Many parents dread it. Many put it off, or simply avoid it altogther. Yes, it's the Facts of Life discussion.
This was the weekend. My husband and I had been planning and reading and fretting and procrastinating all summer about talking to our two older children about the subject. We really didn't know how much they knew about it all. They haven't asked many questions.
Once, my oldest did ask me what sex was. He was in kindergarten, and his brothers were four and two. Of course we were all in the car, and the question came out of the blue. Perhaps there was a Viagra commercial on the radio. I remember I took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to answer. Then, after a pause, he answered his own question: "Oh, I know, it is the difference between boys and girls." He was quite satisfied with his answer, and frankly, so was I. But I knew that I had narrowly avoided The Talk, and the subject would have to be dealt with in a much more comprehensive way in the near future. Surprisingly, the subject did not come up again for several years.
This October, my 5th grader will be learning a lot about The Facts of Life at school, when a special educator comes in to talk with the kids. My husband and I thought, OK, it's time, we need to give him some information before he learns about it from a stranger at school.
I got out my Where Did I Come From? and What Is Happening to Me? books by Peter Mayle. The books were published in 1973 and are the very same ones that I read as a kid. The illustrations are still seared in my memory. (And yes, this is the same Peter Mayle that wrote one of my favorite books, A Year in Provence.) As I looked through the book, I realized that it is written for kids a bit younger than mine. However, it seemed like a good place to start, using straightforward language and humor to impart the basics.
My oldest read the books first. His reaction was somewhat incredulous and he said "Some of this stuff is gross!" To my surprise he really didn't know much. We talked quite a bit about the book on puberty, which he was most interested in, and how things will change when he gets a little older. Then he was done and wanted to go outside and throw a football around. My 4th grader was next. He read the books more quickly than his brother. I suspect he was skimming over some of the sections. Then we sat down and went through the books and talked about them. His reaction was "This stuff is weird." Interesting that he did not use the word gross. Then he wanted to go outside and throw a football around.
There was no drama, no giggling, no embarrassment (that I could tell), it was a very straightforward and basic discussion. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We decided that our 2nd grader was a bit young for the same discussion and asked that the older two not share all of their new information with him. My main concern with him is that he would announce to all his friends at school exactly what he learned. I just don't want that "your son told my daughter" phone call from another 2nd grade parent.
I did, however, encourage my two older boys to talk to each other about what they learned. One of them is more open, one more reticent, and I figure that they should be able to support each other as they go through puberty at roughly the same time.
The end goal is that they have knowledge about their own bodies, how they work, and ultimately to be comfortable and secure in that body.
Hopefully someday, when they are presented with an unexpected variation on the theme, such as . . . oh, I don't know . . . female impersonators, they won't be shaken to the very core of their existence.
As a matter of fact, I was at a party this weekend where Sex Ed took an unexpected turn in the form of female impersonators. They were the live entertainment at the party, and some attending the party were having lots of fun and some were clearly uncomfortable. It was a wacky bending and twisting of gender roles, men as more glamorous and outgoing versions of the women at the party. The performers lip-synched, they danced and pranced, and they answered some of the most personal blunt questions posed to them. A policeman showed up, and was welcomed with an enthusiastic cheer by many women who assumed he was part of the entertainment. He was not. Slowly he took in the circumstance he was in; party full of women having fun, some women looking slightly suspicious, all of them thinking he was about to perform something himself. When that realization registered in his face, well, all I can say is I am still laughing. Soon after, one of the performers changed and came back out to the party as a man. It was an astonishing transformation. Without the make-up, wig, and Cher outfit, he looked just like a man! He had a t-shirt, baggy pants, work boots, close-cropped hair and the deportment of a guy.
This kind of Sex Ed is only for people studying for their advanced degree. My children are not ready for this yet. I guess I need to wait a few years before I let them watch one of my favorite movies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Something tells me that my son's 5th grade teacher AND my 2nd grader's teacher are on exactly the same wavelength. I think we'd all agree that this was one fun party.
Cue the music: At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side . . .