How do you talk to your kids about sex? I guess I didn’t really think of this as a big deal. After all, I had learned myself at a young age. I remember asking my mom what a test tube baby was, and the responsible mom she was, she explained it to me. (I had envisioned a baby growing in a test tube, but was stuck on how the doctors moved it to progressively bigger vessels as the baby itself got bigger.)
When I had my own kids, one of the first decisions that I made was to call all the body parts by their real names. A penis is a penis, it isn’t a pee pee or a wiener or thingy. Then, when I was pregnant with Colin, we explained in very rudimentary terms to Jack how it was that this baby came to reside inside of me. But of course, at age two-and-a-half, he didn’t get it. Shortly after Colin was born, Jack asked his dad, “did Colin used to live in mommy’s belly?” When dad responded in the affirmative, Jack followed up with, “did Mommy EAT Colin?” Thus a more detailed description of how he got there was offered.
When the boys’ dad and I decided to separate, we went to a kids’ shrink to ask her advice on how best to convey to the boys what was happening. A key part of her advice was to make sure that they understand what sex is so that we could distinguish “romantic love” from the love that parents have for their kids. That is to say, describing this intimate action between adults would prevent them from thinking that someday we could fall out of love with them and want to divorce them. (I didn’t buy it either, but we followed her advice anyway.)
With a book on a procreating alligator family in hand, we explained what happens in a more detailed way when grown ups take off their clothes and bump into each other in the dark. Even though he had heard it before, Jack’s response was an indignant “no way.”
You still wonder what your kids get and what they don’t. It’s like some big intricate game of post office. What comes out of their mouths after you have explained it to them is very different than what went in to their ears in the first place. And since you know that Jack is going to tell Miles who is going to tell Ritzer and so on, you have to be particularly judicious about what you say. They are both sharp and clueless at the same time. When several years ago Jack asked how one of his friends could be born from two moms (sharp), I called the moms to ask what they had told their daughter so that we’d all have our stories straight. But then this week, after bringing boy kittens home, when he asked if we could please let our kittens have kittens (clueless) I had to not only remind them the kittens are male, but explain the process of neutering.
Jack’s response? A very indignant “no way.”