Jim Kayes’ Blog: Sex talk

Jim reflects on his late mum as he encounters the trickiest parenting topic in the book. 

We were driving, which perhaps made it easier because I could stay focused on the road and not look at her.

It seems to be where we have most of our tough or tricky conversations and the ability to legitimately avoid eye contact could be the reason for that. This time, it was a bolter from the youngest to kick things off.

“Dad, how old were you when you first had sex?”

Thankfully I kept the ute on the road.

“Why do want to know that?” I asked, trepidation seeping through every pore of my body.

Her curiosity, it turns out, was piqued by the arrival of the first of the next generation in our wider family. Her oldest cousin on my side has become a dad. I used the chance to have a bit of a chat about boys, mutual respect, and not feeling pressure to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with – which was ironic because it was a far from being a comfortable conversation.

I’ve never shied away from these talks, especially around the topic of sending photos. The girls are well-versed in my mantra that there is never an acceptable time to send naked pics – to anyone.

It’s got to the stage where they now finish my sentences before I do which, hopefully, means I’ve got through to them.

There were disturbing statistics rolled out in the media recently about children and online predators and how they hide in seemingly innocuous places. It is impossible to be across everything our children do online so I’ve fallen back on the old parenting philosophy of bringing them up with the right morals and hoping for the best.

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It seems to have worked for Mum and her brood because we’ve turned out okay.

For her to have met her first great-grandchild would have been special, but it wasn’t to be as cancer took her far too early. What I wrote about her death is my favourite piece for thisNZlife.co.nz in three years of rambling about my girls and how they tend to run rings around me.

I wrote about her when she was diagnosed, the words coming as I walked along our beach, thankful that the rain was hiding my tears.

That poem was my eulogy and if Kate, the wonderful editor who I first met as a young pup of a journalist too many decades ago is happy to run it, I’ll share it for just the second time (poem below).

Mum’s presence is ever-large when I sit down to write because she nurtured my love of words, my passion for reading and my willingness to share a story. Sometimes I overshare. It’s true, I know.

Mum was a great listener despite being stupidly busy with work as a school teacher and raising an ever-changing number of kids on her own. There were six of hers, but at different times six more lived with us for a variety of reasons and then, later on, she took in boarders to help pay the bills.

Yet she always found time to listen. It’s something I’ve worked hard on in recent months after the youngest felt she wasn’t being heard and that had an impact on some of the decisions (poor ones) she made.

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There is nothing worse than feeling you have been ignored. She is tough to ignore my little chip-off-the-block with her fierce independence and cheeky sense of humour. She is heavily sprinkled through these columns which end with this one as the editors think I’ve done my dash, that my stories have been told.

I am forever grateful that they have indulged me for so long. I’ve loved sharing the tales of my two gorgeous girls. They are different yet remarkably similar in the way that siblings are, and are now the same height which means the youngest is in full clothes-theft mode when the eldest is away.

Once she hopped in the car almost naked, but before I could protest told me not to worry, she had clothes in her bag but she couldn’t wear them out of the house because they were all her sister’s. On our latest car ride, as I tried to talk to her about boys, sex and respect, she waited for a pause in the conversation then suggested this was a topic best left for her chats with mum.

Later she asked my advice on a Secret Santa present idea she had for a friend in her class.

“I think I’ll buy her tampons,” she said.

“Talk to mum,” I replied as I tried to keep from crashing into the oncoming bus.

By Jim Kayes

It’s time to put the rope swing away
Pull up the treehouse planks
Stack them in the shed
Our tree needs to rest

Her branches are tired, brittle from carrying so many of us for so long.
We scrambled, climbed, swung, hid and cavorted in her spread.
But now she needs to rest.

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For so long she kept us sheltered
Stood strong against the winds
Firm against the rain
her foliage foils against the sun.

A sun she nows wants to lounge in; to bask and laze in,
its tender hand warming her parchment skin.

And still, she is a comfort.
We spread our blankets beneath the canopy.
Lie back in the shade and remember those days when we roamed.

A lifetime of beings kids.
Of play, pranks and plasters.
Of bruises, cuts and scrapes.
Tears and laughter.
Always to return to her.
A trunk safe to climb.

For a small woman, she is a tall tree
Her roots spread first south, then west and now north.
She is a forest of one – a Tane Mahuta that fed, sheltered and entertained.

That loved.
Without judgement.

Now she deserves to rest.

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