Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 236 - Simon

Charlie is very generously turning this episode over to me, the second that I've had the honor to author. The subject this time is my children, especially my son Simon, born to Marshall and me (Nettie) in Grand Forks on August 28, 2003, following his sister Allie, born on October 3, 2001. We all lived together just out of town, very near The Playhouse, in a most extraordinary one-room house, but more of that later.

Thanks to Shel's generosity in providing us with a large loan we started married life with Marshall working on his games development and I thinking about motherhood. As you learned earlier, Marshall's game, BirdBrain®, was wildly successful and we were financially set for life. I'll admit that we did go overboard on our house, but in most other respects we lived a modest lifestyle, and our children grew up without feeling a lot better off than most of their friends at school. They also grew up in a very loving family and in the bosom of the GrandCOGs and the Gang.

Charlie's given me one assignment to accomplish in this episode besides telling of my family. You know, of course, that Mabel and Natalie were pregnant with Max and Tim's children. They were pregnant in Korea, and the entire Gang learned the facts of the babies' parentage in Hawaii on the way home from Korea. They hadn't been home long before the girls were ready to give birth. First came Natalie and Tim's boy on March 3, 2018. This was followed by Mabel and Max's girl on March 12, 2018. Tim decided that he'd move in with Mabel and Natalie when the baby came home from the hospital and help to care for the little guy. He moved out when Max's girl came home from the hospital and let Max moved in to help with both babies.

Max and Tim weren't really needed, because both mothers were quite self-sufficient and, besides, there were at least a hundred members of the Gang both available and willing to help out whenever needed.

Then came the question of names. The girls decided that since they weren't going to try to keep the kid's parentage a secret, a giveaway in the names wouldn't be a problem. Natalie decided that her boy's middle name would be Timothy, and Mabel decided that her girl's middle name would be Maxine. There was some debate over using Max's real given name, Merle, but it was obviously masculine, and its connection to the name Max was hard to discern. Maxine was used for the same reason that Timothy had been chosen: the connection was there, but it didn't hit you in the face.

First names were more complicated. A lot of the names the girls liked were in use by members of the Gang, and while duplicates were neither forbidden nor frowned upon, the girls felt they'd like to avoid ambiguity. Mabel decided that she liked the name Elaine. Natalie had a harder time. She pointed out that there were a lot more men in the Gang than women–starting with eight gay boys–and a lot of the names she liked were taken. She finally settled on George.

Then came the question of surnames. Natalie was Natalie Richards and Mabel was Mabel Crowell. When they'd gotten married they hadn't thought of the issue of names, and both had continued to use their birth names. Now, with two children, it seemed to be a good idea to have the whole family have the same family name. So what would it be? Richards, Crowell, Richards-Crowelll, Crowell-Richards, or something new? They immediately rejected the hyphenated names as too long and really silly. Besides, it didn't solve the name issue for the next generation. Would George Timothy Crowell-Richards marry Nancy Jane Crosby-Jones and take the married name of George Timothy Crowell-Richards–Crosby-Jones? No, hyphenated names were a dumb idea. Mabel and Natalie at least didn't have to deal with the male chauvinistic pattern of always taking the man's name for the new family's name. They talked about flipping a coin, but weren't too fond of that idea. They played with the idea of combining their two names: Croards? Crorich? Richcro? Richwell? As they went through these several times that realized that the only combination that made sense to an English hearing ear was Richwell. Almost simultaneously then said, "That's it." And so the Richwell family they became.

And now I can introduce Tim's long awaited grandson, George Timothy Richwell, born in Grand Forks, North Dakota on March 3, and his equally long awaited daughter, Elaine Maxine Richwell, born in Grand Forks, North Dakota on March 12, 2018. The whole Gang was ecstatic with celebrations of one sort or another beginning about the first of March and going all month. By the middle of April Max and Tim were settling back into the routines of their lives, and Mabel and Natalie were working their way toward a routine that wouldn't settle down for at least a dozen years!

I need to let you in on the financial arrangements that had been made for the Richwell family. Max and Tim realized that as fathers they were going to bear the major responsibility for the family, and the mothers were going to bear the care-taking responsibility. There was no way the two girls were going to be able to hold down responsible jobs and take care of two babies of almost exactly the same age. Max and Tim established generous trusts in the name of all four. Natalie's and Mabel's would provide for the household indefinitely. Elaine's and George's would provide for any special needs and for their educations. Tim and I had saved enough money to be able to establish such trusts, but Max didn't have those resources. But the Gang trust, established by Fred, did have that kind of money. So after Tim and Max had both made reasonable contributions, based on individual resources, the Gang trust put in enough so that all four trusts were of a very generous size. Natalie and Mabel had been told that the financial needs of motherhood would be taken care of, but the generosity of the trusts was unexpected. Both were very grateful, tried to refuse, were rebuffed, and finally accepted their fate: work and a career for them would be a choice not a necessity.

