Three Nasty Gnarlies

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?”

D: “Chlamydia?”

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.

Sex Books

What's Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask

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.

He nodded.

“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.

Birds and Bees… Girls and Boys

We’re sitting down for dinner. Mom-ita made burritos and we’re all digging in. M-ito and I have finally cleaned off the dining room table so we can eat at it (it’s been months that it’s been covered with models and figures and games and the remains of summer homework). M-ito had his first day of 3rd grade today and he said it went well. He’s actually answering questions about what happened with extended narratives rather than the one word answers we’d hit bottom with back in May and June. We got around to the subject of girls.

I asked him, “How do you know if a girl likes a boy in your grade?”

M-ito replied, “If they chase you.”

8th Birthday: A Save-the-World Party

I find my son’s birthday to be a number of things: sad, anxiety provoking, challenging, tiring, and at some point, hopefully just a little happy. This year we did a home party again. Mom-ita took care of all the arrangements like, food, who was coming, invitations, speaking to M-ito about everything, and helping him to make his birthday list. At 8, my son is still very much into birthdays. I hope he stays that way for a while.

My job as the Dad-dito was, as it has been in the past, to take care of the entertainment (I have been the entertainment the last three years as the yoga teacher for a personalized class two years in a row, and this year as the designer of the save-the-world from Ratzo treasure hunt), pick up the food the morning of the party, order the cake from Cupcake bakery, then pick it up, call my family and make sure they know the date and can come, buy the gifts on M-ito’s list, and help out the day of the party as opposed to getting in the way.

This year my father came with Jocelita, Max’s grandmother (my father’s girlfriend who has taken on the role of a grandmother – it’s a long story but that’s how it works some days) and they arrived with her in tears and him in a grouchy, angry mood. They were the first to arrive. Mom-ita was stressed. I was stressed. Four out of five people in the apartment were stressed. Oh joy. People were coming over, and M-ito was hanging out waiting, playing and already enjoying being the birthday boy even with this madness in the background. I think he didn’t notice what was going on and as his friends arrived (six in all – a small group this year and that was a blessing) he got wrapped up in them. I got wrapped up in occupying my father and listening to Jocelyn and cutting up the fruit salad and regular salad. I put my father to work on drawing characters for the save-the-world game and hoped, hoped, hoped, he would be nice to Max, whom I also asked to draw some characters for the game. My father tends to critique rather than help when it comes to drawing and M-ito is a good artist in his own right but needs to be encouraged not critiqued.

The save-the-world treasure hunt had the evil Ratzo trying to rule the world through the kid’s parents with hand sanitizer – vaporizing spray. I’d hidden  clues around the apartment and throughout the building (laundry, garden, mailbox bulletin board) all written in code with tricks and traps everywhere (every other step of the stairs to the garden was poison to the touch, green paper was poison and some clues were written on green paper, a puzzle of paper pieces was inside a green paper folder). I gave them antidote cards for when they were poisoned so they could keep playing the game, broke then into two teams, girls and boys, code books to be able to crack my code, a storyline to work from and 30 minutes to find Ratzo’s switch that would turn all parents armed with hand sanitizer into child vaporizing machines. I was up until 1:30am the night before setting it all up.

It’s easy to understand the feelings of anxiety, challenge, exhaustion and a little happiness. But why would I be sad? Well, my son is getting older and so am I. It is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I want him to grow up and be a man but I also want him to stay my little boy. Such a simple statement and filled with, for me so much emotion. But that is the nature of birthdays. They make me review life, both my son’s and my own and many times that is painful. So, given that, I try to find some happiness in the story of my son’s birthday, day. The smile on his face as his friends race across the apartment building trying to outrun the clock to find Ratzo’s switch that’s in the refrigerator, of course, dodging parents trying to sanitize their hands (I gave everybody hand sanitizer and they kept asking the kids if they wanted to clean their hands – the kids all ran away screaming NOONONONONONONO!). And watching him open his gifts, blow out the candles on his cake. All the things that make up a birthday celebration of turning a year older and a year wiser. And my son is both. Birthdays need to be celebrated as small rites of passage along the way of life. I need to remember how wonderful it is that he is growing up and learning about this wonderful and challenging world that we live in as human beings.

And also remember, that I  now have a full year to go before I have to do it all again. Whew.

The Shy Child

Here’s another poem M-ito’s teacher showed us at parent teacher conference. This one made us all cry, each for different reasons. The punctuation and line breaks are all his.


I am always shy

when I meet people

I always make

a shy face

but when I

get used to people

I am not shy at


I wish I could change

how I am shy

but I cannot.

