“Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell but this is me just pretending to know”
Dear Evan Hansen
I work with a woman who happens to have a daughter who is the exact same age as my daughter. They are both 8 and in grade 2. Their names even start with the same letter. So, it’s not usual for us to talk about what our kids are up to, and to compare and contrast their schools, teachers, soccer coaches, playtime friends, eating and sleeping habits. You know, the usual stuff.
So, the other day I got a pain in the pit of my stomach when my co-worker showed up at our desk with a stack of “how to make babies” books. It turned out that her daughter had to do one of those “my family tree” reports where they talk about their backgrounds (racist!) and their grandparents and siblings and whatever. Her daughter point-blank asked if her Mom was “done having babies”, to which my co-worker responded with an unqualified “YES”. And then she asked again how do the babies get inside a mommy to begin with. My co-worker was NOT PREPARED to have this kind of talk at that particular moment, and said something like, “Let’s talk about that on the weekend” (this was a Thursday), and so she was trying to cram (no pun intended) all the “appropriate” info she could into her brain so she could have a reasonable, informed and open talk about it.
She and I both knew that she would be flying blind on this talk, and that she was NOT looking forward to sitting down with her daughter. AT ALL.
Which got me thinking that AT SOME POINT in the next ten years I am going to have to do the same (our daughter is 8 right now, so as long as we do it before she’s 18 we should be good, right. RIGHT?!) I can feel your eyerolls from here.
I couldn’t help but think back to my own elementary school days and the moment that my parents had “the talk” with me. I remember I was in grade 4, and up to that point I was blissfully unaware of any of it. ANY OF IT. I probably could have gone on for QUITE SOME TIME not knowing or caring about that stuff. How long? Who’s to say? Maybe even today I would be just fine living my life without the smallest bit of curiosity. In fact, I think that the only reason why my parents thought they should talk to me was because my brother (who is three years YOUNGER than me) had all kinds of questions about it. The little twerp was in GRADE ONE, people! He was always more inquisitive than I ever was, questioning Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy much earlier and aggressively than I ever did. Also, I think my parents wanted to get the ‘first crack’ at telling us what’s what, before we heard some inaccurate and disturbing versions of the truth on the playground.
As a contrast, I was never one to read ahead. I remember in grade 2 our teacher would read a bit of Charlotte’s Web”to the class each day, and we were encouraged to follow along with our own copies. We could sort of read at that point, and some kids went ahead and read the rest of the book, and acted all smug about it. Not me. I was happy to just follow along at my teacher’s pace and we all reached the climax and the satisfying conclusion together. (Yes, I realize I just used the words “climax” and “satisfying conclusion” to describe Charlotte’s Web. What of it?)
But back to sex.
My Mom came home with this book called How Babies are Made and literally sat my brother and me down on the living room couch to read it together. Up to this point, remember, I had NO IDEA about 90% of the whole process. Sure, I understood the concept that a baby starts very small inside a lady, and that over the course of few months (9 actually, but I don’t want to be a pedant), that baby will grow and grow and then it will eventually come out, but this whole “sperm and eggs” business was a game changer. I distinctly remember the book had these weird felt board style illustrations, which I guess were meant to be vague enough that they weren’t explicit, but detailed enough to get the point across in a non-threatening way. My brother took in all the info in a detached, almost clinical way, but I could NOT believe what I was hearing. At one point my Dad walked through the living room and I blurted out, “So, did you……” and I trailed off. I just couldn’t come up with the full sentence that would have been something like “So, did you stick your penis in my Mom’s vagina at some point?” and without a verbal word, he closed his eyes, pursed his lips and gave two almost imperceptible nods of his head.
I felt my face flush. Up to this point, I saw my Dad as an affable but ineffective boob who happened to live in the same house as us. He worked all day at a government job, and played with us at night and on the weekends, but to paraphrase DI Hardy, “What was the POINT of him?” I guess it all became pretty clear in an instant and I didn’t really like the picture that was emerging.
A few weeks later, my Mom’s CRAZY theory of how babies were made was confirmed somewhat by a special “education session” put on by our gym teacher. Parents had to sign permission slips to let the class hear it, which may have been another reason for the pre-emptive talk.
Instead of a storybook with felt illustrations, we were shown a slide-show with more realistic drawings and were handed out little booklets which were supposed to address any concerns we had about puberty. Boys got different booklets than girls, and I didn’t like the fact that we were being told different information. What were in those girl booklets?? I had gone from blissfully ignorant a few weeks before to an anxious conspiracy theorist!
One memorable part of the slide show were diagrams of different ways you could get pregnant. According to one slide, if the male were to ejaculate OUTSIDE of his lady partner’s vagina, that could even be enough for the sperm to make their way inside to the egg. I distinctly remembering having a round-table discussion with my guy friends on the school yard recess immediately after this presentation. We all decided, and declared, TO A MAN, that when the time came we would all choose the ejaculation “outside the vadge” option. I mean, it just made the most sense, and I’m sure our future wives would prefer it that way too. I felt a little better about the whole thing after that. If I’m going to have to ejaculate somewhere, it’s going to be on my own terms. It’s best for everyone involved.
