M-ito on contraception. “So if you want to have a baby you can’t use a condom or diaphragm or anything like that. Right?”
My response after taking a moment to allow the question to sink in: “You got it.”
M-ito: “Then why do they say in the book that you have to use a condom?”
Dad-dito: “That’s to stop you from getting any sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or gonorrhea.”
M-ito: “And that one with the c at the beginning?”
M: “That’s the one. They’ve got great cartoons of them – they look like the Three Nasty Gnarlies*.”
D: “Yup. The first three you can cure or get rid of and others like HIV/AIDS -”
M: “HIV – ”
D: “- you can’t. Once you get HIV you have it for life. That’s probably why they talk so much about condoms and using some kind of protection.”
M: “Okay. But … to have a baby you can’t use them, right? I figured that out?”
D: “You did.”
Thank you What’s Going On Down There Karen Gravelle, Nick and Chava Castro!
*One of Mom-ita, M-ito, and my favorite children’s books ever by Keith Graves.
Mom-ita came in guns firing. She hit Amazon’s book section and found pages of books on puberty for boys. Within 36 hours three were on our doorstep.
“We’ve got books on sex coming your way,” I told M-ito.
“No, really. Your mom and I bought a few books on sex and puberty that can help answer questions for you about puberty and what’s going on with your body.”
“Okay,” he said.
I read through quickly, skimmed is the appropriate word ,all three and chose the one I thought would be the best fit: What’s Going on Down There? by Karen Gravelle with Nick and Chava Castro (an 11 and 13-year old boy). The other two books were written by women only. The boys’ perspectives were what swayed me. That and the illustrations. Oh and two chapters in particular: 1) one on what’s happening to girl’s bodies so the boys know what they’re going through, and 2) one on sexual orientation that talks about being gay, straight, and bisexual in simple, clear, affirming language. I showed M-ito a cartoon of five different versions of a naked male, boy to man (small with no hair to hung and hairy). This made him laugh. Another cartoon of a boy on a skateboard looking down into his own pants made him laugh harder. Three hours later he came up for air, having finished the book.
Two questions came up. “What’s an orgasm?” and “What’s an abortion? ” “They use the words but don’t explain them.” He asked me these questions. Bingo. How I answered is not important (something about sensitive areas creating an electrical ball of lightning or ejaculation – I might have said something about the holy grail but I’m not sure – and then stopping a pregnancy early). Of course I over-answered on abortion as I couldn’t help explaining my political position on the issue. I spoke most of that part to his up-raised hand signaling me to stop.
And so, for now I think our job is done. M-ito is back to reading Inheritance by Paolini – an island before the next stretch of open sea.
There are some words that lead to others. Some move us forward in life and some move us back.
Penis and vagina are two words we’ve used in this house since M-ito was small. They are part of our family vocabulary.
Peanus is, in this case, a warning that it’s time to talk to my son about the details of puberty. We’ve tried here and there. “Do you know how babies are made? Do you want to know what sex is? Did you know that Blazing Saddles is an R rated movie?”
Usually M-ito says, “I know, I know.” Or, “That’s enough. I know the rest,” resulting in short conversations. But the truth is, he does not know the rest. He’s just saying that because the conversation is uncomfortable. He may have heard what sex is. He may have heard a description (by us, by his friends – oh that’s not something you want to hear) but he doesn’t know what things look like. He needs pictures of some sort so he can make sense of the mystery.
I learned about women’s bodies from a kid who lived near our apartment complex who brought a ripped up copy of his father’s Playboy Magazine to share with us one summer day at the bleachers when I was seven or eight. It didn’t show me what sex was but it did show me things I had no idea were in existence other than boys lunchroom mythology.
I want M-ito to learn differently.
Which brings me back to the peanus. I can only say it has to do with a spelling error, History, a little sleuthing, and M-ito needing to tell me the truth. The rest I can neither confirm nor deny but I will say that I have since learned how to use the parental controls on all handheld electronic devices.
So… I didn’t make up the stranger danger line, M-ito’s fourth grade teacher did and I just copied it. It has a certain zing though.
Anyway. This is the conversation we all need to have with our kids about adult strangers, private parts, and how the two should never meet. Of course Mom-ita and I realized we hadn’t had this conversation with M-ito about camp just about one hour into the trip… to camp. I know. I know. I’m a bad Dad-dito. Mom-ita and I realized this just about the same time (not that I’m a bad Dad-dito, but that we hadn’t had the stranger danger talk – work with me here). So we attempted to have this conversation as our son was just about holding on to his nerves knowing that he was going away for two weeks on his own to camp where he’d never been before.
What not to do:
- Don’t bring this up on the car trip up to your son’s first sleep away camp. Otherwise… your son will drop his jaw and get a deer caught in the headlights expression on his face, followed by anger that’s expressed as, “You’re bringing this up NOW?”
- See bullet one above. That’s really the only thing not to do.
- Don’t bring up in detail the whole Penn State thing. It’s too complex. Don’t ask me how I know. I’ve done enough damage for one afternoon.
What to do:
- Bring it up any time before the day of the trip to camp. A few days is probably better as a cushion.
- Do tell him it’s not okay for anyone else to touch his private parts and make sure he knows (he’ll tell you, I know what you mean) what you mean.
- Do tell him to get help from another adult at the camp immediately, if he can.
- Do tell him to make noise and get away if he can.
- Try not to make it seem like anything will be his fault.
- Have these conversations with your child when he’s much younger so by the time he gets to the age of 10 and is going away to camp and rolls his eyes at you for bringing this up you know it’s okay because he’s been stranger danger talked to enough already. Then you can sleep well at night.
- Prevention is protection.
A side note. When I brought this up with M-ito yesterday we talked about it a little more and it was okay. As long as I didn’t go on for more than 30 seconds, like I usually do. I actually stopped before my son said, “Dad-dito, that’s enough.”