My wife and I were enjoying a glass of wine on a recent Saturday evening as Charlie and Eli were heading to bed. There were hugs and kisses and more hugs and many a loud “Good Night!” as the boys started downstairs. Eli stopped at the top of the stairs. He turned and gave me a look that was suddenly as serious as a five-year-old could make it. “Dad,” he said sternly. “Don’t wipe your privates on Mommy!” He turned toward the stairs, gave me a sharp dose of side-eye then followed his brother.
I love Artessa Carneros Pinot Noir 2012. It is light, yet stands up to a good steak. It has just the right balance of dry and fruity. It is delightful . . . and it burns like hell when you shoot it out of your nose. I looked at my wife. She had that same blank, semi-panicky stare she gets when the boys bring up something specifically biological. This time it was mixed with a liberal dose of horror at being singled out as an object of the biological issue. She had wine-nose as well.
I stared at the spot formerly occupied by my youngest son . . . the one I like to call Oedipus. This wasn’t the first time he had expressed concern over the nature of my relationship with his mommy. He thinks we spend way to much time together. This was, however, the first time he took a swipe at any specific activity. After a hurried discussion about how we were the worst parents in human history, it was decided that I would “tuck the boys in”. This is in quotes because it was a cover for gently investigating Oedi . . . sorry . . . Eli’s comment.
The boys were sleeping in Charlie’s room this night. Surprisingly, they were both snuggled comfortably under the covers. I asked another of those questions that only parents understand. “Why do you think I wipe my privates on mommy?”
“Because you do,” came the answer. OK, rookie mistake . . . too direct . . . change course.
“What makes you think that?”
“Whenever mens and womens love each other they give hugs and kisses and hold their privates together,” he said. I blinked and said something really wise like . . . “Huh?” He said he wanted to be the only person to hug Mommy. A few more questions revealed that he was referring to full body hugs and not anything we didn’t want him to see on television. Still, just to be sure I started composing a parental block code I would apply to every show on cable except “Pocoyo” and “Peppa Pig”. On second thought, Mommy and Daddy Pig stand pretty close at times. No “Peppa Pig”. I hugged Eli and told him that people who love each other do things that he will understand soon enough. I walked upstairs feeling like I had failed. “I love you, Daddy,” Eli called as I climbed the stairs. Well, maybe I didn’t do too badly.
My wife looked at me over a fresh glass of Artessa as I emerged from the stairwell. I revealed my findings and we talked. Raising kids is simply one adventure after another. Sex and sexuality are tricky subjects. You need to be honest, but how honest? Believe me, there is such a thing as too much honesty. When I was eight I asked my Mom how babies got out of their Mommy’s tummies? She went pale and started calling for my Dad in a panicky strangled voice. The result was a discussion at our dining room table in which my father described in detail, with first person references to him and my mother, the reproductive process from “How you doin?” to birth. He spared no detail . . . I mean no detail. There is not enough Kool Ade on the planet to drink that mental image away.
Sex is a strange subject for parents. Talk about mixed emotions. We want to spare our children the awkward tension we might have experienced as children. The problem is that there are many issues in parenting that we approach, not from the perspective of what is best for our children but from the perspective of what is acceptable to society. I can deal with Eli’s “wiping your privates” comment in our home, but my blood runs cold when I think about the ramifications of that comment made in public or at school. That comment in the wrong environment could mean trouble because parents, regardless of their own experiences, can be extremely judgmental when it comes to other peoples children.
I believe the answer starts with honesty . . . and a smile. I think that taking a second when you get that question or remark from your kids and simply displaying the warmest reassuring smile you can muster will put the conversation in the proper context. It also gives you a few seconds to think of a good allegory. But honesty is tricky as well. No honesty and your child ends up on a psychiatrist’s couch. Too much honesty and your child ends up on a psychiatrist’s couch discussing not only their sexual issues but how much they miss their parents who are now in jail. Somewhere in the middle of that bell curve is the type of honesty that your child will understand. Don’t lie. Whatever you do don’t lie . . . You don’t want your child to be the 12 year-old who finds out on the playground that babies don’t happen when dew falls on a cabbage leaf the morning after Mommy and Daddy kiss and a stork brings the baby to hospital. That kind of trauma requires a special psychiatrist’s couch.
Maybe the most important thing to remember is this: Answer the question when asked. Just answer the question. If my Mom would have just told me how babies get out of Mommies’ tummies I would have been good. I was months, maybe a year, from asking how they got in. Instead, I got the full story from my Dad. I often thank goodness that PowerPoint didn’t exist then.
Eli hasn’t brought up the subject since, so I guess we are good. He’s getting a bit tired of “Pocoyo” but I’m not ready to move on just yet. It’s not that I am afraid of discussing the subject with my boys, I just want them to be little boys for as long as they can without worrying about sex. God knows they will spend enough time thinking about that when they are teenagers. They have plenty of time.
Thanks for reading. We will see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.