My daughter won’t be in middle school for a few years, which is good, because I start to get the terror sweats when I think about it. I will always remember middle school as a kind of hormonal nightmare show of mean girls, pre-algebra, and trying to navigate the “feminine hygiene” aisle at Giant, a grocery store up north. I deal with the inevitability of my own kid entering middle school by ignoring it completely and pretending that she will be a blissfully happy elementary student forever. For the most part, it works. We live across the street from our town’s middle school, so I just shut my eyes as I drive past it, assuming that middle schoolers are old enough to get out of the way of my car.
But then, every once in a while, something will force me to face reality: a sullen looking trick or treater at my doorstop, for instance, dressed in a too-small ninja turtles costume or a fundraising eighth grade cheerleader who has two volume settings: mumble and whisper. Last night, this reminder came in the form of a district-wide email about two horrifying words:
Apparently, this is coming up fast for the uncomfortable youths of our little town, and the email made sure to let parents know that they could vet the subject matter at a board meeting before inevitably yanking their kids from the class, which is something people actually do here.
Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link that took me to the outside group that comes and does presentations at the middle school, presumably while dressed up like Shamey, The Talking Purity Ring and singing such abstinence ed classics as, “A Sticker’s No Fun After Being On Four Shirts”. Or something.
I knew we’d have to deal with this perplexing type of sex ed. My husband had abstinence education, and he turned out okay, mostly because his parents injected a little sanity into the ordeal. We agreed that I would take the lead on this, not because my husband is weirded out but because I got the opposite of whatever abstinence ed is. As in, lots of discussion about masturbation, consent, contraceptives, and this weird silicone nutsack and boob that we were all supposed to feel in order to find the mystery lump as a nod to self-exams.
Since I’m obviously the expert, and I have the matching equipment, I gladly—and a little superiorly—agreed to be my kid’s go to on all things downstairs related.
Well. Easier said than done, obviously. I was terrified to talk to my biological mom about sex, because she was incredibly vocal about how she would have to kill me if I tried to mash my junk up against someone else’s junk before marriage. I remember, as late as ninth grade, thinking about how I wanted to be a novelist and then realizing I never could be, because all of the best novels had sex bits, and what if my mom got a hold of a novel I wrote that had sex bits in it?
By contrast, my daughter has no qualms whatsoever about talking to me about sex. When she was younger, I fielded the “where do babies come from question” by asking her what SHE thought. This worked until she was five. She said something like:
“Babies come from the hospital after leaving their mommy’s tummy. But how do they get up there?”
I asked, “How do you think?” And she gave me this withering cut-the-bullshit look that told me she was totally on to me. She said, “I don’t KNOW. That’s why I asked YOU.”
I thought that maybe five was too young to really explain it, but I kind of muscled past that, because I do believe in clinical explanation. Where I come from, a lot of kids I know survived sexual abuse, and as they got older, they explained how difficult it was to get help because they really didn’t have a name for what was happening to them.
So I dove in, squeaky voiced, and explained all about penises and vaginas and sperm and eggs, wrapped the whole thing up with a talk about telling an adult if someone ever made her uncomfortable or touched her in a way she didn’t like. I also tried to drive the point home that this was a private conversation, which she nodded solemnly at, before promptly telling a bunch of kids on the playground what vaginas were. Awesome.
So, I’m done, right? I mean, all I had to worry about now was adding little asides now and then about consent and contraception and safety and pap smears as she aged, and all would be well.
“Why doesn’t daddy have breasts?”
“What do boy vaginas look like?”
“How do you get a baby out of your bellybutton?”
“How come Uncle J hasn’t ever been pregnant?”
Each time she asks, I explain, again, in detail, about male parts and female parts and mechanics and biology. Each time she can repeat it back to me, eyes full of understanding. Each time, she gives her friends a detailed lecture about human anatomy, and then a few months later it’s like it never happened. We have a dog named Wheatley, a manic little asshole whose hobbies include licking the wall, eating baby birds, and abusing himself for hours on end in the middle of the kitchen.
Just a few days ago, she asked me why his vagina was on the outside.
To be honest, I’m kind of out of ideas, and almost ready for Shamey the talking Purity Ring to take over.
Because let’s not forget that I still have four years of solid denial before we even get there, and that’s plenty of time to talk about scrotums and ovaries. Maybe I’ll buy some puppets. Really, if worse comes to worst, I’ll just let her hear about how no one wants chewed gum and then take her to The Cheesecake Factory and indulge in a mother-daughter mockery session about people who equate teenagers to sugary treats.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to accept that thanks to my daughter, her entire first grade class knows how babies get into tummies. Well, everyone except her, that is.
(Image: Ramona Heim/shutterstock)