Last week I was an outlier in a conversation about kids and what they were like when they were younger, versus the monsters they are as teens. It was agreed that they were not indeed monsters, but the knowing parental wink that closed the topic was proof enough that we all know the truth.
One of the parents told a story and used the word “bathing suit area” to talk about body changes in her kids. Kids, meaning her teen children. What?
I am known for many things. My love of birds, my deep distrust of clowns, and my collection of clown figurines, because if you can trap their souls in a doll they can never hurt you. I am also pretty sure I am known for my candor. I love a good honest moment between people. I believe that the bathing suit area parent had just not chosen a good plan for child-rearing, thus her odd direction in wording.
When I was young and knee-deep in children, I had to start making a game plan for what my style of parenting was going to look like. Choosing this is a little like choosing a decorating theme for your house that is supposed to last forever. Once you have chosen a theme, unlike that avocado green fridge or oak cabinets, you cannot just leave it curbside and get a new one. Once you are a sweet earth mother who uses her inside voice all the time, it is difficult to change into a shouty ogre. Unless of course you have been pushed into temporary ogreism by deciding that today is the day you let your toddler dress on
The inability to change parenting themes midstream is also based in the idea that children need to listen to and respect you. If your agenda is all over the map, they will never know which version they are supposed to listen to. Are my shoes OK on the couch but not on the dining room table? I can eat in the car, but cannot open the bag of crickets for my iguana in your bedroom? They will see you for the hot mess you are and act accordingly if you don’t have a theme and a solid plan.
The right parenting theme is the only time other than children’s birthday parties and your second wedding when the right theme will be so vital. Interestingly, wasp nest piñata is apparently the wrong theme for both of those occasions, only because I didn’t explain it properly and had not taken the time to print up appropriate waivers.
My choice of theme was open and honest. There is an assumption that all parents will be honest, but when faced with questions about various magical pick up and delivery beings coming in and out of your house to collect teeth or leave chocolate, most parents cannot claim full transperancy. I however have never lied to my children about those things. As long as they didn’t ask, I played along. When they questioned the legitimacy of any of it I was more than happy to come clean, quite frankly relieved to not have to carry on the pretense for another day. A fat man in a suit breaking into your home. Come on. That could only sound plausible if you assume the man in question worked for the bank or had a camera crew from a home makeover show with him. The tooth fairy reveal mostly just cleared up a lot of guilt on my part for having to go through their piggy banks for money because I couldn’t break a twenty.
My honesty is also more of a nod to a lifelong curiosity I have for everything. I will lose hours to thinking about why a group of crows is referred to as a murder, while a group of lions is a pride. I’m not an expert on this subject, but the chances of you being murdered by lions
My parents nurtured this curiosity when I was young by giving me encyclopedic, fact filled books and inscribe them with uplifting, beautiful sentiments like “for our daughter who just needs to know!” Those sentiments could have been replaced in my later teen years with “For the un-cool girl who stays home and reads” or “For our young lady we can only assume will be single for some time”. Those dedications would have been accurate as well.
So this pairing of curiosity and parenting resulted in my being open and truthful about most everything, but you know there will be exceptions. What I ate for lunch while they were at school and if I have candy stashed in the house. I will not be honest about that for reasons of national security. If we told every child about every food stash and solo ice cream experience we had, there would be anarchy in the streets. Children would riot, families would crumble, and the fabric of society would be torn into wet-nap sized shreds. I lie because I’m patriotic and love my country.
Even with this flag-waiving act of snack hoarding, there are also a few things I absolutely refuse to lie about. I will be honest to an oftentimes-uncomfortable extent regarding my current mood, if I’m hungry, and human anatomy. Never one to smile and say I love talking with my husband’s ex-wife or pass on a tray of appetizers, I have also never been one to use the cute made up names parents think they are using to protect their kids from their own bodies. I have never had body conversations about winkies, pee-pees, wee-wees, noodles, tooshies, hoo-hoos, or beans and weens. I simultaneously love the power words give you and reject the power we give words. We were a house of full on Grey’s anatomy actual words for body parts. Why not? I’ve never gone to a mechanic because my vroom vroom didn’t work.
A proud example of this happened when my boys were 4 and 2. We were driving to their daycare in the morning and I was asking what they were excited about for the day. My 4 year old told me he was excited about cupcakes (that’s my boy…) because they were having a goodbye party for Julie because the baby was coming out of her tummy soon. I wrinkled my nose and looked at my son in the rearview mirror.
“Actually, babies come out of your womb which is also called a uterus”
I then continued with
“For a baby to get into your tummy, Julie would have had to have eaten the baby. I don’t think Julie ate a baby…”
He laughed at the idea of that and agreed. Julie was likely not a baby eater, and if she was she was the nicest baby eater we had ever met.
I asked both of them to lift up their shirts and show me their belly buttons. In the name of good science I added,
“You have a belly button because that was where the cord attached you to me in my womb. I fed you through that!”
A round of questions followed about if he could talk to me through it and what his favorite food was when he was in my womb. It was chocolate milk. Litres and litres of chocolate milk.
When I picked the boys up after work that day I was met by one of the daycare staff who wanted to tell me about the boy’s day. I guess the farewell party had started and the staff asked in their best game show voice if they knew what they were celebrating today. A clump of Kindergarten wisdom filled the room with random shout outs like Buzz Lightyear! Tuesday! I have to pee! Cupcakes! The childcare worker quieted the contestants and said,
“Today we are wishing Julie good luck when the baby comes out of her tummy!”
The kid who had to pee looked disappointed, but would be OK because the cupcake boy beside him was distracting him with full froth mode at the anticipation of icing.
My son, God love him, rose from his cross-legged row of vibrating youngsters, raised his finger as if to command the room’s attention and said in what I imagined to be a somewhat admonishing voice,
“Actually, the baby is in her uterus, not her tummy. She didn’t eat the baby, so it wouldn’t be in her tummy”
Knowing my son, the tone he used strongly implied the word ‘idiots’ at the end, but he was still too kind at 4. That level of smug assholery would not be fully upon us until he turned 14.
For what I can only assume was purely for dramatic effect, he lifted up his shirt, showed the room Exhibit A, his belly button, then sat down like a pompous defense lawyer after a slam-dunk closing argument. I rest my case, Idiots.
I am told the room was quiet for a moment while children and adults together processed this new information and re-evaluated their need to urinate. The game show barker clapped and in her everybody-gets-a-carOprah voice announced,
“Yes! Now who wants a cupcake?”
And with that, the great uterus exposé dissolved into a sea of icing glazed fingers and crumpled cupcake liners.
She laughed while she told me the story and I was proud of my son for his quick, educated response to misinformation. The educator was temporarily concerned that other children would take this non-consent form-based information home and ask questions. It might make for uncomfortable conversations. Good for them, I thought. I suppose I’m sorry that my kid was a bit of a winky in getting that started for you, but mostly I’m not.