Elaine and George were GrandCOGs as were my much older children, Allie, age sixteen and Simon, age fourteen. For reference, the oldest grandchild was Jay Bruder at age eighteen. All would have birthdays before 2018 was over. In the fall Allie would be a junior in high school. Simon would be a sophomore. Though almost two years younger, Simon's August birthday put him only one year behind Allie in school. The kids were brought up the same as the other GrandCOGS, with lots of freedom and good sex education besides. Though we lived on the edge of town, we made it possible for the two of them to visit The Hideout after school and on weekends. The kids in the aerie were always friendly, and Allie and Simon enjoyed time there–including sleepovers.

In her high school sophomore year, Allie hadn't yet found any romantic interest. That didn't seem to bother her, and it didn't bother Marshall or me. She did date a number of boys, starting that year, but none of the relationships flowered into anything "steady." Of course, Allie wasn't starved for sex, as she could play around with the other GrandCOGs as she liked. I can't speak for any of the boys that dated her thought of doing, but none of them ever made any kind of sexual suggestion, neither verbal nor physical (like brushing a hand across her breast in the movie, or pushing their pelvis into hers as they danced).

It was different case with Simon. Boy was it! At the end of ninth grade Simon had a few dates with a very nice girl named Marie Pegler. I can say that she was nice in retrospect; at the time she was just a name. Simon was off to two summer camps: a table tennis camp in Wisconsin to further his passion for ping-pong and Camp White Elk for the for the last two week session, but they started dating again in the fall. Simon kept us posted about Marie, and grew more and more enthusiastic about her as the fall turned into winter. She was the guest for dinner at our house several times, and we grew to enjoy Marie as well. Simon was the guest of the Peglers for dinner as well. Marshall and I were very happy with the girl that Simon was dating, and we weren't unhappy that it seemed to be getting serious.

The first dinner at our house was a hoot. Marie was inside our house for the first time and discovered that it was a one-room house. With no walls she could see into almost all the spaces, at least a little bit--furniture went a long way to block most of the viewing. After dinner Simon took her for a stroll through the house. With no doors strolling really does describe their activity. Clearly Marie was a little taken aback by the whole arrangement, but she didn't say much. After all, it was her first time in our house, and we'd met her only casually before the dinner invitation. Simon reported that as soon as they were in the car the questions started. "I can't believe that house; you have no privacy."

"Yes, we do. We have privacy because all of us respect boundaries. We walked through my parents bedroom space this evening, but I'd never do that if they were in there unless I knocked. Of course, knocking is difficult without doors or walls, so we use 'Hello' in place of a knock. Not only would I not go in, I wouldn't look in. And they treat my space in exactly the same way. Allie and I respect each other's space just the same."

"And you can really trust your parents and Allie not to be spying?"

"Of course. Remember, we grew up in that house, we learned the rules from infancy. It's second nature. And we all know that when respect for each other's privacy breaks down then we have two choices: Sell the house, or get builders in to put up walls. We'd all hate that, so that's a high incentive to respect privacy."

"What about sound? Can't you hear what's being said in other rooms?"

"First, by design there are a lot of soft surfaces throughout the house. Big thick carpets, heavy drapes at windows, wall hangings where there might be pictures on the wall. More important, each room has a white noise generator we can turn on. We turn it on if we want privacy, and we turn it on if we're hearing other conversations that should be private. But there's one other thing to take into consideration. I have a most unusual relationship with my parents. We have no secrets. We talk a lot, and we tell each other what's going on in our lives. So there isn't much that might go on in my room that I wouldn't want my parents, or sister, to know about."

"If I can touch on a difficult subject, what about when your parents have sex?"

"Well, I certainly know that they have sex; after all Allie and I weren't brought by a stork. So just what would be private or secret about the fact that they're having sex; our respect for privacy means that though the sound may suggest they're having sex, I don't go looking?"

"Simon, you live in a different world than I do."

"Welcome to my world."

One evening just the four of us (Marshal, me, Allie, and Simon) were eating dinner. Simon started the conversation in an odd way. "You know, Mom and Dad, there's a lot of talk about how hard parents find it is to have the 'Birds and the bees' talk."

