Birds, bees and big mouths
A dad asked his young son if he knew about the facts of life.
“No! Don’t tell me!” the boy cried.
“Why?” his dad asked.
The sniffling third-grader responded, “At 6, I got the ‘there’s no Easter Bunny’ speech. At 7, the ‘no tooth fairy’ speech. At 8, you dropped the ‘no Santa Claus’ bombshell. If you tell me that no one has sex, there’s nothing to live for!”
Shelley Blitstein, a precocious 9-year-old, broke the implausibly gross news to me when I was 8. Until then, I thought she oozed cool. “Shelley’s a liar,” I told Mom, confident she’d be equally repulsed by Shelley’s warped imagination until her loaded silence made me want to sink into the shag carpet and disappear.
My own firstborn’s “Blitstein” was Linda Ellerbee, veteran journalist, Nick News anchor and blabbermouth. Busy, but within earshot of my first-grader glued to Nickelodeon, I hear, “… that protects the man’s penis inside the woman’s vagina.” Hurling myself in front of the TV screen, I fumbled for the power button. However, loose-lipped Ellerbee, alongside former L.A. Laker and newly HIV-positive Magic Johnson, had already let more than a Trojan out of the bag during her after-school condom demonstration.
The timing decided for me, I read the book that I’d been saving to a speechless audience of one. “This information shouldn’t be shared with friends. That’s a parent’s job,” I concluded.
“Not a problem!” my reluctantly enlightened son cringed.
I sensed the right time with my daughter. (Dads sense these times, too, and then they vanish!) Unpredictably, she lost interest after the book’s “climax,” so to speak. “I’m hungry,” the bored 7-year-old announced before disappearing, leaving me both relieved and perplexed.
When my youngest used a word not on any second grade vocabulary list, I asked him for the definition. “A boy and girl turn off the light and are naked in bed,” he said. I could live with that, I’d considered, until he mumbled “… the rest is too disgusting to say.” At the infamous book’s conclusion, he conveyed sincerest sympathies for parents of large families, particularly our neighbors, deducing, “They ‘did it’ five times!” Clearly, “cooties” was now yesterday’s concern.
In my childhood home, “pee-pee” — used as both noun and verb — covered either gender’s reproductive organs, a bodily process and the outcome. Besides shunning correct vernacular, my father once banished my sister and me during a TV news segment depicting a self-breast exam! Like Dad, parents of yesteryear would’ve preferred waterboarding to discussing S-E-X, thereby casting natural sexuality as mysterious, scary, even shameful.
The parent-child relationship, child’s age and maturity help determine when to drop the way babies are born bomb. Detonation can also be triggered by a barrage of questions launched at unsuspecting parents, which usually occurs at the worst possible time. Do you have hair down there? Can I get AIDS? What’s gay? Research suggests that before responding, parents interrogate little interrogators: “What do you know about that?” Correct misinformation first, and then inquire, “Does that answer your question?” and “Anything else?”
Parents should be truthful — not graphic — and avoid personal details, references to birds, bees, storks, cabbage patches or close enough versions. The “big reveal” is pivotal for children, affecting not only their attitudes about sex, but also their future relationships, body images, degree of therapy, and number of headaches they’ll get when spouses whisper, “The kids are asleep.” No parent wants to be buried by that avalanche of potential guilt.
As kids develop, so should dialog to include peer pressure, emotional intimacy, contraception, STDs, etc. Assuming children got answers elsewhere or may interpret willingness to talk about sex as permission to have it, parents inadvertently increase odds that their children will have unsafe sex, say experts. So, talk it up, parents. Your kids will eventually make eye contact again.
Being responsible for unraveling another thread in a child’s blanket of innocence isn’t easy, but keeping a sense of humor helps. After all, one minute you could be telling your child to take his finger out of his nose, and the next you’re stammering through why Looney Tunes was preempted by the lady pulling a balloon over a banana!