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Columns: The facts of life

My mother had many favorite expressions. One had to do with closing the barn door after the cows had gotten out. She used it when one of us kids tried to fix something we'd botched. It's been awhile since I've heard that cliché but people seem to be bandying it about now that Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol is preaching abstinence.

You may recall Bristol's family announcing her pregnancy not long after her mother was chosen as John McCain's running mate in the last election. There was 17-year-old Bristol sitting onstage next to her boyfriend at the Xcel Energy Center during the Republican convention in St. Paul. There was Bristol and her baby bump traipsing through crowds at stump stops with Levi during the campaign. They were engaged, we were told, and did the right thing by having their baby instead of giving it up for adoption or terminating the pregnancy. The wedding date hadn't been set but we were assured the high-schoolers would tie the knot.

The GOP ticket didn't succeed as planned and Governor Palin headed back to Alaska. Bristol and Levi welcomed a son, Tripp, but ended their engagement. Levi's making the rounds of talk shows complaining Bristol won't let him be with his son. I'm not sure either finished high school but Levi says he's going to write a tell-all about the Palin family. I hope his book includes information about his kin, too -- a mother arrested for drug possession and an aunt nabbed for breaking into houses. It should be a best-seller.

After her baby was born, Bristol said celibacy isn't feasible for teenagers. I'm sure her mother, who wants only abstinence taught in Alaska's schools, wasn't happy about that statement. Perhaps, that's why Bristol recently changed her mind about abstinence and is now a spokesperson for Candie's Foundation, an organization trying to stop teenage pregnancy. Ben Horowitz, of the Newark Star-Ledger, wonders if telling others not to follow your example might mean son Tripp could grow up and see this as his mother wishing he hadn't been born. Horowitz thinks Bristol should let someone who practices restraint tout its benefits. I see his point and agree that raising her son and finishing school is enough of a plateful for an 18-year-old.

But Bristol isn't at home raising her little one. She's on talk shows, too, telling her new version of the story: swearing off sex is the safest choice. A choice she didn't make and her baby's father says doesn't work. He ought to know. Maybe, if the governor of Alaska wasn't opposed to "explicit" sex education, Bristol and Levi would have known to use protection when they could hold off no longer. (Because we all know that can happen.) Gail Collins of the New York Times points to Texas, where almost all the schools teach abstinence and only abstinence. Collins says the state is "a teen pregnancy disaster zone."

I'd like to wrap this up with a witty comment about the cows and that darn old barn door but even my mother, who had an arsenal of pithy sayings, would be speechless about this situation. But then, my Mom never talked about S-E-X.