I said, "Well, we're pretty liberal, and I had parents that were very good at talking about sex."

Marshall said, "That was Nettie's experience. In my case my parents found it very difficult and didn't pass the test."

I interjected, "But you turned out all right."

Marshall continued, "Yes, but I know exactly what Simon's talking about. However, I don't know where this is leading."

Allie said, "I'll bet I can guess."

I said, "Go ahead and guess."

Simon wailed, "Wait a minute; this is my story."

I said, "OK, Simon, you tell it. And then Allie you tell us whether you had if figured out."

Simon continued, "I'm thinking that it's time for a 'Birds and the bees' talk with Marie. In Gang-speak, that means it's time to follow the rule and 'Talk first'."

Allie said, "I was exactly right."

Simon continued, "I'm a horny bastard, but it doesn't feel right to be steadily dating Marie and playing sex games with the GrandCOGs in The Hideout or the aerie."

Marshall said, "You've heard the story of Nettie and me in the motel in Superior on our first trip to Grand Forks. I guess we 'talked first,' but it sure was brief. Nettie was naked before much had been said."

Simon said, "Well, I don't think it's going to happen quite that way with Marie. I'll admit I'm nervous about the conversation."

I said, "Let us know how it turns out. Marie's a sweet girl, but she's a girl, and girls have hormones. I'd guess she's beginning to wonder when something sexual will happen. I'll bet she isn't thinking that it's going to start with talking about it."

That ended that evenings conversation about Marie and sex. Now it was up to Simon to actually act on his plans.

Simon wasn't yet of driving age, but Allie was. She was glad to be his chauffeur, but the demanded quid pro quo was the complete details of the evening, recited as they drove home from Marie's house. Allie was quite willing to take the long, long way home to give Simon time to tell his tale. They put quite a few miles on the car that evening.

It'd started with dinner at Jerry's. Somehow the COGs, and now the GrandCOGs, has found Jerry's a great place for serious, private conversations. A word to Jerry when making a reservation insured one of his very secluded booths or a corner table. Marie was no fool, however, and as soon as they'd been seated in their remote booth she asked Simon, "Why the special table?"

Simon had decided well in advance that he wasn't going to beat around the bush. If being straightforward was going to get him into trouble, better to know it now than later. He responded, "I want to have a private conversation."

"About what? Or should I try to guess?"

"I don't think that a guessing game is a good idea. The subject for tonight is sex."

"Well, I don't think that I would've guessed that. Thus far there has been no sex, and no talk of sex, in our relationship. Is that going to change?"

"At least the no talking about it is going to change. You know, I have a pretty tight group of friends–you've met most of them."

"They're a neat group. I especially like Sonnie and Frank, and of course the two sets of twins are really fun."

"Would it surprise you to know that they talk about sex quite freely and quite often do more than talk."

"I don't know whether that surprises me; they seem like a very adventurous crowd. Are you telling me that as part of that crowd you share their sexual adventures?"

"In a word, yes. And they have some very clear rules that they always follow. The first rule is, 'Talk first'."

"And now we're talking; is that right?"

"Talking comes first, that's the rule."

"Well, I'll admit that's refreshing. I haven't seriously dated anyone but you, Simon, but the stories girls tell are about boys that push pretty hard before anything is said."

Simon said, "Well, to be honest, a boy can communicate physically without being pushy or offensive. I could put my hand on your thigh in the movies and see how you respond. You could be inviting or you could push my hand away. If I respected your response, I wouldn't consider that to be poorer communication than talking. On the other hand, my friends and I have all decided that it should start with talking, not acting."

"Thank you, Simon. I like that."

"And you're willing to talk about sex?"

"I think so. We're in ninth grade; some girls I know were active back in seventh and eighth grade. Do you and your friends have other rules?"

"Yes. Sex partners always need to respect each other's comfort zones."

"Comfort zone?"

"That's what you're comfortable doing. A girl might be very comfortable petting in a movie theater, but not at all comfortable taking off her clothes with her boyfriend in some private place."

"And a boy following your rule wouldn't push her to take off her clothes."

"Right. And you got the right idea–respecting a partner's comfort zone means not only not doing things that would violate the comfort zone, but not begging or pushing either. If you tell me this evening that you aren't ready for any kind of physical sex, then you've defined your comfort zone. It'd be inappropriate for me to keep bringing up the subject. Though at some point it'd be OK to ask if things had changed."

"So, if I said I was open to some sexual exploration or activity, what do you have in mind?"

"I don't have anything in particular in mind; you'd have to give me some guidance as to what you'd feel comfortable doing."

