Several years ago, while driving through Acadia in Kingston, I had an interesting (and telling) experience with a few little girls who were no more than 4 or 5 years old at the time. It happened at a section near to Roseberry Drive, where there’s a significant dip in the road – noteworthy enough to require drivers to reduce their speed somewhat.
I didn’t slow down and this is the conversation that ensued.
Girl 1: Ooooh Aunty, can you do that again?
Me: Do what dear?
Girl 1: Drive there again.
Me: Where sweetie?
Girl 2: By the roller coaster in the road.
Me: Hmmm, why hon?
Girl 2: Because it tickles my vagina.
Wow. Not exactly the conversation I expected on our quick run to Tutti Frutti!
I know little girls because I have one and I used to be one. I know what it means to be a girl, but it was at that moment I first realized that my daughter was a sexual being. You see, I know that feeling very well; it’s a sensation that many parents never consider their children could experience because they think that they’re just too young.
I knew that day, the relationship I would develop with my daughter could not be patterned off the one that I, like many in my generation, had shared with my mother. Sex was never a comfortable subject. Don’t get me wrong…we had the mother/daughter talk – once I recall, over some requisite book, which had a few boring pictures and lots of text.
I like pictures.
Our children don’t suddenly wake up one day and develop sexual energies. We may not care to admit it, but they’re there all along. And as astute parents, it’s important that we recognize when those feelings kick in. It’s important that we know how to help them to process what they feel – all part and parcel of raising tomorrow’s generation of young men and women with a healthy view on sex, relationships and dare I say marriage.
I was wise enough to determine that at 4 or 5 years old, they were too young for me to tell them that I too enjoyed that same feeling. It was a special feeling that Mommies felt when…. Sorry, I digress.
But thankfully, wisdom prevailed and I simply told them “…Yes, our bodies can tickle us when we’re happy and excited.” I continued along our journey pretending that we were driving a race car, much to their delight and love of fast driving.
I might have been about my daughter’s age when I got ‘the talk’. I don’t recall the details, but I knew it was something along the lines of me becoming a woman and developing breasts and growing hair ‘down there’ and something about menstruation and then having a baby. Oh, and I was to read the book. Honestly, in my 8 or 9-year-old mind, it really meant nothing other than confirming to me that I would never have children. It was gross.
In my 44 years, I’ve learned a lot. (Yes, I’m still in the acceptance stage of ageing..) And some of my greatest lessons have come from my own parenting ups and downs, my personal upbringing and more recently, from the experiences of other parents around me. Truth is, it’s still trial and error for most of us. But becoming a woman is so much more than getting a period. I mean, this is it – the penultimate goal, right? We mature and grow and sprout new parts, and then suddenly, we are women. No where else to go. So there must be more to the process. And then what happens when we get there? Do we just prepare to wear deodorant for the rest of our lives, welcome our ‘Aunty from Red Hills’ once a month, and still not understand how to know, love and value our own bodies and ourselves?
Debra Ehrhardt, the actress and playwright, recently created an entire monologue called ‘Cocktales’ that offered a great laugh with a deep message. The play took me on a personal journey that was long forgotten – one that spanned simple seeds of curiosity and distrust. From an older cousin whose hugs felt different from the rest, to my first French kiss lesson with a tangerine- when I was 9. Yes, 9 years old. My teachers were the 13-year-old friends of another cousin. For me, I was simply thrilled that I was even allowed to hang out with them. Little did I know that I had signed up for French Immersion class.
Back then, I don’t know what force on earth could have made me tell my mother. And it’s not that I was afraid of her, but the channel of communication required for that type of conversation just wasn’t open. This is the force that causes children to keep secrets and it’s the same force that I pray to God will never come between my children and me. This is one of the reasons why I parent the way I do. My methods may be faaaaar from perfect, but I really believe that so much of the way parents a generation ago related to their children and vice versa, just simply cannot apply in today’s Information Age. Our kids today are exposed to so much more than we knew when we were their age. When my son came to me at age 6 to ask me if bitch was a bad word, my answer was simply “No. A bitch is a female dog.” Ok, he continued, “Can I call someone a bitch?” “Would you like someone to call you a dog?” My response was my straight-faced and his answer was ‘no’. #nuffsaid. And when my daughter asked if ‘fuck’ was a bad word, I nonchalantly said “Yes, honey. That’s not a word for children to use. “Oh, so can adults use it?”
Aaah bwoy…You see, outside influences are inevitable; especially from friends who have older siblings. But if we play our cards right, our influence will be stronger and last longer.
There are certain words in circulation today more frequently than any parent would want. Abuse. Pedophilia. Harassment. Rape. Bullying. We may not like these words, but the truth is, we can’t ignore them. Though it’s impossible to be with our growing children 24/7, it is possible – and imperative that we create a space where our children can share their silliest tales, as well as their deepest and darkest secrets. If keeping close to them is important to you, then open communication is probably the best way to maintain that relationship as they get older.
When it comes to personal experiences, there’s a thin line between sharing and over-exposing. I believe that where others see shame in past experiences, I see great opportunity to share wisdom with my boy and girl. My children are super curious and yours are too, I’m sure. I try to be open and honest with my children, considering age-appropriateness, of course. But every once in a while we have to employ some creativity and a bit of wit. Like when my daughter asked me if I’d had sex twice and I said yes…
I didn’t tell a lie…