le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) by Henri Matisse
After the littlest one was born, my son Landon, who was a big boy of four, decided to get curious about some of the strange things mommies do. For example, freshly home from the hospital after giving birth, I sat in the bathroom one day, easing my sore tail in a sitz bath, preparing next to spray the anesthetic ointment before crawling back into bed.
Landon walked in and noticed the can of spray in my hand. "What's that?" he asked.
"This?" I answered, innocently. "This is medicine."
"What for? You sick?"
"No, Sweetie. It's just a spray to stop the pain where the baby came out."
"Oh," he answered, thoughtfully. He pondered a moment, creased his little brow beneath his blond curls, and finally asked, "You spray that in your mouf?"
I decided right then and there to always be up-front, matter-of-fact with my children when they ask questions about sex. "Oh, no, Dear," I replied. "I spray it on the episiotomy!"
"Ooooh!" he exclaimed, nodding with complete understanding. "There!" Another mystery of life cleared up! And he toddled out of the house to rejoin his Buddy-L trucks in the sand pile.
The children and I actually had very few discussions about sex, probably because I was such an outstanding mother when it came to answering their questions. Landon was the one with the most questions. I suspect that he conveyed the answers to his little sisters as he learned them, because they seldom asked anything at all.
The next big question didn't occur for several years. I think Landon was already in third grade before the topic of reproduction came up again. We were watching TV, and there was a commercial that finally caught his attention.
"Mom," he queried, "what exactly are Tampax Tampons?"
"Feminine hygiene protection."
Several months after that, Landon asked me, "Mom, what is feminine hygiene protection?"
"Oh, you know, Honey. Like tampons or Kotex."
A year later, Landon sent his sister in to talk to me. "Mom," Lindsey began, "Landon wants to know why women need femgene hymen protection."
I sat her down at the edge of the bed with me, and looked her square in the eyes. "Lindsey, do you mean 'feminine hygiene protection?'"
"Yeah," she said. "That's the stuff. What's it for?"
"Well, that's for when the lining of the uterus is being discharged through the vaginal passage, Sweetheart. You know -- so she won't have menstrual accidents!"
"Oh. I'll tell him."
Several months later, Landon and Lindsey sent their baby sister, Laura, to me with a question. "Mommy," she began. "What's them matzo ax dents?"
"That's when the dumplings didn't cook long enough in the chicken soup."
Of course, I wasn't all that bad. I did teach the kids to call a penis a penis, a vagina a vagina, a breast a breast, and a set of buttocks a cute little butt. Unless I was mad. Then the set of buttocks became the "fanny" the child was supposed to get over here! But, being a single parent made sex ed scary sometimes, especially when it came to talking to my son. I mean, I hate to sound naive myself, but how much of what we women believe we know is fact, and how much fiction?
This was particularly troublesome to me right after Landon finished sixth grade. He was going into junior high school, where they had phys ed classes, complete with a locker room and showers. I had no idea why he was so edgy those first few weeks of summer vacation, until he finally asked to speak to me alone.
"Mom," he whispered, even though we were alone, behind closed doors. "I'm really worried about seventh grade."
"Why, Landon?" I couldn't imagine what the problem was. He was popular, comical, intelligent, and a terror to his teachers. What else could a boy want out of life?
"Well, you know, in seventh grade they have gym class."
He was also athletic, strong, fast, and could punch out the best of his friends. I still didn't get it, and shook my head to signal my confusion.
"Mo-o-o-m!" he whined. "They take showers!"
"Landon, that's okay. You already know how to take a shower. You've been washing for years, and you're pretty good at it, even if you are a boy."
"No, Mom. That's not it." He crossed his arms and started fuming and scowling. I was certainly missing something important here, but I sure didn't know what it was. "It's my. . . well, . . . my thing, you know?"
I didn't know. I shook my head again.
"Mo-ther! My penis is little! Gosh, are you dense or what?"
I was so good. I kept a straight face, a serious look, an intelligent demeanor. I thought fast, and I responded with confidence. "Landon, don't you worry about it. You wear a size nine shoe already. You'll be fine by the time you start seventh grade."
A couple weeks after school started, I took my son aside and asked him if everything was okay. He wasn't one for blushing often, but he did that time.
"Sure, Mom, everything's fine," he announced with a smile. "And by the way, I need some new shoes. I outgrew those last ones!"
Lani Kraus is a mom/stepmom/fostermom to a whole bunch of kids, from whence she also gets more experience than any single woman has a right to. She is also a Social Worker in private practice, and teaches Psychology. She's a writer of nonfiction about families and parenting, and of novels. Comments can be sent to Lani Kraus at firstname.lastname@example.org
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