"And just where might we be doing whatever it is that I might feel comfortable doing? I assume not in the back seat of that car that your sister is driving."

"Would that bother you? You know Allie and I completely respect each other's privacy."

"Yes, it would bother me."

"OK, how about my bedroom at home?"

"That room without doors or walls? You have to be kidding."

"We all respect each other's privacy."

"Even if they didn't peek, or whatever, your parents would certainly know what was going on."

"They would anyway. We don't have secrets in my family."

"You're telling me that if we found a comfortable place to...let's say play strip poker, that you'd tell your parents about it?"


"Just, yes? It's that simple?"

"My parents know the subject of tonight's conversation. They'll be curious about how it turns out."

"And if my response were, 'Simon, let's fuck,' they would've been OK with that?"

"It wouldn't matter. There's a third rule that all of us kids follow: No fucking till you're out of high school or engaged. You know, that last rule is different is one respect. The first two rules, and two more about no adult-child sex and no pregnancies, are part of the deal we all have with our parents. We've agreed to follow those rules, and they give us a lot of freedom because they trust us to follow the rules. The no fucking in high school comes completely from the high school kids. They've simply found that it takes a lot of pressure off, doesn't really curtail our lives, avoids pregnancy, and makes our parents very comfortable."

"That's a lot for a girl to absorb. So you sort of have a contract with your parents: you don't have secrets; they're OK with your sexual activity; you follow a very small number of very fundamental rules. And you're following rule one, talk first, by having this conversation. Have I got that?"

"Yes. And if you define your comfort zone, I'll follow rule two. Rule three doesn't apply, we're both kids, not adults, nor does rule four."

"OK, let me explore this a little more. As long as we move slowly, I think I have a pretty broad comfort zone, since fucking is evidently off the table. I'm not sure that I buy into that rule: a lot of high school kids're fucking each other. But let me push this a little further: Whatever we do, you're going to tell your parents, is that right?"

"I don't think they want blow-by-blow descriptions, but they'll know generally what's going on, just like they know how I'm doing in school, where I go with kids on the weekend, stuff like that."

"Sex with your girlfriend is just 'stuff like that' is it?"

"Yes. I, we–include my friends and parents–think that sex is simply part of life, one of the very pleasurable things. Society has made it something separate, different, even dirty. Even in marriage it's often thought of as something dirty. But it isn't."

"OK, let me go further. I gather that you and your friends, however you define the group, are into sex with each other, just not fucking each other. Is that right?"

"Yes. We grew up together. It started pretty young and pretty simply, just play."

"So you're having a conversation with me about sex while you're having sex with a bunch of your friends. Right?"

"No. That wouldn't be fair to you. Secrets are dangerous. As you and I began to be serious, I dropped out of the sex play I'd been involved with. I won't have secrets from you, so you can trust that I'm not into any sex you don't know about."

"That seems to leave a door open."

"It certainly does. But it's a door only you can open."

"Where would we have sex? Let me rephrase that, where are we going to have sex?"

"That certainly reframes the picture. The answer is simple. You've been in The Hideout, where all the games are."

"Sure, we've been there with your friends a lot. That's where you play ping-pong and beat everybody."

"It's a regular house. Guess what, upstairs there are bedrooms. We can use one whenever we like. And you haven't lived until you've had a shower in The Hideout."

"Could we go there this evening?"

"Tonight is for talking."

"If we have sex of some sort, your parents will know it. Are they going to tell my parents?"

"My parents won't be the first to face that issue. However, they believe that what they hear about you and me, from either one of us, is confidential. They don't break confidences. But they'd urge you to talk to your parents. How much have your parents talked to you about sex? Have they been able to go beyond the traditional birds and bee lecture?"

"My dad's pretty good. We've talked about sex, especially about birth control. He lives in a different world than yours, Simon. All of his roads lead to intercourse. The idea that I and some boy could have an extensive sex life and not be fucking is outside of his experience."

"He's not unusual in that. But would you be open to talking to him, and your mother I guess, before you and I did anything?"

"I don't know, Simon. It wouldn't be easy. For him, Mom, or me."

"Would you like me to come along?"

"You'd do that? There isn't another boy in our school that would have the nerve to have this kind of conversation with his girl's parents–unless it was after the two of them got caught doing something, or she got pregnant."

Simon mused, "Pregnancy has led to a lot of very awkward conversations. I don't ever intend to be part of one."

The conversation continued. It was agreed that Marie would arrange to have Simon join them for dinner, soon, and they would see how a conversation with her parents went. She would make no predictions.

