Robert Crown Center: A Fifth Grader's Right of Passage


Like it or not, Quincy is heading west on a field trip with half of his classmates tomorrow.  Like his mother, father and almost every other fifth grader in the surrounding area before him, he’s headed to Hinsdale’s Robert Crown Center. 

It’s springtime in the fifth grade and along with the pungent smells emitting from pre-pubescent armpits, there are many questions to be answered; grim-faced-hooligans are headed to the lions to get the low-down regarding just what the heck is going on.

We haven’t discussed much of what tomorrow’s lesson promises.  Like most scary milestones, I’m like most of my family–we suffer from the “if we ignore it–it’ll just go away” syndrome.  

I remember my fifth-grade field trip like it was yesterday.  We left St. Michael’s laughing and singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” all the way to Hinsdale…we had no idea the shock we were in for, sure we’d heard stories, but they couldn’t possibly be true, right?   We returned not caring who was taking one down and passing it around, we were in complete silence, scared silly, practically peeling our chins off the bus floor. 

Little did we know, the nail in the coffin would come a few days later during a follow up lesson, in the form of our teacher, the future Bishop’s sister, holding a “sanitary napkin” as she so bluntly called it, above her head–as she assured us, no matter what our mothers told us, this was not a curse, it was a beautiful time in our lives. 

Sadly, we disagreed, the curse came in the form of the sixth grade boys lining up to take a break as we heard the nitty gritty huddled in the hall adjacent to the boy’s bathroom.  Completely mortified.

Way back when–information regarding such issues at home was almost non-existent.  All necessary supplies were under the sink, but no words regarding what they were there for were spoken.  Like most taboo subjects–the less said the better.  When the big day came, I headed to the sink and remembered the words of my jiggly-necked fifth grade teacher, and did what I had to do.

My mom softened a bit regarding the subject over the years.  I remember when my younger sister greeted “lady-hood” for the first time.  I was interrupted while on the phone (phone time was coveted time when you shared one line with five brothers and sisters). 

Mom motioned to the bathroom with her thumb as she suggested I “get in there and help that dingbat”…apparently she was confused and attaching adhesive of pad the wrong way and my mom had very little tolerance for lack of common sense.  I still cringe to this day thinking of her ripping it off.  Ouch.  A Brazillian before Brazillians were cool.  She’s always been steps ahead of her time.

By the time my youngest brother was about seven or eight, Mom had just about run out of any shame she may have had left.  At the grocery store one Saturday, he noticed the box of kotex moving down the conveyer belt and asked her what those were.  She replied, very matter-of-factly, they were big bandages for big cuts–sure she had softened, but obviously still in denial.

Shock of her life came the following Wednesday on the way home from driving someone somewhere…she passed the youngest on his bike pedaling top speed toward the dirt hill in our neighborhood.  He steered the bike with one hand while he held a box of kotex in the other. 

Mom slammed on the breaks, put the family wagon in reverse, and followed him at a high rate of speed backward with her hand laying on the horn.  When she finally caught up with him he told her his friend wiped out and was bleeding bad–he had a really big cut–so he was bringing the big bandages. 

She didn’t say a word as she ripped the box out of his hand and took off the other way at top speed.  I laughed so hard I cried all the way home.  Classic story — but really,  just another day in the life of a kid growing up in our house.

Fast-forward to present time, I got a call from the school nurse the Monday the kids returned to school following spring break.  Apparently, the boy’s teacher broke the news of upcoming field trip with the students as they began the final quarter of fifth grade.  And, as a result, Quincy was out cold on the library floor.  I was asked to come collect him. 

I don’t have to tell you the subject of conversation on the way home that late March morning.  This kid is nothing like the older one.  He had questions-a-plenty.  I’m a firm believer in the rule “if they ask, I will tell”…but the discussion made his stomach queasy and his breathing labored not to mention he was sporting a pale face from all the blood being drained from it in fear of what was to come.  I calmly suggested another time–when he was ready.

Parental meetings were held regarding the “sensitive material” that would be covered.  Permission slips regarding attendence on field trip along with school follow-up were sent home.  As the science lesson on the digestive system finished last week, introduction of the reproductive system began.

I guess the maturity that has developed over the last six weeks have prepared him for this day.  Any guess what today was?  Today in school they were prepped with the goings-on-of-tomorrow.  And as my luck would have it, today was the day he was ready to talk.

He got in the car and informed me that following the trip they will have a follow up session and recieve their bag of goodies.  He mentioned his teacher suggested to boys and girls that they should not chase the other around with the contents of the goodie bag.  They are to take the bag and put it in their backpack as the contents are private.

He mentioned the likely contents of the goodie bag…deoderant, body wash, most likely one of those “pleasant smelling” Axe products…God Bless Fifth Grade teachers everywhere…the mix of scents must be toxic. 

As I took the turn on OrlanBrook Drive he mentioned what else he thought might be in the bag…and he warned I might be angry if he said it.  I started with the “there are no secrets” baloney every parent mutters at some point in their lives when he said it and I about drove off the road.  Naturally a condom would be included for when he “does it”.

Our conversation turned very matter of fact.  Yes, condoms are necessary for protection, but probably not a must have for fifth graders.  He questioned why his brother, the not so proud member of the WJJD 2009 graduating class, didn’t go on the dreaded Robert Crown field trip.

I explained Robert Crown advocates birth control and that is frowned upon by the Catholic Community.  Therefore they had an in-house field trip with a company that didn’t mention the use of birth control in their presentation.

 He was conflicted.  How could he use one of those–he’d make God mad.  I countered with the state of the world, God had many more important things on his plate–he could probably care less about some pimply-faced member of his faithful flock taking advantage of the protection one of those things can bring.

He mentioned they only work 98% of the time–a tidbit he learned from Friends…he concluded that he agreed with Ross–the letters stating that should be much bigger on the package.

I felt myself sinking fast.  We turned conversation to something I knew would scare the crap along with the questions out of him.  Probably not my most proud moment, but I knew what had to be done.

“Quincy,” I began, “Condoms are not only important for protection against possible conception, they are also instrumental in preventing disease.”  Quick Quincy mentioned his impecable immune system.  As I stopped in the driveway, I said “Listen Kid, do you want puss coming out of your infected parts?”  “Well that’s what happens when you don’t protect yourself”.

The queasy Quincy returned.  I hit a nerve.  He was silent for a long while.  As I made him something to eat, he looked at me with pure innocence and suggested he might not be interested in any of this, especially since there was potential for possible disease.

“Mom, maybe I’ll just adopt…it seems like a safer way for everyone involved.”

The kid has a lot to learn.  I pray for the presenters at tomorrow’s field trip along with the teachers in charge of the follow-up and subsequent goodie bag hand out.  I pray for their gentle patience in passing along this information to another class of fifth graders.  And I patiently wait in anticipation of the questions that are sure to follow.

This our first-go-round with birds and the bees at the public school.  The parent meeting suggested a frank, age-appropriate discussion.  Even with this reassurance, I still dread the ride home tomorrow. 

I take comfort in hoping the questions I field tomorrow can’t be any worse than today’s. 


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