And don’t even get me started on masturbation. Why were they so super vague about it? Were they worried that they would create an underclass of CONSTANT FIDDLERS if they really were honest about how great it is? I feel like they really glossed over that in the books and the presentations, like it was an afterthought. It was such an afterthought that I didn’t even think about it until fully TWO YEARS LATER towards the final days of grade 6. (maybe I wasn’t ready for it until then), and I was literally self-taught, but man oh man, look out world! Things would never be the same again. Hell, I’ve just done it twice since I’ve started this blog post today! [editor’s note: that was a joke, but STILL].
So let’s fast forward to now. Where does this leave me? My daughter is just in grade 2 (just!), but they say kids are on a faster track now than a generation ago, so is it too early to talk about stuff like that? And where to begin? I mean, she still believes in Santa Claus. Should there be a rule of thumb that if Santa is still in play, let’s hold off on the sperm and eggs? BUT WHAT IF SHE HEARS STUFF FROM SOMEONE ELSE? I mean, Star Wars is already kind of ruined for her because of the DAMN SCHOOLYARD CHAT. She already knows that Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler!) and that Luke and Leia are siblings (spoiler again!), and she even knows what Yoda looks like, so there goes his great reveal on Dagobah.
But I digress.
I’ve heard it said that you should maybe only present info that is “age appropriate” so you don’t spill the beans all at once, and maybe that’s good advice, although we have been trying that with explaining our daughter’s adoption to her. We didn’t ever want it to be one of those things where we sit her down at age 16 and say, “Well, we have something that we think you might as well know…” so we’ve been pretty open about it. Which is all the more surprising that at breakfast the other day our daughter said, “I’m not adopted, right?” and my wife and I looked at each other like “WTF?” How could she have thought she wasn’t? Have we been TOO subtle, like the masturbating chapter in my elementary sex ed course? “Trust me, you’re adopted.” I said to her, and reminded her again of the night she was born and all the wonderful craziness surrounding it, and she just said, “Well, I don’t FEEL adopted.” Huh. My response, “I’m not sure how being adopted is supposed to feel. It’s probably different for every person. It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t WHO you are. You’re you.” And that seemed to be that. For now. Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook…
Which is all to say that if we take the subtle approach to this whole “talk” thing, it may not register with her at all.
Aside of the plain mechanics of it all, which is actually the least interesting part; window dressing, in my opinion; I want my daughter to feel good about herself. I want her to develop a positive sense of her own well being, and to be comfortable in her own skin. I want her to know that she doesn’t necessarily need to have another person in her life to make her life feel complete. I want her to have the confidence to be the person she is meant to be. Hopefully if this first part is true, then she will be equipped with the tools to make the smart and right choices in her relationships, not just boyfriends (or girlfriends if that turns out to be her persuasian) but even choosing the people in her life, her lifelong friends, who will support and love her and laugh with her and cry with her, and yeah. And humour! Try to find the humour in any situation. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels downright impossible, but if you can find the lighter side to ANYTHING (and you can, trust me), you’ll be okay. I want her to be safe, first and foremost, physically, but also mentally and spiritually tough. To know she doesn’t have to put with any crap from ANYONE. Knowing herself. That’s the key. Knowing what turns her on and knowing that she can do all of that her herself. We are living in a golden age! Maybe I could quote that line from Wonder Woman where Diana is schooling Chris Pine about “lady business” and says that men are needed for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure they are QUITE UNECESSARY? (or something like that! I’m working from memory!) Or maybe I can burst into song? “Look around, Look around at how lucky we are to be ALIVE right now”. Or what about Whitney? “LEARNING to love yourself. It is the greatest LOVE OF ALLLLLLL!” Or perhaps I can do a dramatic reading of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself? I’m sure that would go over great. This is all good in theory, but can you actually see me talking to my daughter about all of this? I just want her to know that it is all okay. Better than okay. It’s healthy and good. It’s great! Will I really need to tell her this? I might need some help.
Maybe I should just put on that Jane Siberry song, You don’t need anybody and tell her, “I think you’ll find all the answers to your questions about sex and relationships in this song.” and leave the room. And if she has any follow-up questions, I can put on Sisters are doing it for themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. I think that probably covers all the bases. I realize I am going to be terrible at this.
I haven’t even touched upon periods, you guys. I know they happen. I’ve seen the evidence. It’s all a bit of mystery, isn’t it? Maybe my daughter will have one of those pituitary problems where she doesn’t get her period until she’s well into her 20’s? I guess I can always dream.
To bring this all back to the start, I asked my coworker about how “the talk” went with her daughter over the weekend, and she said that they were so busy running from soccer to ballet to swimming that the daughter never brought it up again, and that my co-worker sure as heck wasn’t going to be the one bringing it up. She bought herself some time!
And it seems so have I. My daughter’s main concern was getting the spelling of “Dalarna Horse” correct for a presentation she was doing on Sweden today, along with her daily campaign to get a fidget spinner and a pet fish. Maybe she doesn’t feel adopted, and maybe I don’t feel like a Dad who is very soon about to see his world change completely in front of his very eyes.
“So where’s the map?
I need a clue
’cause the scary truth is
I’m flying blind
And I’m making this up as I go”
Dear Evan Hansen