A thin layer of newly sprouted moustache sits above his lips, which are now shaped in a comical twirl. He opens the valve a bit more. He is explaining menstrual flow to me, his mother, and he is proud to know such secrets. This is after he provides a short explanation of why a woman bleeds every month. The conversation started when I asked him what he had learned in sex education that day. He is the only Muslim in his mixed gender class, enduring an abstinence only curriculum that promised not to discuss masturbation, sexual intercourse, or homosexuality.
And yet, they teach a vagina song, and not one about the penis, because perhaps the vagina is more complicated, he speculated. It is all complicated, I say, this love and sex business. We learned about condoms. I have no clue why anyone would use a glow-in-the-dark condom.
Ibrahim sits down next to me at the dinning room table where I am writing the story about how I met, married and later divorced his Afghan father. They like to have rough sex, too. Maybe they had glow-in-the-dark condom stories. Ibrahim gets up and heads to the bathroom.
I yell from behind him. Sex before marriage is forbidden. As if that provides sufficient arsenal against hormones and desire. Such a command stands useless against the eventual love and affection any boy will feel for another human being.
His father had more to say about it, of course, yet the words never made it out of his throat. You will grow hair in new places, is how some parents talk to their sons about sex, leaving it as something simply manscaped between the legs and under the arms, keeping the rest for the day before the wedding. The hair part was already covered. Soon after Ibrahim returned to the States, he stated that his underarms were gross.
Now, he left trimmings all over the toilet seat. A year earlier, he called me over Skype all the way from Abu Dhabi, to tell me that he liked a girl. He was giddy when he said this, to let his mother in on his first crush, the palest girl in the classroom.
She was German with cloud colored skin and hair with blue dots as eyes. I felt disappointed that she was so white, that his early taste in beauty seemed so basic. How do you know you like her, I asked? I sighed in the distance between us, for the weirdness in his stomach would eventual span upwards to his heart and down to other places. There is nothing a mother can do to stop such developments. Life lands in all parts of the body sooner or later. Now in America, he is in eighth grade.
Ibrahim says that he is popular, that the girls think he is exotic. I see one girl smile and wave at him during a student teacher conference. I worry about these girls, ripe with fresh discover of their sexuality. The Muslim mother in me bares fangs. Stay away from him, I resist hissing. My son is not like the other kids in his school. He has lived abroad with a politically important father, and he has a poor, white American writer-storyteller as a mother. He is a brown boy with international intrigue.
And, to prove a point, he looks in the mirror to peer at the one long hair growing on the right side of his face. Look, nana, he says, look. A few weeks later, he accompanies me to a story slam, threadbare beard and all, standing almost six feet tall to my five feet four inches. I introduce him as my son. I am not prepared for this, for my boy towering over me, for people making such mistakes.
Well, the announcer jokes, it is better than if he was your date and I mistook him for you son! It is true my boy does not resemble his blond, young looking mother.
He looks older than thirteen years old. His skin is the color of coffee with cream while I am skim milk. In this, we are aligned. The day after he enlightens me on menstrual flow, I tell him it is time for the Islamic version on the matter. What happens to women while we are on their periods? You can touch them. In fact, you are supposed to cuddle with your wife when she is on her period. Prophet Muhammad said so. The only version I have to give him is a straight, married version.
I know this is inadequate. My queer Muslim friends need room in this conversation, too. I want him to understand everyone needs a safe space no matter how they love.
But I take this one step at a time. And, do you know about ghusl? One has to take a full-bodied bath to be clean again. Women take that when she finishes her period. Did you know this?
He shakes his head. Well, now you do. My father would never tell these things, he says. Then, I frown and comment that it really is standard Islam , this sex, blood, and bathing business. To talk about love is almost impossible. One day, Ibrahim asks me why I only date brown men. I do not know how to answer this because I have not dated men of any shade since his return to the United States.
I grew tired of the way the way their worlds smelled and tasted; like tiny, bland palates. I do not tell my son any of these things, the excursions that took place in his absence, because it is not yet important. One day, I will say to him how I needed to know that someone found my body beautiful after I took off my hijab.
I needed to be touched, to feel like a woman again, after raising five-step kids while his father managed the Arab Spring abroad. One day, but not today, he will know how thirsty a body can become, and how merciful an embrace can wash over bones that hold tired, broken flesh. Ibrahim tells me that I need to smile more, that he is surprised no one has asked for me. A year before, I was the butt of yo momma jokes.
Yo momma so fat. Yo momma so ugly. He worries that I worry so much. I worry that he will grow up to seek broken women because he was unable to fix me. He cranes his neck to read my text messages, this time coming from a brown Muslim man. You have a crush, he teases me. You need to go out more, he tells me. There is no one out there for me, I tell him back. I feel like I am failing him by not having a husband, by not even dating. He has to learn how to negotiate matters of the heart from someone.
All I am teaching him is an inefficient manner of loneliness, how to coddle fears into a perfect art. We talk about what it means to date.
It is an odd conversation, for we are both nudging up against the wilderness of desire and longing. He will soon enter high school, where hard-ons, eager young women, and sexy Snapchats will suffice as casual hallway conversation. We are poised at our respected life stages to welcome differently weighted versions of love and affection.
Dating, I tell him, holds specific challenges. The conversation around temporary marriages allows me drop buzzwords like consent, boundaries, clear expectations in a sexual relationship, a commitment to care for any children conceived.
Thank you thank you thank you God. Like, just go into Starbucks and smile. Then someone will ask you out. You need to work on your resting bitch face.