As the talk continued, Marie finally asked, "OK, Simon, if we have sex were aren't going to fuck. What are we going to do?"

"Whatever you're comfortable with."

"I'm a neophyte. Guide me a little."

"OK. Playing around leads to orgasms, and once both partners have had a orgasm, it's pretty much over except for cuddling. The first big question is whether tongues and mouths are going to be involved. Honestly, that really adds to the enjoyment, but some people just can't deal with it. The next question is whether we'd be limited to each other, or whether we might be part of a threesome or larger group. Finally, when a additional person is involved, the question of same-sex play comes up. Some people are into S & M, but my friends and I aren't."

"S & M?"

"Sadism and masochism. Getting pleasure out hurting or being hurt. You've heard references to chains and whips. It's often associated with male gay sex, but that's unfair. Gay sex can be, and should be, just as loving as hetero sex. But S & M is completely off my charts."

"But you've been involved in group sex, gay sex, and oral sex. Is that right?"

"You know, when this conversation started this evening, I had no idea it would get this far. I wasn't sure it would go anywhere. But it has gone very far. And it seems that when I give you a yes answer to that question that you aren't going to be greatly upset. The answer, as you clearly understand is yes."

"If that's where this conversation had started, it wouldn't have gone anywhere. I would've been taking a taxi home. But this all just rolled along naturally. I guess I'm honored that you trusted me with as much information as you have."

"I greatly respect you, Marie, and I think I'm falling in love with you. High school kids talk of love much easier than they talk of sex. But that's wrong. Love is something we work up to, not start with."

The dinner was a little over a week away. I (Nettie, Simon's mother, remember) drove Simon to the Pegler's home, but I just let him out, I didn't go in. Marshall and I had met the Peglers several times, always quite informally. I wanted to leave it at that level until Simon suggested moving our relationship with the Peglers along.

Marshall and I could hardly wait for Simon's report on the evening. He and I, and Allie, were all in the car when we picked him up! No secrets in our family.

This wasn't Simon's first meal at the Peglers. He knew her parents, Raymond and Francine–Ray and Francy, fairly well, and liked them. They seemed to like him as well. At their first meal Ray had offered wine to Simon, saying that he knew that Simon wasn't driving, and that he didn't see any reason why teenagers shouldn't begin to deal with alcohol. Simon had accepted, never took more than two small glasses, and was joined by Marie. This night, however, he declined.

Ray Pegler said, "We got the impression from Marie that this was an important dinner, I guess that's why no alcohol, right?" Simon agreed and Ray said, "I think the Peglers will decline as well. I have a feeling that I want to be fully functional in the brain department this evening."

Marie said, "Daddy, could we at least wait until dinner before we get too serious?"

"Sure honey, but now we know something serious is coming, don't we?"

Simon and Marie had talked about who should open the conversation. Marie thought she should, since they were talking to her parents. Simon had a different view. He argued that the standard approach to sex in America was that the male was the aggressor–well, perhaps initiator was the better term. Girls waited for the boy to make the first move. That'd been true for Marie, who'd thought about sex but waited for Simon to bring up the subject. This had led to the idea that the boy would ask the girl's father for permission to.... Well, these patterns came from the era when all sex, at least all sex that was admitted to, was in the context of marriage. Simon translated these thoughts into the idea that he should open the conversation with the Peglers.

Marie thought that Simon was incredibly brave to offer to lead, but she stood her ground that she would open the conversation. Simon had no choice but to agree.

So now dinner was on the table, everyone had been served, and it was up to Marie to open the conversation. Her father moved things forward by taking his first bite of food, looking straight at her, and saying, "Well...."

Marie had a mouthful of food which allowed her a little breathing room before she had to talk, but that excuse was short-lived. "Daddy, Mom, Simon and I've been talking about sex, and we think you should be included in the conversation. That's not really right: Simon thinks you should be included in the conversation, and I have to agree."

Mr. Pegler said, "It Simon wasn't a part of this conversation I might've guessed that the subject for this evening was sex. But I couldn't imagine Simon wanting to be present as we explore some of the subplots of the ongoing saga of the birds and the bees. Simon, are you really ready for this?"

"Daddy, as this goes forward, I think you'll find that the question is, 'Are you ready for Simon?'"

Francy said, "I think that perhaps it's time to let Simon talk. I gather that Simon started the original conversation between you two; perhaps he'd like to move this conversation along."

