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There was a contraceptive sponge in  one of the kitchen drawers in the house in which I grew up. The all-purpose, or “junk,” (yeah, I got that pun, I’m like a 13 year old boy!) drawer was where we could find: matches, coupons, menus, batteries, toothpicks, etc. Pretty much all the knick-knacks that you need, but for which you don’t have a have good storage place.  In my childhood home, that included a contraceptive sponge.

My mom is a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, which is a really long title that means that she looks at vaginas, delivers babies and talks about birth control all day long. I grew up with her medical text books with graphic images within my reach, and I distinctly remember perusing them from as early of an age as 5. I never actually read these books, I just flipped through them to look at all the fascinating pictures. So it shouldn’t shock anyone that rather than let me imagine my own story from the pictures, something I might be known to do, my mom explained the facts of life to me when I was in kindergarten.  Yes, I was that kid, the one who told all the other kids where babies came from.  (Please imagine Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls holding court and acting out scenes with Ken and Barbie.)

Considering my mother’s profession, no one in my family was nonplussed to see female contraception in the kitchen. I imagine that my mother was at a conference hosted by Today sponge and she came home with a sample in her purse, which was something she set on the kitchen counter every day after work.  The doorbell probably rang and she saw the sponge sitting in plain view and concealed it in the drawer before letting company into our home. We did keep up appearances of normalcy. Although the sponge may have been shunted to the junk drawer for the sake of appearances, it lived there for quite some time, because no one in my family was bothered by it or cared to put it someplace more appropriate. Until my friend Darcy found it.

Darcy is a wonderfully quirky person, and she had a very loose understanding of what other people might consider boundaries, in other words, she was an only child.  So at the age of 13 walking into her friend’s home and randomly opening drawers was quite routine. She actually did this in more than just the kitchen too, and one of my fondest memories of Darcy was watching her walk out of my brother’s bedroom wearing a pair of his tighty-whities over her black Umbro soccer shorts. She started to dance around and poke her fingers through the panel in the front and pretend to pee. I watched her horrified, because I wondered if she realized what 15 year old boys did.

On this fateful sponge worthy day Darcy was wearing a grey sweatshirt which had a cartoon cow on it with the slogan “I got mixed up at Maggie Moos!” and she and I were in the kitchen goofing off with my mom sitting at the table paying bills (or just making sure we didn’t set fire to the house trying to make popcorn, my brother and I might have almost done that) when Darcy, in her uninhibited way, came across the sponge.

“What’s this?” Darcy said as she held it up for my mom to see.

“I don’t think your mother would appreciate me telling you what that is.” Mom said in her most diplomatic-seeing-patients-voice.

“Oh no, my mom knows what you do for a living, and she would the THRILLED if you explained it to me.”

Mom has told me that she called Darcy’s mother to okay having a “special little talk” with us, but I don’t remember that at all. Perhaps it is because I was laughing too hard to notice. My mom might be liberal with her own kids, but she doesn’t hand out contraceptive information to minors unless their legs are in stirrups in her office.

Mom then proceeded to take the sponge out of the package and tell us to gather around the kitchen sink, which we did like the Macbeth witches over a cauldron. It looked like a molded marshmallow with an elastic loop on it.  While she was lecturing about all the contraceptive properties and proper usage of the sponge mom then turned on the tap and ran it under water.  Although we do not have any pictures of this event, I have a very clear mental image of what my face must have looked like when the sponge expanded because the look of horror on Darcy’s face reflected my own terror, of shoving a campfire marshmallow inside of me and have it explode.  I don’t know that my mom intended it, but I believe she made two big believers in condoms that day.

I also don’t think that Maggie Moos ice cream shop could possibly have mixed anyone up as much as the concoctions that came out of my childhood kitchen.

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