In the 10+ years since we brought our oldest child home from the hospital, I’ve been looking for the owner’s manual, with no luck. I’m pretty sure we’ve done ok so far, but I am not really good with just winging things. Like billions of other parents, I spend my time worrying if I’m making the right decisions and saying the right things when it comes to my kids.
So when my son came to me and asked for a book about “growing up and stuff,” I probably should have consulted a professional (i.e. Googled the shit out of the topic for a few weeks). Instead, I looked on Amazon, found a book that got good reviews, and ordered it. I figured he and my husband would read it, have some manly father-son talk, and we would all live happily ever after.
When the book finally arrived, my son scurried upstairs with it and came back down ten minutes later, trying to act nonchalant.
“So…” I called out to him, “Did you read the book?”
“Uh huh,” he mumbled.
“Really? The whole book?”
This is where I should have stopped. I should know better. You know those people that can leave a scab alone? Or not pull the loose thread on a hem? I’m not one of them. Nope, I just couldn’t stop myself before the words flew out of my mouth.
“So, do you have any questions?”
He looks down at the floor. “Um, yeah.”
I am totally and completely unprepared for The Talk. I don’t have the appropriate words. I haven’t rehearsed. I don’t have the maturity to sit straight-faced and talk about sex with my nine-year-old. Most importantly, I have not had any wine.
I can’t punt. I can’t say “don’t you want to talk to Dad?” or say “how about we talk next tomorrow night, I’m busy learning how to make Harry Potter bento boxes on Pinterest and how to upcycle cd cases into eyeshadow palettes.” Because how I handle this conversation will have lasting repercussions. If I hesitate or try to pass him off to my husband, he could end up in some therapist’s office years from now, telling them about how I scarred him for life by avoiding the subject.
I squeak out “okay, let’s go up to your room and talk,” and as we walk upstairs, my mind starts racing with questions of my own. How am I going to do this right? Do I just read the book to him? What if I start laughing?
We sit down in his room. I try to look relaxed and confident. I am sweating like a mofo.
We read through the book together, starting with the chapter on male anatomy. We look at the pictures of bodies changing. I try to keep my voice even, pretending “everything is NOR-MAL!!”, even when he asks me to explain why the sperm in the cartoons are yelling “Yahoo! Yippee!” in their travels.
We move on to female anatomy. He has questions about every single part of a vagina.
“What’s that for?” he asks, pointing.
I squint and study the picture.
He’s incredulous. “You don’t you know? How do you not know?”
“Yes, of course I know! It’s …um….Oh right! It’s for pee.”
I should have read this book in well in advance. I am officially an embarrassment to my gender.
Then came the period talk. Props to the book for being totally frank with their cute pictures of a tampon and a pad. Nothing prepared me, however, for my son’s reaction.
“Do you get to pick the days you have your period? Because that’s not fair if girls have to have it at school.”
My. Heart. In a million years, I couldn’t have predicted that one.
Finally we got to the chapter on sex. By now, I was dripping sweat.
I took some deep breaths and explained.
He stared at me.
And then blinked.
And blinked again.
It was like sitting across from Dora The Explorer.
That’s when I realized how this was probably the craziest thing he’d ever heard in his nine years on this planet (other than when I explained how we used to have to dial-up the internet over a phone line, which left him speechless for a whole hour).
“Hmh” was all he said.
Then he turned the page and moved on. Simple.
The end of the book had a chapter about “ok touches.” We talked about how his body was his property, just as everyone else’s body is their own. I told him that everything we just talked about happens between two people who consent. That this was the most important thing he had to remember about our talk, and promise me he would never break that rule.
“I got it Mom.”
And that is the tale of how I talked to my son about sex.
I was so scared of messing up, I almost missed finding out my kid has more empathy than I ever realized, and that I do a pretty good job even when I’m unprepared. I almost missed sharing a talk with him that he’d remember for the rest of his life, and that no matter how uncomfortable it was, knowing that he heard about it from someone who loves him and wants to make sure that he has the right information made it all worth it.
Because if I spent my children’s childhoods trying to be perfect, I might miss all the magic.