Simon was ready, and had been given the perfect opening. "Marie and I are getting very serious in our relationship. We're only in tenth grade, so that limits just how serious we can get–we aren't talking marriage, yet. However at age fifteen we can't deny that the hormones within us are having some effect. We haven't done anything together that couldn't be comfortably done in your living room with you present. But last week I followed the rule that I've been taught, 'Talk first.' Marie and I did talk. We talked about what we might do, and where. I explained that my parents and friends followed the rule that you always respect your partner's comfort zone."

Ray asked, "Comfort zone? I thought most teenagers either 'did it' or didn't."

Simon continued, "That's not my world. I'm committed to not 'doing it' until I'm out of high school."

"Committed to whom?"

"I'd like to hold the answer to that question for a bit. Responsible sex partners know what their partners' limits are and they respect them. They don't beg or push. With teenagers removing clothing may or may not be in one's comfort zone. Touching may or may not. Orgasms may or may not."

Francy turned to Marie, "Are you comfortable with all this? I guess the question is, 'Have you thought about your comfort zone?'"

Marie answered, "Can I just say, 'Yes,' to that at this point?"

Simon continued, "It was at this point that Marie and I started talking about what kind of conversations we'd had with our parents about sex. She was very positive about the conversations she'd had with you, but was quite startled to learn that I have a much more open relationship with my parents. We don't have secrets from each other. They knew about the planned conversation I had with Marie, and they know the planned conversation for tonight."

Ray asked, "And they're supportive?"

"Absolutely. And they're very supportive of the idea that Marie and I shouldn't have secrets from the two of you."

"So, instead of, 'Mr. Pegler, may I have the hand of your daughter in marriage?' it's 'Mr. Pegler may I have sex with your daughter while we're still in ninth grade?'"

Marie said, "That sounds crude, Daddy, but it's right. I can assure you that a lot of the kids in my class are having all kinds of sex, and not one pair has had a conversation like this with either of their parents."

Francy said, "Based on my experience in school, I'd say that's right. So what you're telling us is that Simon is a most exceptional young man, and you're ready to have some level of sex with him, but not intercourse. Have I got that right?"

Marie said, "Exactly."

Ray said, "You seem to have quite exceptional parents, Simon, if they can deal with all this."

"They were raised by their parents in the same atmosphere as I'm being raised. I have to leave names out of this story, but my grandfather had a very close friend whose father set the tone for several generations of kids. His philosophy was that kids're going to do what kids're going to do. There's no point is making a lot of rules, because kids'll make their own decisions. Teenagers have always been able to find a place: the back forty acres for farm kids, empty houses after school for kids whose parents both work. So parents have two roles: First, they need to exhibit moral behavior and provide guidance with asked and appropriate. Second, they need to provide a safe place for their kids. Having sex in automobiles or parks isn't safe. Kids' bedrooms are."

"So your parents would be comfortable if you and Marie played doctor in your bedroom?"

Francy said, "I think they have in mind more than playing doctor."

Marie said, "You haven't seen Simon's bedroom. His parents might be comfortable but I wouldn't be."

That led to a side discussion about Simon's house, but they were soon back on target.

Simon said, "A safe place is easy to find. I'm sure that Marie's told you about The Hideout. It has safe bedrooms upstairs."

Ray said, "I'm getting some interesting vibes. Simon, you've mentioned friends. I know that The Hideout is an activity space for a bunch of your friends. There's a sexual element to all of that, isn't there?"

"Yes. Very much so. I'm part of a pretty big group that all grew up playing together. They're great kids."

Ray said, "I take it that they're part of the generations you talked about when you talked about your parents' background."

"Yes. And sex play started very young, and continues."

"That's a pretty heavy statement for you to make."

"I have to be honest here. What I've talked to Marie about is simply a sexual relationship between the two of us. Expanding it to include my friendly group would be a question of her comfort zone. And, after tonight, I think it'd also be a matter of discussing it with you."

Francy said, "Your parents are familiar with all this, and comfortable with it, right?"


"Ray, let's ask Simon's parents for dinner and expand this conversation."

An invitation was extended, but Marshall and I suggested that they come to our house, and that we'd include Allie; my parents, Paul and Amanda; and my brother, Perry, and his partner, Norman. From Simon's report on his conversation with the Peglers, it appeared that they were ready to have a fairly open conversation, and all of these people would bring different perspectives, in particular my parents.

The nine of us were able to make the second Friday available, and we all gathered in our big one-room house. Of course, as with all of our first time guests, the first item on the agenda was a tour of the house without walls or doors.

