It’s a shameful thing to discover your ten-year-old stepson sucking face with his foot-tall Princess Amidala doll. In broad daylight. For anyone walking by his room to see. I’m quiet at first; I’m not here to give the kid a complex. Plus, it’s sweet how he’s tilted his head to one side, holds her tilted to the other. I can tell he’s thought about technique. But then I see him go for it, her whole face stuck in his pucker, and I know I have to say something. The little fucker already kisses like his dad.
“Ahoy,” I say.
His eyes pop open and he drops the doll.
“Look honey, there’s nothing wrong with loving the ladies, but you’ve got to do it right.” It’s true I came late to this step-mothering business, but I know a teachable moment when I see one. “Have a seat,” I say, and I clear away a bunch of other action figures he may or may not have debased.
I think back on my own sexual awakening, and a couple scenarios I rule out right off. My cousin Andy, for example. His Marlboro mouth put me off frenching for the whole of sixth grade. And that slumber party in seventh grade when we stayed up practicing on popsicles—that was big league stuff. Still, it reminds me how the kid’s always assaulting those double-barreled fruit pops. I run to the kitchen and grab one, blueberry-flavored, from the freezer. When I return to his room, I hold it up sideways. “Look at this,” I say, pointing to where the two halves meet. “I found some lips for you. Aim for the crack.”
He looks at me like he doesn’t get it, so I demonstrate, and then he follows, the blue juice smearing all over his mouth the harder he tries. Looks like he’s resuscitating a Smurf.
“Okay, enough,” I say. “Go pick out your favorite stuffed animal.”
He chooses Gus, a flat-faced hound dog with a droopy mouth that reminds me to mention diseases.
“You want to kiss girls who haven’t already been kissed. That’s how you avoid the mouth herpes. Does Gus have any bumps or sores?”
The boy inspects, then shakes his head no.
“Well all righty, have at it.”
Like a mosquito, his skinny lips dive-bomb the poor dog over and over.
“Let him come to you,” I say, but he doesn’t catch on, which is when I’m struck with an idea. I run to the bathroom and grab the magnifying mirror I use for popping blackheads. “Kiss this,” I say, holding it up to his face. “If you want to kiss yourself, you’re doing something right.”
The boy peers at his face, leans ever-so-gently to the glass, and delivers a perfectly pleasant, if not oversized, peck.
“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it!” I say, clapping vigorously to provide ample Positive Reinforcement. He smiles wide above his blue-stained chin, and I feel a swelling in my heart knowing I have given back to the youth.
After a few celebratory glasses of white zin, I lie in the recliner and glimpse my future kindnesses. I tell myself, I’m no fair-weather role model; I’m in it for the long haul. When the kid starts in with the dirty magazines, I’ll make sure they’re tasteful. None of this rubber-suit-and-ball-gag nonsense. None of this auto-asphyxiate-with-a-necktie-and-wake-up-on-the-linoleum malarkey. I, for one, am not trying to raise a freak.
Kara Vernor’s fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press. "Teachable Moments" is one in a series of shorts that were inspired by questions asked in middle school sex ed classes.