Though you don’t expect her to need the information for many, many years, you pride yourself on being open, frank and honest about any topic that might arise. You aren’t embarrassed to elaborate on any of the topics covered in her health class. You even go off the grid to throw in some additional information (and your opinions thereof) for good measure. You have shared technical details using clinical terminology, but you have assumed that you have a few years to ease into the explanations of foreplay and all the not-quite-intercourse activities that still involve the exchange of bodily fluids.
You’ve given yourself extra credit because you are her self-appointed Urban Dictionary, supplementing anatomical terms with slang and the occasional explanation of a derogatory term in an effort to keep her from humiliation at the lunch table for shouting out a word that she thought was just another way to say “cat.”
But then one day, you find yourself driving home from the mall in a pounding rainstorm and she asks, “Mom, is it true that if you do this long enough you’ll taste salt?” and it really does look like she’s holding a salt shaker over her open mouth and shaking it up and down. And up and down. And…you get the picture.
If this should happen to you when all you were doing was innocently changing the radio station and trying to decide whether or not to pass cereal off as dinner again, here are a few tips to help you navigate this sticky, complicated situation:
1. Don’t act shocked. And don’t drive your van into a tree. Control the shrill in your voice and ask her to please stop her simulation. Then ask from whom she received this information. When informed that her brother is to blame, immediately assume another kid told him. Then blame someone else’s bad parenting for your child’s loss of innocence.
2. Speak to your child in private. It is best not to have this conversation with your mimic of a 5-year-old strapped into her car seat in the second row. Check to make sure said preschooler is not listening to your conversation (she is). Table the discussion until after you’ve put the little one to bed. In the intervening hours, resist the urge to pretend it didn’t happen. You can’t un-see it, so you might as well address it.
3. Choose your words carefully. The realization will dawn on you slowly that any indication of familiarity with this act will inevitably lead to unsavory connections with your own life—when you used to have one. Likewise, after explaining to your child what it looked like she was doing, acknowledge that any statement in the affirmative about the flavor in question could also lead to follow-up questions you may or may not want to answer. Tread lightly. Especially if “How do you know?” is in her bag of tricks.
4. Anticipate demands for additional information. It sounds counterintuitive, but preparation is key. Rehearse your responses, but not out loud. Be sure to mentally cover texture, odor and appearance. Consider avoiding comparisons to food. When these questions fail to materialize, mutter a short prayer of thanks and manufacture a reason to leave the room.
5. Use proper terminology. Then realize you don’t remember the proper terminology. Google. Remember that it’s fellatio. Pause to read through all the other terms. Chuckle and nod at a few. Good times. Erase your browser history. Consider whether you want to mention any other terms as a point of reference. But decide to…
6. Keep it short. Save the moral, ethical, feminist and hygiene conversations for another day. Realize your kid doesn’t want to have this conversation any more than you do. Understand that she thought she was asking about condiments.
7. Advocate discretion. Remind your child that some parents might not want to share this information with their kids quite yet. Warn her that if you hear of anyone else “tasting salt” you will know where they learned it. Try to keep the threatening growl out of your voice. Finish with an appeal to her to refrain from ever doing “that” again in deference to her father’s heart and the family’s good standing in the community.
8. Encourage her to share, because you don’t want to get The Call from school just as you’re clipping your shoes into the pedals at spin class. But more importantly, because you love her and you want to be the person to teach her these things, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. You want to do this to protect her from misunderstandings and judgment and embarrassment and a surplus of sodium.
9. Give yourself a break. Realize that your child is spending more and more time away from you and out in the world. Understand that although she is bombarded daily with information through social media and her access to technology, her friends and her sibling and her friends’ siblings are also enlightening her. Reminisce briefly about the time that you learned the word “scrotum” by listening to a bunch of boys singing it in three-part harmony on a school trip. Recognize that the best you can do is explain things to her, thoroughly and honestly, as they come up. Remember that when parenting tweens, much of what we do is unplanned and we are going to be caught completely unprepared. Here’s hoping that these tips will help protect you as you navigate this milky, murky, uncharted territory with your child.