An eleven-year-old son moving into fifth grade who’s changing before our eyes.
A nine-year-old daughter who’s much further along the development curve than I’d ever imagined she’d be at this age.
Let me tell you, the good times are rolling up in here.
I should preface this with the fact that I grew up in an entirely different era. Well, that’s not exactly true…BrightSide and I are the same age, and he grew up in a house where they talked about everything. And by that I do mean everything. Hell, he probably could have taught the sex ed class himself by the time he was in fourth grade.
As for me? Let’s just say my parents leaned a bit more toward the quiet side. There wasn’t a whole lot of information getting passed along in my house, and I sure wasn’t asking any questions. Pretty much anything having to do with bodies or boys or all the confusing crap that happens during puberty was incredibly awkward and impossible to talk about. So we didn’t.
I only share this (way too personal) information with you to frame exactly how insane things are in my house right now. Even after putting it all out there like that, I still know that there’s simply no way to convey how far out of my comfort zone I am.
Our home has always been a different environment than the one I grew up in. We’ve been very open with the kids about how babies are born (given T-man and Bear’s adoptions), so I’ve had years of practice when it comes to talking about bodies and reproduction. It took a lot of effort those first few years to force certain words out of my mouth, and it probably took an even longer time to make those words seem vaguely natural, but I was determined. BrightSide and I had made a decision to have open, honest communication with the kids, and I was gonna do it if it killed me.
I’ve managed to survive several stages so far: the intro to boys’ and girls’ bodies, how babies are born, and how babies are made. Now we’ve moved into brand new territory that, quite frankly, is scaring the hell out of me. It’s the (metaphorical) four-letter word Puberty.
There really are no words for the things going down around here these days.
In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve we’ve been having lots and lots of T-A-L-K-S, but even so the kids still knock me for a loop sometimes. There’s nothing like going into their rooms for a simple tuck-in and coming out 45 minutes later, completely worn out by maintaining my composure while answering endless questions about bodies and sex and who-knows-what-else when my brain is really screaming oh my god do I really have to answer that???
So I did what any open-minded, responsible, loving parent would do: I found them resources. After a lot of research I chose partner books (one for girls and one for boys) written by an educator and her daughter, books that have straight talk about everything from physical and emotional changes during puberty to related health issues. Each book also includes a chapter on growth and development in the opposite sex so they’ll understand what’s happening to those around them. (See the book information here.)
Giving each of them their books was enlightening. T-man was really excited that I’d gotten something with information just for him, and when he found out the book was his to keep he grinned like he’d just gotten the best present. He spent the next week reading that thing every single night before bed. His reading time usually prompted a deluge of pretty uncomfortable questions, but at least I had the book to prop me up while we talked.
Bear responded just as positively to getting a book about girls and their bodies. I told her how many questions I had as a girl when so many confusing things were happening, and how much I would have loved a book that could answer some of those questions. She loves to read, and having something that she could keep by her bed to reach for when she was curious made her really happy.
This isn’t to paint the picture that those books made all the uncomfortable moments go away. Far from it, really, because they don’t sugar coat anything.
One of the main complaints in the books’ reviews was that they addressed subjects that made adults uncomfortable, providing information they didn’t want given to their child yet. And I’m sure that’s a valid position. We simply decided to head in the other direction – we’d rather our kids talk about these things with us than learn it in the cafeteria or at recess.
Was it particularly comfortable talking about detailed diagrams showing the stages of genital development? Not really, no.
There’s also a handy chart listing a notable number of slang terms for private parts, some of which I’d never heard before, but several I felt had to be discussed. (While I hate using phrases like “the __ word” you’ll see that here, simply due to what I’m willing to post under my name.) This led to a fun discussion about the p-word for female anatomy and how sometimes guys will toss that around in a joking way, but how it can also be used to bully a guy for not being tough enough.
Also fun? Discussing the mother of all slang, the c-word. Their eyes popped wide when I explained that tossing this word out there was even worse than dropping the F-bomb. That if they ever chose to use it I could practically guarantee those within earshot would turn to stare at them in shock. Tipping my hat to sister solidarity, I explained that calling a woman a c!#$ was the most offensive insult possible, used by people who thought simply calling her a bitch wouldn’t be explicit enough. I’m sincerely hoping I left the impression that should I e-v-e-r hear that word pass their lips they’d face unimaginable wrath.
So yeah, there are parts of the books that are hard, or uncomfortable, or incredibly detailed. But that’s kind of the point.
The kids are entering this phase where everything’s in flux: their bodies are changing, their emotions are tumultuous, and there’s only more headed our way. This is a resource they can keep in their room for years. Right now they might only be interested in a few of the chapters, but in a year there might be other things they’re curious about. And if they’re not comfortable talking to us about it yet, these books give them a place to start.
As for me, I’m incredibly grateful. Because as hard as it might be to answer questions about these things they’re reading, it would be even harder to give each one “The Talk” without either a) boring them to death or b) forgetting some critical component. Add in the fact that biology wasn’t exactly my strongest subject and we’ve got a winner all around.
Plus I don’t really have time to create a PowerPoint presentation.