As we gathered in the living area (it isn't really a living room) for a selection of fruit juices, Paul told us that he thought he should start the conversation rolling by talking about his early wrestling. "I was kind of the wrestling giant of Ironwood High School. They called me Big Paul, and I hadn't been beaten in a match except for one early in my freshman year. In my junior year I was the state champion for my weight class, and in the finals I met a really good wrestler named Jim Forsythe. I just barely beat him. The two of us met again the following year, and after a tied match he beat me in overtime. I was crushed. A spectacular four-year high school wrestling career ending in a loss! I really lost it in the ring after that loss. And who was it that was hugging me and telling me that second in state was a rousing success, not a loss: Jim Forsythe. The referee is trying to get Jim to come to the center of the ring and be recognized as state champion, and he's on the floor worrying about the kid he'd just beaten.

"Jim and a bunch of his friends were having dinner together–sort of a party. He insisted that I, and all of the Ironwood team, join them for dinner. Well, a more extraordinary group you will never meet. It turned out that the leaders of the group–to the extent that it had leaders--were Tim and Charlie–yes, the Tim and Charlie of UND. Jim and I both attended the University of Michigan the next year, wrestled together, and eventually went to the Olympics together–where he let me beat him for a gold medal."

Marshall interrupted, "He didn't let you beat him, he made you work harder than you ever did to get that medal."

"Marshall's right, but I'm still not sure but that he deserved the gold medal. During this time I got to know Jim and his Gang. They'd met at a camp in Michigan where Charlie was their counselor. They'd kept together, and decided to make their lives together, in–of all places–Grand Forks, North Dakota. And I was drawn into the group. I was even forgiven for beating Jim in our junior year of high school.

"There was a lot to the group–and mutual love and respect that is rare in couples, but which extended to a group that by then was about twenty; it numbers about 140 today, almost all living here in Grand Forks. There's a lot that's special about this group, which calls itself the Gang, but tries not to call attention to itself at all, but the aspect of the Gang that's important tonight is their attitude to, and approach to, sex. The Gang simply believes that sex is just one aspect of life, a very pleasurable aspect, and that its joys don't have to be limited to one partner nor one sex. They have very few rules, other than enjoy yourself, but those're followed absolutely. I've never been aware of a violation."

Ray said, "These are the rules that Simon was talking with us about the other evening. Talk first. Respect comfort zones."

Paul added, "It's not relevant to Simon and Marie, but adult-child sex is a no-no, and we've arbitrarily set the line at age eighteen. Remember, when this group was getting together, they were in their early twenties, and some of them were working with, competing with, and mentoring teenagers. Don't mess with the kids was very important guidance.

"While the practices and rules for the Gang were evolving, they were also getting married and having kids–always in that order. The last rule, by the way, is no unwanted pregnancies. The Gang lived in close proximity to each other, and their kids quickly became close friends. And the Gang was forced to think carefully about how they were going to handle sexual questions, experimentation, and activity. Simon tells us that he didn't identify by name the man who inspired the Gang's attitude toward teenage sex, but it was Tim's father, Norman. Norman simply said that kids follow their own rules, not yours, so don't waste your time making rules. Be a good example, give the kids good guidance when appropriate and when asked, and keep the kids safe. He very much believed that the safest space was the kid's own bedroom. Some people are shocked by that attitude, but would you rather your daughter was having sex in a safe bedroom, or the back seat of a car, or behind a tree in a park?

"Of course, there's another aspect of child rearing here: parent-child communication. Most members of the Gang, maybe I could say all, but I'm not sure about that, have very open communication with their children. It starts young, no subject is off the table, and it's two way. Two of my kids're here this evening. I know all about their lives, including their sex lives. Over the years they've been curious kids, have asked questions, and know as much about Amanda's and my lives as we do theirs."

Perry spoke up, "That's really true. And there's another parenting rule that's widespread in the Gang: 'Say, "Yes," unless there's an important reason to say, "No".' Too often parents say, 'No,' or, 'Maybe,' and that starts a round of begging and haggling that often ends up with, 'Yes,' anyway, while ruining communication and cooperation between the generations."

Nettie said, "I'm going to add that with mostly, 'Yes,' answers, and firmly stated and explained, 'No,' answers, kids learn not to waste time asking for permission to do things that are unreasonable."

Paul added, "Which makes, 'No,' answers all the more infrequent."

Francy said, "And we're looking at three generations of a family that's successfully lived those rules, am I right?"

Paul answered, "We think so. And we're pretty proud of the children and grandchildren you see here."

