When parents approach the “Big Sex Talk” with their kids, most feel some trepidation. The fortunate ones can fall back on their past experience to guide them. They had parents who sat them down at precisely the right moment in their emotional development to have a relaxed, mature tête-à-tête about procreation. The less fortunate have to rely on parenting books. Sadly, I fall into this latter category.
For some reason, my parents simply dodged the talk altogether. Maybe it was the thing to do in the Sixties. They probably thought I’d learn at school, but by the time my teacher assembled my grade seven class (girls first, then boys) in front of the reel-to-reel projector to watch kittens being born, it was years too late. Lorraine Polsky had already gotten to me.
When I was eight years old, Lorraine and I huddled on the darkened stairs leading to the basement of my little house in the Yukon. She whispered in my ear that to make babies, a boy sticks his thingy in a girl’s thingy. Of course, I didn’t believe her. Lorraine did not have the best credentials. She had Polsky germs and her mother was a can-can dancer. The reason I played with her was pure self-preservation – it kept her from sitting on my back and ramming my head in the snow. She came close to smothering me once. Eager to get my “friend” into trouble, I ran to my babysitter, only to have her revelation confirmed. I was horrified.
I never told my parents about that day, but I’ve often wondered how their omission has shaped my life. I read that withholding knowledge in the hope it’ll keep your child from sexual activity can do the exact opposite and lead to promiscuity. Could my confusing upbringing – the combination of my mother’s denial of sex and my father’s box of Playboy magazines – be why I spent part of my teen years with the Pentecostal church writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues, and the other part swilling magnums of Baby Duck, smoking dope and steaming up cars at the quarry?
At any rate, about a decade ago when I sat my own two kids down to give them the “Big Sex Talk”, I was determined to improve upon my parents’ performance. Simply knowing what not to do, however, was not enough, so that’s where the parenting books came in handy.
I found out from the experts that the setting is important. One author suggests you get in the car with your kids, lock the doors and head to the freeway so they can’t jump out and so that you can avoid eye contact. My instincts told me to opt for the comfort and privacy of our own home, so on the day in question, we were sandwiched comfortably on our ratty love seat and both kids were warm, bathed and fed. Sam clutched a Lego truck in each hand, and Jenna sucked noisily on the corner of her tattered blanket with two fingers crammed into her mouth. As they looked up at me in innocent anticipation of story-time, I had a moment of panic. They didn’t look particularly “developmentally ready” to hear about sexual intercourse.
I knew timing was crucial. Take your cue from your kids, they say, wait till they start asking questions. Neither of mine, however, had expressed much curiosity, which struck me as odd in Jenna’s case since she was already seven. Sam, on the other hand, was only four, but if I didn’t include him Jenna would surely let him in on the secret later. It was tricky. I settled on getting to my eldest before some Lorraine Polsky did.
I took my secret weapon from its hiding place under the couch. Apparently, a good book can help break the ice and explain concepts you might be uncomfortable with, and I’d found a real winner: Mummy Laid An Egg. The parents in the book try to tell their kids about sex, but end up telling them babies grow in pots from seeds, or get squeezed out of baby paste tubes, or hatched out of eggs. So their kids take over, and through a series of drawings, give their parents the real sex talk.
I announced with more gusto than I felt, “Today we’re going to talk about where babies come from.”
Sam looked appreciatively at the cover – the rotund baby that resembled a hairless hedgehog sitting in an egg-shell – then settled in for story time. Jenna rolled her eyes and pulled her fingers out of her mouth long enough to groan, “Mom, I know that already. Breanne told me at school.”
I froze. That little shit Breanne Wallace. I’d never liked that girl. She was the one who’d sent Jenna into hysterics by saying if she didn’t play with her, she’d get her sister to chop off her head. I could just imagine her version of “The Big Sex Talk”.
I kept my voice calm. “Well, she couldn’t have told you everything. Let’s just read the book and see, OK?” Both kids eyed me warily. They recognized my deep breathing, and extra niceness as danger signs. Mommy might flip.
I began to read. By the time we got to the storybook kids’ drawings of stick people all splayed out in ridiculously impossible positions, Sam had had enough. He slid off the couch and went back to his Lego.
But Jenna was still interested.
“Breanne didn’t tell me you could do it on a bouncy ball.”
“They’re just trying to be funny, Sweetie.”
“And why is she standing on her head? That doesn’t look very comfortable. Did you and Daddy ever do it that way?”
As it turned out, I was a little too late for one of my kids, and a little too early for the other. A few months later, Sam delivered a lively account of sexual intercourse to an enthralled group of four- and five-year-olds in his kindergarten class. When an angry mob of small-town parents banned him from their homes, I was forced to admit I’d created a Lorraine Polsky.
But today, in spite of his dubious start, fourteen-year-old Sam is a wholesome kid. He does watch Southpark and for a brief time had Sports Illustrated swimsuit models on his screensaver, but he cries when he sees a homeless woman going through a dumpster and still tells me he loves me. Jenna is seventeen, and in spite of falling victim to Lorraine Polskyism, doesn’t seem to be following in my footsteps. The other night, she had some friends over, both guys and girls, to watch a movie. They giggled a lot, drank pop, ate apple pie with whipped cream, and sprayed the room with pink confetti from a can. Upstairs, I reminisced about what I was doing with my friends at that age; hot knives in the kitchen, throwing up at parties, heavy petting in the back seat of souped-up Toyotas.
It was wonderful to know my kids had turned out nothing like me.
Second Place Winner, Non-Fiction Category, North Shore Writers’ Association, 2006