As I drove the back road to Curls and Red’s school, the inside of the car was quiet other than an alternative band singing their newest single. Red sat in the backseat directly behind me. After a few minutes of silence I asked him, “Everything okay, Buddy?” He said evenly, “Yep.” I stopped at the four way stop sign and asked him, “What are we not going to talk about at school today?” I could barely hear him answer, “Penis.” I spoke up and said, “Not just penis, Buddy. Anything Mom and Dad read to you from It’s Not the Stork. Okay?” A little louder this time he replied, “Yes.” To make sure he didn’t feel bad, I told him, “You’re not in trouble Baby. Your dad and I just don’t want you to get in trouble for trying to talk to your friends about it. They need to talk to their parents if they have the same questions you had.” I didn’t get any other response and didn’t want to make it a bigger deal than it was, so I dropped it. He seemed satisfied with that so I parked the car once we arrived at our destination. With a kiss and a hug I walked him up to the gate and hoped that Penisgate was still in the back of his head.
About a month ago Red started asking questions about where babies come from. He knew that his sister and him were in my belly before they were born but that was the extent of it. When he started asking questions, I explained to him I wasn’t ready for that conversation. But when he became more persistent and Curls would lean in every time he asked, I knew I couldn’t avoid having a conversation with them. Just a few examples of his line of questioning:
Cannibal: “Did you eat me to get me in your belly?”
Crafty: “Did you use paint?”
Dr. Frankenstein: “Did you go to the cemetery, dig up some bones, and put me together?”
My husband mentioned that he had heard/read about a book called It’s Not the Stork and that I should look it up. I brought it up on Amazon, read some reviews, most notably this one. If it was good enough for an R.N., it was good enough for me. I requested it from the library and picked it up when it was ready.
The book opens with a bird and a bee going to the zoo. A family of hippos prompt the bird to ask where babies come from. That leads the book to say that asking questions is a great way to start and then transitions into boys and girls can be alike in many ways. So far, so good. We then hit giggle territory when we started reading about boys and girls and their different body parts. I kept a straight face and forged ahead all the way to Chapter 11: The Big Swim. My husband was left to read that to the kids, bless his heart. This happened over a span of a few days. Curls didn’t have any questions and Red just walked around the house laughing and saying, “Penis. Vagina.” And my personal favorite: “The vagina of doooooom.” I knew this would happen as he is only five and it was even hard for me not to laugh (I call it the Beavis and Butthead effect). Curtis and I explained to both the kids that there was nothing wrong with the information that we were giving them and they were all the correct terms. But we told them that we didn’t want them discussing it at school. We wanted their friends to get that information from their parents and not them. I could feel this not registering with my son as I looked at the glazed face staring back at me.
Fast forward to Veterans Day. All the children on our street are playing, hooping and hollering. At one point in the afternoon Red ran past my husband, my girlfriend, and myself as we sat on the driveway, into the garage, and hid behind one of the cars. I asked him if he was okay and he didn’t answer. I went back to check and he was clearly upset. I bent down and asked him what was wrong. He looked up at me in tears and said, “****”s grandpa yelled at me to go home.” Mama Bear kicked in, I picked him up, and started marching up the street. My husband asked, “Where are you going?” I turned around without breaking stride and answered, “To have a discussion with ****’s grandpa.”
As we headed toward the end of the street and Red was wrapped around me like a koala bear, the kids started running towards me, trying to let me know what had happened. My Red had run up to some of the kids and asked, “Hey guys, do you know what a penis is?!” I know my Red. He is mischievous and likes attention. I wasn’t thrilled that he had asked that but he is 5 and boys will be boys. He hadn’t said a bad word like dick or many others like it.
When I came face to face with grandpa, it was clear that he was not interested in what I had to say. To start, he got in my face to the point where I had to ask him to back up. I then introduced myself and shook his hand. I asked him what the problem was. He informed me that he had told my son to go home because he was saying inappropriate things around his granddaughter. I told him that if he has a problem in the future with either of my children he is to come to me and not speak to them. He then decided to advise that he thinks Red’s parents need to tell him that he shouldn’t talk like that. It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I snapped back that we had already told him that we didn’t want him educating his friends about body parts but that what he said was the correct term for it. And because I can’t let sleeping dogs lie, I told him that Red isn’t going to be shamed for saying penis. It is the correct biological term. At this point Grandpa’s wife decided to pipe in and tell me that she and Grandpa are both retired teachers and that Red would get written up at school if he said that. I directed my death stare at her and let her know that it isn’t 1953 and saying penis is not bad. She retorted, “Well, good luck to your kids in school.” I could feel the steam coming out of ears, my body shaking, and the tears threatening to take over my face.
That is when my wonderful, awesome, and amazing husband came up the street. Grandpa decided he was going to give him his side of the story because clearly I am a crazed woman and won’t listen to reason. And my feminist (did I mention awesome?) of a husband put his hand up as Grandpa started to speak. “You don’t need to tell me anything. You have spoken to my wife and that is all I need to know.” I could feel my shoulders relax and used that as a cue to go. I can’t remember if anything else was said but I knew I had said my piece and even though I didn’t need rescuing, Curtis knew exactly what to do. 10 minutes later Grandpa and his wife drove down our street and I waved as they thankfully left.
I understand that a lot of parents don’t want to talk to their kids about sex until they are a certain age. But I will be damned if somebody is going to shame my child when he says something as simple as penis. Red’s question didn’t come from a sexual place or any ill will. He wanted to laugh about his new found knowledge and maybe show off a little in the process. And hopefully Penisgate has shown him that there is a time and place for certain kinds of conversation. Either way, I will be right there, ready to defend him.