For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.


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Monday, July 18, 2011

When to Tell the Difference Between Boys and Girls

I suppose I've been remiss in enlightening our boys about the difference between boys and girls. As a new mother, I invested in big-bound books on how to raise your child, from in-utero until age five. I've stopped buying those big-bound books. Motherhood has begun to feel intuitive. I can figure out on my own the how and when to discuss sexual differentiation – I didn’t realize I had to figure it out by the early ages of six and seven.

“They don’t know the difference?’

Kate was in midbite of a bagel.  We sat around her kitchen table. Some moms and I had gotten together at her house for a summer's day play date.

Another mom had asked if anyone cared whether her two-year-old daughter stripped down to go play with the others in the sprinklers, knowing we wouldn’t mind. I never would have a few years ago – that is, when my boys were of that age.

Now even I was taken aback by myself, as I said: “Well, I don’t know…Ryan and Kenny… ” I didn’t know what I was trying to say. But they did.

Lori, the mom of the two year old piped up, with an amused little smile on her face,  “So what do they think then? That we’re all somehow generic down there?”

By the mutual-mommy looks I got across the table cluttered with goldfish and the more adult snacks of olives and nuts, I clearly have been cloistering my boys. After all, I’ve never been a parent to shower with my children…one of the mothers confessed that her son even knew women were hairy down there.

The first time a question came up about male-female differences, was when we were buying the gerbils. When we got the gerbils home, Ryan asked, “Well, how do you know anyway, which is which, that they’re girls, not boys?”

I didn’t directly answer. I probably did what I do when I don’t know how to answer their big questions (usually ones that arise on long car trips, like how do refrigerators make things cold and who was the first to discover God):  I busy myself with stuff that needs tending to.  Picking up stray Legos, getting to that pile of breakfast dishes in the sink.

Maybe I’ve been overprotective. But in this screen-obsessed era, it is very hard to preserve even an iota of innocence.  I tried early on to hook our boys on Winnie the Pooh, but poor fumbling Pooh didn’t appeal as much as quick-witted Spiderman.

The realities of sex is an innocence I would like to preserve; I worry Ryan and Kenny will too quickly figure out why males and females actually are different; especially Ryan who is too good at piecing together things – actually, screwing them together, his car building sets that actually come with their own little screw drivers.

But on this hot summer day, there wasn’t much I could do about little naked Anna who wandered outside to where our boys were playing in the sprinkler. In their clothes.  

Ryan stopped in his tracks. He stared, not caring, or forgetting that it wasn’t polite to stare.

That night, appropriately at bath time, when the boys like to taunt each other and giggle about their “pee pees,” he pronounced, “Well, today was a totally gross day. Because here comes this little Anna girl who for WHO knows WHY decides to take off all her clothes.” They still like their bath toys, and he squirts a rubber turtle at himself. “Anyway, girls definitely don’t have wieners.”

I wish I knew where he picked that word up.

Ryan concluded with: “They have two butts instead. One in front and one in back.”

Well. Think about it. Not bad reasoning. I mean, if you've seen a naked two year old girl recently....

I busied myself. Scrubbing toothpaste off the bathroom counter. “I wish you guys would spit in the sink."

That had been my chance for a full revelation on sexual differentiation. I missed it. Rather, I skipped it. Maybe because I’m afraid one revelation will only lead to other revelations, such as there being no actual Santa or Tooth Fairy, those other bits of innocence I hold sacred.

As it turned out, I couldn’t escape entirely. A few days later, I was picking them up at camp, and on the way to the car, Kenny whispered something to Ryan that made him giggle.  I asked to be let in on the secret.

“Oh, nothing. I just saw a man naked. In a convertible.”

“Naked? You mean he had nothing on?” A pervert parked right outside their summer camp?!

“Well, he had pants on, but no shirt.”

They weren’t used to the idea of boys not having to wear shirts, as they’ve grown up on the beach wearing those sun guards. They still feel naked not wearing them.

I explained to them that shirtlessness was ok. For boys that is, not so much for girls.

“Because girls have more private parts,” Ryan said. He’d figured out what a bra was, after I missed tossing one into the hamper, and he discovered "the two cup things" lying on the bathroom floor.

“Besides that second butt, I mean.”

We’re in the car. I look at him in the rearview mirror. “Well, it’s not exactly a butt.”

“Then what is it?” Kenny asked. The one who is most impatient to get at the heart of an issue.

I thought about telling them the truth in the review mirror.

I turned around to face them. I introduced them to the actual anatomical, sexually weighted terms.

Kenny gaped at me. “So girls have a ‘gina?”

I started the car. “That’s it.” And before Ryan could ask me more about the p---s word (am I allowed to use these words on Blogger?), I was going to change the subject, ask them about their morning of camp, blah, blah, blah.

To my relief and surprise, neither asked anything more. I didn’t have to change the subject or busy myself. They’d suddenly lost utter interest. They were far more interested in showing me the little plastic animal prizes they won at camp, and relating the dramatic episode of someone throwing up his blue ice pop in the bushes. 


amazey said...

I think this is a topic that comes about at different times for each family. My daughter is 2 1/2 and I obviously don't have to teach her about this yet. BUT she does have a playmate around her own age that knows the technical terms. I really don't know why considering they may be able to say the words but they have no idea what they are talking about. It doesn't make sense to me to bring up sex-ed to early. When they start asking questions, well then that is the time to start going

Leta Porter said...

I love your post. I have 2 daughters, grown now. And I think my oldest asked me a question or 2 when she was 5. I kept the explanations very simple and age appropriate. I am with you in trying to keep the innocence and child wonder as long as possible. That does not mean ignorance, but I was selective about what they watched and so on. Gradually introducing them to more as they got older. A 4 year old does not need to see sex, and violence on the screen. I don't care who else is doing it. My reward~ My soon to be 25 yr.old (she has been married for 3 years) who is college educated with good head on shoulders, told me she was glad she had parents who monitored what she watched and so on when she was small. She felt she had a great childhood where she did not have to be exposed to crap at a young age. BTW, both girls were about 2 when they realize Daddy had a 'tail'. From then on Dad was in underwear around them.

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

So, my reader on my dash board was showing you hadn't posted in 3 weeks! It has been malfunctioning--uhg.

Great post. I also think it needs to be age appropriate and every child is so different! With two boys and two girls in my house gender is no big deal. My kids think it's more funny too. I do talk to my girls about things so they will be safe. My boys are still too young to understand.

And, I know a lot of people are against this, but we use made up names for the parts, and I'm good with that, for now.

Leta Porter said...

Boys play differently than most girls. My girls were a little different as they have grown up in a hunting family and my Dad does trap. Before anyone gets annoyed, you can only trap legally (in my state) from Nov.- Feb. My daughters have taken skeletons of all sorts of animals to school to show and tell for science from the time they were in elementary school. They like to target practice with their Dad as well. As a Bus Driver, I have found boys more easy to deal with than girls.

Erin O'Riordan said...

It seems like you handled it right, telling them what they needed to know at that age.

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