Saturday, June 20, 2009

facts of life

It seems that in my family, kids are most cute when they are around three. And cute kids make the best stories.

I am told I have made some serious factual errors in the following story, but I think it's more fun than the "factual" version.*
My grandson who is extraordinarily cute and unusually well behaved has a story told about him during a rare time he misbehaved. He had a lock put on the outside of his door when he was a toddler. He never required spanking or even a verbal dressing down, but when he was in trouble he was told to take a "time out". One day his father brought him into his room for a time out and a little talking to. Suddenly, three year old Seth jumped up, ran out into the hall and locked his father in his room. "Now YOU take a time out!" he told his father. His father had to climb out Seth's bedroom window.

Long before Seth was conceived, I was taking my precocious three-year old brother to his first church service. John was cute, not so well behaved, but very verbal. I was eleven and had prepared him as well as I could for the church experience. As we were sitting there waiting for the service to begin. My brother whispered "Where's God?" I said "You can't see God. God is invisible." Then the organ stopped and the pastor stood up from behind the lecturn. My brother shouted out "I see God!!"

As I've mentioned my brother was precocious. He talked and read at an early age, and had a large vocabulary. When I was seventeen and he was nine, we were watching a movie on television. Tuesday Weld was looking pretty sorrowful in "A Summer Place."
"What's wrong with her?" my brother asked.
"She's pregnant" I answered.
"But she's not married." he argued.
"You don't have to be married."
In my family, the mom told the facts of life to the girls and the dad told the facts of life to the boy. I realized that this was my chance to find out the dad's version.
"Didn't Dad tell you where babies come from?"
(in a tentative voice)"Yes"
We watched TV a few moments more, and then I asked "What did Dad tell you?"
John recited,"A man places sperm in the woman and it fertilizes the egg and then the baby grows in the mother's womb."
A few more minutes passed, and then I asked "How does the man place the sperm in the woman?"
"He didn't say."
"How?" John asked me.
I used the Socratic teaching method at even this young age.
"Well, John. What does a man have that a woman doesn't have?"
He thinks. Then slowly his eyes grow big in astonishment.
"I didn't know they were detachable!!"

My own son learned the facts of life when he was much younger. He was about six and it was the seventies when Free to Be You and Me and Our Bodies Ourselves were popular books. The minute the poor kid asked a question, I was armed with books and photographs. After reading with Gareth the cute picture book Where Did I Come From?**, I proceeded to The First Nine Months of Life, a book that I'd often consulted when I was pregnant. I explained that the photographs of sperm and embryonic babies were enlarged under microscope. I was proud of my son as he listened with interest. Then he beamed and exclaimed."I'm so glad I'm a spermer!!! When I get married I'm going to get a microscope and show my wife my sperm!" Later that week a neighbor told me that she overheard a conversation between Gareth and Andy, her son who was two.
Gareth: And look at these pictures! These are sperm.
Andy: Yeah
Gareth: and you and I are boys and we have SPERM!
Andy: Yeah
Gareth: Aren't you glad that we are spermers?!
Andy: Yeah

* My son points out,"I had put the lock on the outside of the door only for the purpose of time-outs and bed time. Seth was four years old and refused to stay in his room at those times. Never would I lock the door at night in fear of emergency situations such as a house fire or even less drastic instances such as if he felt sick and needed to let us know."

"The books I had read around that time suggested never to leave a child in time out for more then 10 or 15 minutes so I never locked his door for longer than that and always remained close to the door when it was locked so that I could listen out for sounds that would give me concern for his safety. After 10 or 15 minutes he would most often stop crying and that is when I would enter his room and ask him if he understood why he was on time out. On that particular night he just got up and shut the door behind him. At first I told him he had better open the door. I looked around the room and found that I had done too good a job at child proofing it. There was nothing small enough to pick the lock. All I could think about was how his mother would come home and find him roaming around the house with me locked in the room. Jumping out the window would have not worked out since that would only mean I would be locked outside the entire house instead of only in a room. I didn't want to destroy the door either. Finally I realized that the best way to get him to open the door would be to let him know that he would not be in trouble if he opened the door within the next few minutes."

**Here's how a review described Where Did I Come From? at
....Mayle and Robins are disarmingly natural about the naming of parts ("Now, if you put your mother and your father in the bath together you'd notice something interesting. . ."), probably as detailed as kids' interest allows about fetal development (incidentally, it's a girl), and bolder than any children's book yet about the "tickling feeling" of "making love": "The man pushes his penis up and down inside the woman's vagina, so that both the tickly parts are being rubbed against each other. It's like scratching an itch, but it's a lot nicer". . . and it ends in "a tremendous big lovely shiver" that is a little like a good sneeze. You can't deny Mayle's talent for translating adult experience into child-level concepts, and we found Robins' irreverent cartoonlike illustrations (the pudgy nude figures are anything but erotic) a welcome break from the breathless wonderment that has recently prevailed. .... (Kirkus Reviews)

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