“Mom, what is a 69?”
I’m sure my mother felt an incredible wave of surprise and horror as her second grade daughter uttered these words. My mom asked me where I had heard such a term, and I responded with the answer popular to most school-aged kids- on the playground.
My mother has not always been the most forthcoming with sexual information, but in reflecting on the memory, I am surprised by her candor. She wrote the number 69 on a piece of paper, and pointed at each circle saying “This is a little head, and this is a little head.” She left it at that.
I was given cause to retell this story Saturday evening while having drinks with some girlfriends. One woman had been out with a few moms of older kids the night before, and she came back stunned by the level of knowledge of today’s youths. We’ve all heard about sexting by this point (what a stupid term), but we assumed it was teenagers engaging in the activity. Apparently, ten year olds now have cell phones and use them to send pictures of their private parts to one another. If this is the activity of today’s preteens, we pondered with apprehension what our toddlers would be doing before they even reached a double digit birthday.
I took a step back and began to consider the intentions behind such an activity. I had engaged in games of “doctor” growing up. I got in huge trouble for a completing a trade of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with one of the neighbor boys. Was this the equivalent of a trip to the “doctor”, with the added extension of modern technology? Of course there is the question of permanency which cannot be downplayed. But these are kids after all. Are we discussing innocent curiosity or the evil of modern technology assisting children in growing up before their time?
My friend said “What if a nine year old girl asked your son to have sex with her?” Apparently this was also a recent occurrence for one of her friends. As a parent, this is an appalling question. But again, I wonder- did the nine year old know what sex was?
When I was nine, I thought I knew about sex. My mom jokingly asked me what sex was, and was startled when I said it was when man put his private part inside a woman. I have no doubt she went to her friends and had a conversation much like the one I engaged in on Saturday night. Even though it sounds like I was schooled in the ways of the birds and the bees, my knowledge was flawed.
I had gone over to a friend’s house for a playdate. She and I were exploring a storage room in their barn, when we came upon an old chest of clothes. We started rummaging through it, looking for apparel we could use to play dress up. She held up a white lacey nightgown and declared “this is the nightgown my mom wore on her honeymoon.”
I peered at the gown with new eyes, as if it were a holy relic. She indulged my wonder further by extending her story. “My dad had sex with my mom on their wedding night and she didn’t even know it.”
How can you have sex and not know it?
“He slipped it in the side of her underwear while she was sleeping.”
Both amazed and terrified, I returned home to reiterate this story to my older sister, who was in high school and an authority on all things grown up.
“That’s impossible,” she said, shaking her head.
I assured her it was the truth. My friend had told me so.
“No, that can’t happen.”
I asked her how she knew it couldn’t happen.
“It just can’t. It doesn’t work like that.”
Kids talk. Kids are curious. But I hope (dear God, I really hope) that even if they sound like cast members from Sex and the City, their actual comprehension is more in line with Dora the Explorer.
My girlfriends and I revisited the endless debate titled “How Do We Protect Our Kids.” And like every other parent out there, we came to the conclusion that we can’t. Our kids are going to find a way to participate in the activities that we forbid. The real answer is to nurture a trusting relationship, so that our children will talk to us when they are dealing with complex situations. Of course! Sounds so easy. But as we sat there talking about it, most of us admitted that when we were teens, trusting our parents with our secrets was just about as plausible as sprouting wings.
As usual, I don’t have the answers, only the rant. This afternoon, I took my three year old out for a special “Mommy and Son” day. He was thrilled to have my attention all to himself. I made a mental note to keep reserving individual time for him, long after he is overjoyed at the prospect. If that door is open, perhaps he’ll keep walking through it.
At the playground today, one of the PTO organizers invited me to the school’s annual pumpkin walk. Each family brings in a jack o’ lantern from home, to be lit and placed along a path. The kids wear their costumes, play games, and enjoy the night. There is even a cake walk, my favorite carnival event from when I was a kid. It was a nice reminder that even if the reach of technology is ever growing, the power of tradition is endless.