When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The birds and the bees

I told the boys yesterday where babies come from. Not a version of the story that involves a stork, or a series of mumbled half-truths that skirt around the uncomfortable bits, but the real, honest facts. I'm feeling good that we've had the first of these big "talks", and really, it went very well considering the awkwardness often associated with the subject!

The boys have been asking questions about their bodies and babies for years, and I've always answered them honestly. They have inquiring minds like scientists, and have always been fascinated to know exactly how all of their bodies' systems work. They've long known the proper names for all of the male and female parts, understood that you need a fertilized egg to grow a baby, and could tell you exactly how a baby is born. Still, I wasn't quite prepared when, several weeks ago, Noah said out of the blue at the dinner table, "So, when a man and a woman decide they want to have a baby, what exactly happens? I'm really interested in finding out how it works." I knew if he was asking these kinds of questions, he was ready to know, but neither Matt nor I felt ready to explain it all to him in detail over dinner. Matt artfully dodged the subject, but I knew we couldn't just leave it at that indefinitely, so I bought some books that week, read up on what I felt I needed to know to be able to explain it well, and then told him and Will yesterday that I was ready to answer The Question.

The boys were quiet and respectful as I shared the wonders of procreation with them, but each of them reacted very differently to what they heard, and not in the ways I expected. Will sat listening intently, gazing thoughtfully at the pictures in the book I was using, and accepted it all very matter-of-factly, as if I had just explained to him how to make a peanut butter sandwich. He asked several good questions in the hours afterwards (and I'm sure many more will come as he continues to process the information). I think he thought the act of baby-making was quite an ordeal, and seemed to be reassuring himself that people would come out of it alright when he said, "Auntie * had a baby in her, and she seemed fine. And Uncle * seemed fine, too!" To him, the whole subject was fascinating, something to keep thinking about, something to marvel at.

Poor Noah, on the other hand, was traumatized. He looked like he wanted to crawl under a rock throughout our discussion, and when I finished explaining things, he simply said, "Interesting," and disappeared upstairs. After moping around for an hour and snapping at Will and I whenever we tried to talk to him, he finally admitted that he thought the whole thing was "disgusting", that the details were burned into his brain and he wished he could get rid of them. I felt bad for him, and tried to reassure him that from a science perspective, it really wasn't much different than understanding how the brain or the heart works. I'm still glad I told him; we all know that at his age, it won't be long before some kid spills the beans in the schoolyard, and who knows what kind of information he might get from that source? I would much rather he learn about sex from his parents, in a safe, loving, and knowledgeable environment. I think he'll be okay once the shock factor wears off (and Will tried all day to make Noah feel better by saying cheerfully, "Don't worry, Noah, I think it's disgusting too!").

As for me, I was surprised and pleased at how calm, matter-of-fact, and unembarrassed I was while talking with my two boys. I think it was because I was well-prepared. If you see this kind of talk coming to a family room near you soon, I would recommend the books Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle and The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It by Meg Hickling, R.N. The first book is wonderful for reading with your children; it explains things simply, honestly, with gentle humour and with illustrations. The second book is a valuable parent resource that outlines how to calmly answer your children's questions with age-appropriate information. (The author makes some compelling arguments for why it's important to talk to your children sooner rather than later, too. Based on Noah's reaction compared to Will's yesterday, I'm thinking it would have been better to explain it all to Noah when he was younger.)

As the boys get older, there will likely be many subjects that arise that will be difficult but necessary to discuss with them. I hope that by showing them an open, honest, and non-judgemental attitude in our early conversations, I've let the boys know that I'm someone they can always talk to about anything.

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