What does this mean to me as a father? Have I gone wrong by having a shy child? Would I rather have an outgoing, rambunctious child? I love my son just the way he is but these questions come up for me as a father. Did I somehow make my son shy or is he hardwired from having two shy parents? Is it in the genes? I was shy also (and continue to be) though I see already my son is way ahead of me in being able to express who he is and what it feels like to be him. That ability to express himself like this at his age amazes me. He is an introspective child and that is a wonder.

I remember when he was younger he was the slow-to-warm-up child. An hour into the party he would finally let go of my leg and start to enjoy himself, just as the party was over and all his friends started to leave. He’s grown so much since then in his abilities to socialize and make friends, but like with so many of us, it’s hard to him to do. This poem is such a reflection of his starting in this school and pushing himself to make friends this year – and he has. None of his teachers would say he’s a shy child now because he is so much a part of the 2nd grade and so well-integrated. But his view of himself is on paper in front of me and it is both beautiful in its honesty and sad at the same time because it’s painful what he is expressing. Don’t we all wish better for our children? Is being shy a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the sayings, like the early bird gets the worm, and the emphasis on being assertive to get what you need. The loud child gets the attention at home and in the classroom. But some of us are just not hard-wired that way and we have to learn other ways to exist. Shy is good, even if it’s harder. Perhaps that should be made into a mantra and chiseled into Sanskrit for all the world to see.

In-school Bardo

BardoBuddhist term – an intermediate state. The term usually refers to the term between death and rebirth. The Wisdon of No Escape, Pema Chodron.

My son is in bardo – the place between comfort in his old school and his end destination of fitting in at his new one. I’ve heard a little through M-ito but mostly late at night or via phone calls while I was away in New Orleans and then Lansing Michigan – working. But the picture is pretty clear to me. My son is in bardo. It’s a hard place to be, but it’s a place of growth. My son doesn’t want to hear that, though. He just wants to be out of bardo and on the shore of fitting in.

M-ito made his first friend during his first week at school. He called them aquaintences up until then. He named his first friend, Jacito, a boy from the other 2nd grade class. They played tag together with some other boys. Tag is one of M-ito’s favorite games. He laughs when he plays and his laughter is a sound that makes you and anyone around you smile. I thought, from my hotel room, listening to Mom-ita tell me of his adventures, that things seemed to be moving along. The process of forming with a new group had begun. I had expected it to be rocky but so far so good.

After he made his first friend, he told Mom-ita that he waited for the other class to come out for recess the next day. He waited by the door. I have this picture of him waiting for the other class to come out. “Will they come out today?” he told me later  he wondered. “Are they out sick?” Two days a week the two classes did not have recess together. He learned this while waiting for them to come out. Then on Friday, M-ito’s friend changed the game of tag to bullfight tag. A different game – out of my son’s comfort zone. He was still in bardo. He didn’t want to play. I know some things about my son and one thing is he likes to have mastery over games he plays. He doesn’t like games that he thinks he’s not good at – especially games that he’ll look bad playing. Embarrasment is a big factor even for 7-year olds. I understand this.

He sat on the fence watching the kids for two days. Mom-ita didn’t know what to do but she waited it out. She bounced her ideas off of me but she knew in her heart what was right for her son. I listened and agreed with her. M-ito’s teacher came to Mom-ita at the end of the second day and said, “I’ve been watching and waiting too. Other kids have asked him to play games bu he’s saying no. I’m not going to let it go on much longer.” The next day she asked M-ito to sit by her so he wasn’t by himself again. Some kids asked him to play bull fight tag then and he said yes. This time he got the rules down and played better. Perhaps the choice of sitting next to the teacher, whom he seems to like, or playing tag pushed him to play. In any case it worked.

He’s played other types of tag since then and played soccer yesterday. He played goalie. He says it’s easy and he likes it – with a shrug. No one else wants to play goalie so he steps up. He found a place from which to participate. I give him a lot of credit. Bardo is not an easy place to be. It’s so much easier to stay in your comfort zone, so much harder to step off into a strange land.

As a father I have found the whole process to have a hint of the unreal about it. I’m experiencing much of it second hand – through Mom-ita. M-ito is close to her because she drives him in and picks him up. She is his lifeline to see at the end of the day. I am the guy he sees most evenings at 6pm – regular time, usually coming home while he’s in the middle of his homework. He doens’t ask me for help, that is Mom-ita’s domain. Even trying to make one day a week driving in with the two of them – it’s still hard to stay part of things. Drop-off happens so quick. Mostly, like so many Dad-ditos these days, I try to catch up on the weekend. You see, I’m in my own bardo too. I’m adjusting to change and allowing this new aspect of our relationship to grow also. It sounds good on paper but it sure is hard to do.