He continued, "I do have to add a footnote. Amanda and I spent our lives, until retirement, in Ironwood where she was a teacher and I a teacher-coach. Our kids didn't grow up with a bunch of Gang kids as their playmates. And believe me, the philosophy we've been talking about here wouldn't go down in Ironwood. Gang kids visited us, and we visited here in Grand Forks as we could, so Netty and Perry grew up exposed to the other COGs, but not living with them."


Allie answered, "Children of the Gang. The only COGs here are Nettie and Perry. Simon and I are GrandCOGs."

Paul said, "Ask any questions you like. I've talked to others in the Gang and they're comfortable with us having this conversation. At the end, not necessarily tonight, you Peglers, all three of you, are going to have to make a decision. Marie can back out of Simon's life; she and Simon can have their own relationship, on their own terms; or Marie can embrace the ways of the Gang and she and Simon's relationship can grow as part of the GrandCOGs."

Ray said, "I don't think Simon would be happy with the second choice. I'm not going to put him on the spot and ask him to answer that, but I think that we should assume that is unworkable."

That was said at about 7:30 in the evening, just as dessert was finishing. The nine of them broke up into small groups that changed as the evening passed. Perry and Norman, who weren't sure just why they'd been invited to this affair, took it upon themselves to clear the table and take care of the kitchen. The one-room house being a one-room house, everyone could see what they were doing, and people moved through the kitchen and helped. But Perry urged them to continue conversations and not worry about the kitchen. Ray drifted into the kitchen and dried a couple of pans. Perry said, "I think you're here with a question that's more important than that pan." With that he put his own towel down, sat on a kitchen chair and said, "Ask away."

Ray said, "I'm not sure where to start. I gather from the introductions that you and Norman are married."


"Where did you get married? Was it before it was legal in North Dakota?"

"The whole Gang drove in four busses up to a park in Ontario, the closest point in Ontario to here. Four couples were married that day. But we all considered ourselves married long before the ceremony."

"I'll have to admit that this is all very new to me."

"It looks to me that you're dealing with it very well. I can certainly understand that a lot that was said in the last hour was more or less off the charts for you and Francy. You seemed to come to terms with it very well."

"It's certainly going to change the relationship that Francy and I have with Marie, and Simon." He continued, "Norman, you didn't grow up in the Gang. You and Perry fell in the love, and your introduction to the Gang followed; am I right?"


"And you're comfortable in the Gang now?"

"Yes. But let me explain something. I met Perry when he was part of a ten person sailing team. On that team were Tim, Charlie, Auggie, and Perry; all having grown up in the Gang. The rules of the Gang had quickly become the rules of the entire sailing team, and I found I fit right in. So I was introduced to a sort of mini-Gang before coming to Grand Forks. Of course, Perry and I were sixteen; the only other person on the team under eighteen was Auggie. The three of us were limited to the three of us. Perry was adamant that we couldn't leave Auggie out, so we were involved in three-way sex a lot."

"I didn't see that one coming," said Ray, "but I can see the logic of it as I think about it."

Francy had joined the group in the kitchen and now said, "Ray, I'm simply overwhelmed by all of this. But it's very clear to me that this Gang has their act together. Simon, and the whole group, are inviting Marie to be part of a very special group. That Simon insisted that we be part of this discussion is simply proof of how special the group is. Can we tell Simon and Marie to accept Simon's invitation to be part of this group?"

Ray said, "That's where my thinking's been for most of the evening."

Perry, seeing what was coming, had gathered everyone into the kitchen and said, "Say that to Simon and Marie."

Ray looked around the room; everyone was smiling; Simon and Marie were holding hands. Ray simply said, "Go for it."

Then Marie fooled everybody. "OK, if my parents can move that far in their thinking, then it's my turn. I said earlier that I couldn't deal with Simon's room, with its apparent lack of privacy. If you can trust that room, Simon, so can I. Let's go."

She kissed him, and let him lead her into his "room." He turned on the white noise, and said, "You certainly fooled me this time. Where do we go from here?"

"I think we get our clothes off; I'm ready."

"I have been for some time." They stood, naked, staring at each other for a long time. Then Simon lifted the sheet on his bed and invited Marie to get in. He followed. They hugged, kissed, and let their hands explore where they hadn't explored before. Then Simon sat up and called out, "OK, everybody. The party's over. Go home. We'll bring Marie home for a late breakfast. Good night."

Ray turned to Francy and, in a voice everyone could hear, said, "I didn't expect spending the night to come quite so soon, but it was inevitable. Come on Francy, let's go home, get a good night's sleep, and fix a great breakfast for the kids tomorrow." They got smiles and high fives from everyone.

Simon and Marie have been best friends and lovers ever since. Marriage is certainly in their future.

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