Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Trouble with Frank

The trouble with frank is that when you are frank with children, they are frank back with you. And you may think that this is a good thing, until your child asks you “Mom, what’s your Safe Word?”

And you might be so flustered, that your tongue freezes to the top of your mouth, so your response sounds something like “Gulllthp.” Then you might retreat to the laundry room to refold all the laundry you just folded, so you can have time to think about a more suitable response.

I decided when I was young and idealistic that I would be open and honest with my children about all matters sexual, so that they didn’t inherit any needless guilt or the inability to deal with very important realities. I researched age appropriate explanations, and insisted we use proper names for body parts. I didn’t want my children to find themselves in the strange position I found myself in when I reached elementary school, and told my teacher that I had hurt my cooter in my zipper. With a much louder voice than a sympathetic, kind person should use, the teacher responded “Cooter is the mechanic from the Dukes of Hazard, child. Tell me, specifically, what did you get stuck in your zipper?” As if there were THAT many possibilities.

I bet the entire class still remembers me as the kindergarten pariah with the strange gait.

But kids are just that – children – and by definition, they will embarrass the hell out of you. They will embarrass you in public using cutesy names for their parts, or they’ll lean out of the McDonald's restroom door and holler across the restaurant “Mom, can you wipe my anus?”

By the time my third child was ready to label his parts, he had a winkie, a pair of nuggets and a stinky booty. I was tired of parenting Doogie Howser with Tourette’s.

But I remained steadfast in my insistence upon frank sexual discussions. Before entering middle school, each child was taken into the bedroom with me for The Talk. We covered puberty, cleanliness, masturbation, the mechanics of sex, and Mom’s How to Make Wise Decisions and the Devastating Consequences if You Don’t lecture. Each kid was very uncomfortable – as was I – and I agreed to let them scurry to their bedrooms and cringe for a while after the discussion, provided they ask me 5 intelligent questions about sex and/or bodies first. As I suspected, the first question was hard to spit out, but after that, there was a torrent of them. I did my best not to flinch, and to answer everything in a straightforward manner. I encouraged the kids to come to me with any other questions, as this was not the sort of thing they needed to be learning from friends.

Sometimes they do approach me: “Mom, what’s bisexual?”

Sometimes I want to run screaming for the hills: “Sometimes do a boy and a girl and then another boy and another girl get together and all love each other at the same time?”

Other times I know that if they find out I know the answer to a certain question, no matter how matter-of-factly I approach it, my kid is gonna think I’m a pervert. As I folded the washcloths into thirds repeatedly, I realized I was precisely in that kind of situation.

Deep breath… deep breath… calm…. Steady girl, steady girl….

Me: “What was that you asked hon, I didn’t hear?”

Him: “What’s your safe word?”

Me: “Well, what’s yours?”

Him: “I asked you first!”

Me: “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

Him: “Mine’s Bacon”

Me: “Oh, that’s clever, and when do use your safe word Bacon?”

Him: “When I’m wrestling with Danny and I get hurt and want him to know I have to stop.”

Me: “Oh. Good idea. Mine’s Cheetoh.”

Him: “When do you use yours?”

Me: “When you bother me. Go away. Cheetoh.”

As I threw the entire load of laundry back in the dryer (just in case the kid asked me anymore questions, I reasoned) I became aware that being frank with my children has overly sensitized me, and made me a bit jumpy. Ah well… when the market rebounds, perhaps there will be some money available for my therapy. Or theirs.


  1. loved this post. I'm so there with you. We did all the same thing.. proper body part names and all. Open honesty about sex and the human body and ALL of that. It's had it's moments I admit!!!!! Thanks for this post and making me realize I am not alone :)

  2. I love the fact that he came to you with this question. I think it is really rare for kids to be that comfortable talking to their parents about sex and all the stuff that goes along with it. I hope that if I ever have the opportunity to be a parent I can create the same feeling of comfort with my child/ren.

  3. aw, thanks Jennifer! The thing about parenting is that your kids always give you a reason to question your judgment! Humor helps in those situations!

  4. THIS is classic "Shannon". Thanks for sharing! Love you!