosie what she’s up to since she’s gonna go to the table at some point and start doin’ her homework anyways. Which one’s easier, I wonder.
Whatchya up to there, Rosie? I says, a couple of hours later when Minnie’s about to get home.
Just some homework from health class, she says. I’m almost finished.
Health class? I says. They got health classes in school now? What’s that, exercise and that? I thought they did all that stuff in gym class.
No, health class is more about nutrition, personal hygiene, stuff like that.
Ahhh, I says. Get a shower once a week whether ya need it or not, that kind of thing, eh? Go ahead, I says. Test the old man! Fire away! Ask me one of your homework questions.
Oh, I don’t think that’s –
G’way! I said. Let’s have it!
See, this was a game me and Rosie played ever since she was little. She’d ask me a question and at first I’d pretend not to know the answer and she’d feel right smart she knew it. Until she got a bit older, about Grade 5, when I really didn’t know the answers. What’s the capital of the Phillippines? she’d ask me. Well there’s no way to know that unless ya live in the Phillippines, I’d say.
Anyways, this time she got me pretty good. She cleared her throat, looked down at her scribbler and said:
What are the three stages of syphilis?
Holy cripes, I damn near fell over.
The what?! I said. Where did you hear about this? They teach you this in school? And you’re only, what, ten?
Twelve, she said.
Still, I mean, sweet swizzlin’, that’s shockin’.
The first stage is a sore at the point of infection, the second stage is sores in the mouth and genitals, and the third stage is paralysis, numbness, blindness and eventually death, she said, as easy as she’d sing the times tables.
I can’t believe they make you curse in your homework! I said. Genitals! Imagine!
Anyway, she said, closin’ her books and packin’ them up, that was the last of my homework, so I’m all done for the night.
Wait a minute, I said – and an awful, horrible thing occurred to me – If they’re teachin’ yis this, then they musta already …
Ooohhh Da, she said, like I was a sad little sack, which I was. This whole term we’re doing sex ed. Is that what you mean?
Oh my cripes, I said, and I had to sit down at the table and rub my forehead. Unbelievable, just unbelievable. I really thought I might pass out. I could hear people talkin’ about it – Did ya hear about poor Billy? Dropped dead after his daughter told him she was takin’ sex ed.
I mean, I guess I knew they taught this in school, but I thought she’d be a bit older when it happened. Things are different from back in my day. Back then you’d see two dogs out in the street or somethin’ and kind of put it together on your own that’s where puppies come from. Then there’s a good three or four years of dirty jokes ya just don’t get at all. Then I guess it wasn’t until one day Murph’s older brother Mikey told us exactly what he did with a girl at the drive-in the night before. And then I put all the pieces together and realized what it was all about.
Ooohh Da, she said. I was worried this is how you’d react when you found out about this. Here’s the thing, she said. Just because I know where babies come from doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and have a baby. The reason we learn all this stuff in school is so we know how to protect ourselves from unintentional pregnancy and diseases, and so that when we do find ourselves in more grown-up situations we know how to take care of ourselves. You don’t have to worry about me, OK?
I didn’t know what to say, so I just gave her a hug, and when Minnie came in the door it was hard to pretend my eyes only had a bit of dust in them.
Joan won at bingo and – hey, what’s wrong with you? she said to me.
It’s OK, Ma, Rosie said. I just had The Talk with him.
You already knew about this? I said. And that’s when I realized that’s exactly why she told me to make sure the kids did their homework. Well I’ll tell ya one thing, I said, she’s grounded from the drive-in until after she’s married.