If you've picked up a parenting book or magazine in the past several years, you've probably read that the best way to talk to young children about their bodies is to use the proper names for things. It makes sense, right? You avoid instilling a sense of shame and teach your children that their bodies are natural and not something to keep secret or hidden. If, like me, you weren't actually a parent yet or had a little non-verbal infant you probably thought, "Huh, that's a great idea. I am totally going to teach my kid to say vagina and penis!"
This idea appealed to me so much that I proudly used correct body part words as a daycare teacher. Didn't phase me. I could talk about the penis and the vagina all day long. And don't even get me started on testicles! Who doesn't like to say testicles?!
Well, then darling little Prima came along. What a pretty, angelic little thing, with her wispy blond hair and big blue eyes! I tried so hard to stick to what the parenting books and magazines said I should do, but I'll admit it. I failed. I could not look at that cherubic little face and say the word vagina. I mean, look at this face. Could you say vagina to this face?
When that face is your own little child, looking right at it and saying vagina is way harder than those stupid magazines made it sound. In fact, I'm pretty sure whoever wrote those articles didn't even have children.
Teaching Prima about boys' anatomy turned out to be much easier. I didn't need to worry about saying penis to her because a thoughtful little boy in her daycare class took care of that for me. Apparently, little Conner's mom and dad could look at his face and say penis without any problems because he knew that word really well. So well, in fact, that he taught the other little toddlers all about the penis.
Thanks Conner's mom and dad. My husband, in particular, loved having a beautiful little daughter who knew the word penis. For example, when you're a Daddy enjoying lunch at a deli with your special little two year-old girl and she busts out the p word in her loudest, shrillest voice, the pride you feel is indescribable.
Then, our boys came along. I realized the blame I put on Conner's mom and dad might have been misplaced because it turns out saying penis to little boys is much easier than saying vagina to little girls. Unfortunately, the male fascination with that particular appendage starts at an extremely young age. Secondo initiated quite a few awkward bath time conversations based on his early appreciation for his own anatomy.
My attempts to explain my lack of a penis without using the word vagina only caused more confusion. Our talks usually went like this:
Secondo: Why don't you have a penis?
Me: Girls don't have a penis.
Secondo: Hahahahaha!! You have to have a penis or you can't go pee.
Me: I can go pee, I just don't have a penis.
Secondo: Yes you do. Everyone has a penis.
Me: No, honey. Girls don't have penises.
Secondo: Then what do girls have?
Me: Um.....time to get out of the tub!
Because Terzo has an older brother, I've been able to totally avoid talking to him about human anatomy. I'm pretty sure penis was one of Terzo's first words. Secondo also learns interesting words at school and teaches them to Terzo. With absolutely no effort on my part, both boys learned about wieners and balls. For a long time, the word wenis found its way into household conversations. And last week, Secondo asked me what dick means. I think I put the fear of God into him with that last one, so maybe Terzo won't learn it for another few days.
From time to time, one of the boys publicly brings out the p bomb too. Most recently, we unexpectedly ran into Santa at the local book store while holiday shopping. Secondo and Terzo started talking to Santa about what they'd like for Christmas, and when Santa asked if they'd been good little boys Terzo saw an opportunity to sabotage his brother's holiday joy.
Santa's response? "That's what big brothers are for! Ho ho ho!" Gee, thanks Santa.
Being a parent is pretty hard, but there are perks. We have to take those perks where we can, and one of my favorites is the chance to take a mistake by a child and turn it into a joke that lasts for years. When Secondo was little he one day noticed his testicles hanging out down there by his penis. I guess he'd been too interested in the penis before to notice it had company. When he asked about it, I said, "Those are your testicles." Testicles is not an easy word for a small child, and for a really long time Secondo couldn't manage it. He used the closest word he could. Tentacles. A better mom probably would have gently corrected him and continued to use the word testicles until he got it right. But what's the fun of that? Substituting tentacles for testicles in a conversation is way too entertaining. Besides, the mental picture is too good to resist.
He'd either be single all his life or the most popular boy EVER.