When I was a kid, I remember being given a book that described how two large round cartoon people made a baby. I also remember that somewhere in the middle of the book it suggested that you ask your mom and dad to stand next to each other naked so that you could observe the differences in their bodies. Fortunately for me and for my parents, I had enough common sense to know that this was a terrible, terrible idea.
That book and its suggestion for how to get labelled the family pervert are what I remember from “the talk” with my mother. Now, I have kids of my own and the time has come to have “the talk” with them. As with most parenting milestones, I never thought much about it until I had to; I have always been too busy trying to survive whatever phase we were currently in to start planning how to get through the next one. When it comes to talking about sex, my approach has been, “I’ll wait till they ask me, and when they do I will be completely honest.” Turns out I only had half of that right.
A little over a week ago, a friend of mine asked me and a few of our other friends if we wanted to attend a talk held by a parenting educator named Alison Bower about how to talk to your kids about sex. I thought, well, my kids haven’t asked yet, but I guess it’d be helpful. Turns out, according to Alison, it is now recommended that kids start getting the facts when they are in preschool. PRESCHOOL, PEOPLE. And WE are the ones who are supposed to bring it up. I guess because we’re the adults or some such nonsense.
Despite the fact that my kids are a little bit behind in this, I still wasn’t worried. After all, I had a fairly active early twenties. I am totally cool and hip to the sex stuff, right?
Wrong…so, so wrong.
That evening, when I gathered with my friends and much wine to talk about kindergarteners and sex, I was taken to a place of such incredible discomfort that if I still wore turtlenecks I would have pulled it up over my head like a humiliated turtle. Turns out I am totally cool about sex except when children are involved, something I normally consider a positive trait of mine except that when it comes to sex ed it could be a bit of a stumbling block.
My reaction had nothing to do with the presenter, who was terrific — it was the things I learned that other kids my kids’ age are doing. I heard about playground wood chips going places that they were most definitely never meant to go, about fingers inserted into a cat in a manner I can only describe as “distressing,” about children sniffing butts, and about fishing poles being used inappropriately. I swear, I should have brought my pearls so that I would have something to clutch all night.
At one point, our presenter used the words, “soft” and “wet”, and I had such a strong physical reaction that she actually said, “Tell us, what’s going on for you right now?” And all I could say was, “I just…um…I mean…my kids don’t…”
I’m in trouble.
So now I need to figure out a way to talk to my kids about this whole sex thing without hiding my face behind a pillow while I’m doing it. I assume I’ll be the one having the talks with them, seeing how my husband doesn’t even want to be in the same building as someone using the words “penis” or “vagina.”
It won’t be a problem as long as the conversation goes like this:
Child: “Mom, where do babies come from?”
Me: “Here is my matter of fact answer.”
Child: “Oh. Thank you so much, mother. You have answered my question, and I think we’re all done here.”
If it goes much beyond that, I may need to find that very special episode of Punky Brewster where a kid gets stuck in a refrigerator and Punky has to revive her using CPR. Refrigerator safety is important, too, you know.
Despite my fears, a couple of days after the presentation I decided to be brave and broach the subject with my kids. Just before bedtime one night I said, “You know, if you’re ever curious about your body you can always ask me or your dad anything you want to know.”
And one of my kids said, “I AM curious.”
Crap, I thought. Here we go.
“What do you want to know, babe?”
My child paused and then said, “You know this part of your arm where it bends? How does it do that?”
Thank you, child. Thank you.