Yes, that talk.
No matter what you call it—explaining the facts of life (no, not the ’80s TV show), the birds and the bees, the matter of things, how babies are made, your marital duty, and any number of other popular slang we’ve given the act of sex—it’s one thing I know a lot of parents dread.
To be very honest, I look forward to this parental duty.
My parents had always been extremely honest with me about sex, answering every question I had about the birds and the bees. They hadn’t forgotten what my father called, “The passion of young love.” They were practical about how blindly driven hormones can make a teenager think about nothing else, but they were emphatic about being responsible at the same time. They wanted an open line of communication with me in hopes it would decrease the odds of my engaging in risky behavior.
Now, this doesn’t mean they were comfortable when I asked them about different acts or slang, prevention, and rumor of what prevented pregnancy. In fact, one question about oral intercourse just about caused my mother to run the car off the road into a ditch. Red-faced and mortified, she stumbled through the explanation, but she never told me she wouldn’t answer the question. And she never told me to stop asking questions.
One of the reasons she’d been so forthcoming about sex was her mother had told her nothing. Zilch. Zero. My mother’s sex talk consisted of her mother sitting next to her at a Girl Scout meeting while they watched an 8mm movie on bees actually pollinating flowers. According to my mom, my grandmother sobbed uncontrollably through the entire film while my mother looked around thinking, What the hell is this?
No, my mother wanted to do it better, leave no questions unanswered.
She handled it in a what we authors call an information dump. She took it upon herself to tell me basics of puberty and sex when I was in the third grade. You may think this is an awfully young age to be explaining procreation, but because of my progressive gene pool, I’d already began to show signs of maturation and my mother didn’t want me to be blindsided as my aunt had been when she cluelessly began her cycle at the tender age of nine.
Thankfully my monthlies didn’t start for another three years, but nonetheless, Mom sat down with me that Tuesday afternoon and told me not only about monthly cycles, but why we have them and how babies are made. She explained it was a parent’s personal decision to tell their children about sex when they felt their children were ready. “Understand,” she told me with a stern look in her eyes, “this is not something you should talk about with anyone else.”
So, of course, I told all of my friends at a slumber party that weekend.
Among the choruses of “gross!” and “no way!” I kept thinking how cool my mom was to bless me with such a vast amount of knowledge at such a young age.
Side note here: I was the most informed of all my friends when it came to the delicate topic of the nature of things and waited the longest before I decided to engage in such adult activity.
But back to parenting…
I promised to do the same for my children. I promised myself I would give them all the information they asked for and plenty they might not think they needed. Working in the ER only emphasized the incredible need for reliable sex ed. I can’t tell you how many women I spoke to who had regular sexual partners and had no idea when their last cycles were. These women weren’t on birth control and would argue with me about the absolute zero possibility of them being pregnant.
Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, my friends.
One woman told me she couldn’t be pregnant about ten minutes before she pushed out a healthy, eight-pound baby. Another woman insisted that, despite her positive pregnancy test, she wasn’t sexually active because she simply lay there.
Other friends of mine had taken care of women at a free health clinic, and I’d heard their stories. The patients assured the medical staff they knew how to use barrier birth control. To prove their point, the women would practice by putting on condoms on their fingers. Two months later, one woman came back pregnant despite using condoms just as they had practiced at the clinic: on her fingers.
I’d see this and say a small thank you everyday that I had parents who were not only smart enough, but also practical and honest enough to tell me everything I wanted to know.
Taking this same mindset into my parenting style, I waited with great anticipation for that third grade maturation video they show now. I watched with great pride as my daughter asked very insightful questions of the school nurse about puberty. Ah, with a mental pat on the back, I told myself I’d done a fantastic job getting my daughter ready for The Talk.
Driving home the day after the video had been shown in class, I glanced in the backseat to see my oldest sobbing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t want to go through puberty. I don’t want to do it!” She shook her head.
Well, maybe she’s not quite ready for the entire talk.
When we got home and she’d settled down, I planned to go in with the American Girl: The Care and Keeping of You books along with It’s Perfectly Normal to give her the lowdown on not only how your body changes and why, but also the piece de resistance: how babies are made.
I took two steps and my husband started walking in with me. I turned to him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m coming with you.”
I shook my head. “No! This is mine. My thing!”
My husband, Mr. Practical, said, “But what if you’re not here and she has questions? I want her to feel comfortable coming to me.” Kind of like my father had always been there when I had questions.
“Fine,” I huffed. “But I get to do the talking.”
Right as we reached the door, he gently touched my arm and annoyingly encouraged, “Let her tell you what she wants to know.”
What she wants to know? She doesn’t even know what I’m talking about.
But what he meant was, “Don’t bombard her with too much info at one time.”
So, no information dump.
Just because my mother told me everything up front, doesn’t mean I had to do the same. Even though her true purpose was to make sure I was more than educated on sex and do better than her own mother, maybe I was to improve on that and let my daughter guide it.
I discovered my daughter didn’t want to know everything. She wanted to know only parts of it.
I compare it to understanding how to make chocolate chip cookies.
In third grade, she wanted to know what ingredients we needed to make the cookies. In fourth grade, she asked what has to mix to make the cookies and for how long they need to bake. In fifth grade, she asked the very honest question, “What has to touch to make a baby?” (or, in my explanation here, cookies).
Since then, she’s asked me other questions and I’ve answered them. Sometimes I’m red-faced and sometimes I stutter through it, but I’ve always answered.
Like my mother, I can only hope my honesty and practicality will help guide her through the chaotic world of relationships, hormones, and the birds and bees.