(Michael, 1st grade)
I grew up in a home where we didn't talk about the birds and the bees. I remember the day I discovered boy parts. I had seen them before, but I remember the day it "registered." Michael and I were in the bathtub. We were adept at changing identities with the help of Palmolive dish soap. With our bubbles we could instantly transform into Santa Claus or white-haired Brother Bowen at church. When we were feeling particularly risque`, we would slap two mounds of bubbles on our chests for breasts.
We didn't have real bath toys, but made our fun with cans, shampoo bottles, and occasionally a bowl or cup. On the day boy parts registered, Michael and I were playing when I noticed he had something that would go up and down in the bathtub waves. I was mesmerized by his "floaty." Michael noticed I was staring and he gingerly placed the brown Hershey's cocoa can it over his floating part. That was the last bath we had together.
I suppose all little girls are taken aback the first time they see the male anatomy. When Rachael, Hannah and Deborah were much younger, I fostered two little boys. The first time they saw Markus in the bathtub, Hannah exclaimed happily and in awe, "He's got jingle bells." Many months later they were exposed to Shaun. Two-year-old Deborah tilted her head to the side and with affection said, "Awhh, isn't that sweet?"
I have a young cousin who recently saw her grandpa at the toilet. She ran telling, "Grandpa has a tail!" Now when she observes him walking to the bathroom, she follows him and wails dramatically on the other side of the closed door, "I want to see your tail."
We mothers have come a long way in how we tell our kids the facts of life. I for one am happy we've made this progress. When I was a youngster I was given two books. They really screwed me up. After reading those books, I was ashamed to be among the human race.
The pictures of sperm resembled watermelon seeds, so I swore off the melon family for a few years. I watched in horror as others ate watermelon wondering if they would become pregnant by the seeds. Far as I know, no one did, but I wasn't taking any chances.
One of those insightful books said to make a baby, a husband and wife lay close to each other (a little understated, don't you think?) and gaze into each others' eyes. The sperm enters the female and joins her egg and a baby begins. After learning that, I developed darting eyes. I didn't want to inadvertently gaze into someone's eyes and get his sperm in me.
(Lawana (Tata) with Annabelle and Ezra, 2005)
Years passed and the grossness wore off some and was replaced by curiosity. Lawana, my trusted sister-in-law, became my personal supplier of information. Once she and I were at our local country corner store where we saw they had recently added Playgirl to their magazine selection. I was curious and I think Lawana was too, but she was more curious about my reaction than the contents of the magazine.
We stood around waiting casually for the few customers to leave and for Mrs. Weatherbe to busy herself with something out of sight of the magaz
ines. When the coast was clear, I picked up a Playgirl thinking I knew what to expect. (Was I expecting to see men and women gazing into each others' eyes?)
The magazine fell open to a very large
naked man. Freaked right out, I screamed and threw the magazine. Lawana laughed so hard she shook and Mrs. Weatherbe came running. I don't remember what I said to Mrs. Weatherbe, but to Lawana I formed a shape with my hands and said, "WHAT WAS THAT?" Lawana still shook with laughter.
"It was huge! Did you see it? It wasn't normal," I declared indignantly, as if I knew what normal was.
(Stephanie and Christopher 1989)
Stephanie came along years later and surprisingly, gazing into someone's eyes had precious little to do with it. I was determined that I would not hand a book to my offspring to teach them about procreation and sex. I would save them from the dysfunction of darting eyes and watermelon-phobia.
She was an early bloomer in the awareness department. She started asking questions at three and I gave enough information to satisfy her questions. When I was pregnant with Christopher, her curiosity grew right along with my belly. I put on a brave front, using words that still make me blush. I was proud of my maturity and wisdom
The day arrived when she marched up and asked, "What do you do with your legs?" I don't know where my motherly wisdom and maturity were in those moments, but they clearly weren't giving me any inspiration. I toyed with telling her "a husband and wife lay close and gaze into each others' eyes....," but
decided it wasn't good to lie.
I've given the same
little sex education speeches to four other children since then, and never have I been asked, "What do you do with your legs?"
"Well," I began to answer slowly, still quite unsure what was to follow. "When you are old enough to have sex," I stammered, "you can take your legs off." She was satisfied, although awed, and I was relieved when she walked away.
Stephanie continued to be totally fascinated with the subject. (I'm sure that fascination is serving her well these days as a newlywed.) She told me a couple years ago (prior to getting married) as we laughed about the above conversation, "I'm still trying to figure it out what you do with your legs."
When she was 8, Gordon bought me a series called Wildlife Fact Files. I was intrigued and fascinated learning about the different creatures God created. I was thrilled when Stephanie appeared to be following in my interest and began spending hours reading it too. Later I figured out she was only reading the mating and breeding habits of all the animals.
(Deborah, Hannah, Rachael 2004, on hoodoos)
When Rachael, Hannah, and Deborah were a few years younger, we got their first hamsters. Chimpy a girl; Reepacheep, a boy. Chimpy was Hannah's and lived in her room and Reepacheep belonged to Rachael and lived in her room. When we were ready for baby hamsters, we put them in the same cage. For a few minutes we watched wide-eyed to see how babies are made. There were squeals of laughter (from the girls, not the hamsters) and expressions of "oh gross."
Since that little exercise -- that yielded eight more hamsters that the girls also watched be born -- the girls have been satisfied with their knowledge and haven't asked many questions.
The other night though, Hannah asked if so many sperm are released at the same time, "What happens if two sperm reach the egg at exactly the same time?" I pondered for a second or two and then said, "I really don't know, but it's a really good question."
She bounced off the sofa and did a gig like a football player after scoring a touchdown. With her arms raised, she yelled energetically for the sperm, "Tie game, tie game!"