I don’t know how you were brought up, but when I was growing up in the early Eighties my parents were pretty open and honest about almost everything. My mom had a simple philosophy: “You’re going to learn it somewhere, you might as well learn it properly at home.” I’m not saying she gave me my first drink, but we all knew where the key to the liquor cabinet was and I’m pretty sure she knew her wine wasn’t that watery. As a parent of six kids (I was the youngest), she knew there were lots of things she couldn’t control, but the one thing she could control was having the right information available whenever we needed it. We’re talking pamphlets left in our washrooms, human anatomy books left on the coffee table, and at least one parent who made herself available to answer any questions we might have.
Would every parent agree with her philosophy? Probably not – I’m sure many a kid wasn’t allowed in our house once his mom or dad found out there was a puberty book with diagrams of how children mature in our first floor bathroom, but we thought nothing of it. There were puberty books in our downstairs washroom and Playboy magazines (left by my stepfather for my older brothers) under the bathroom sink in the bathroom upstairs. They were there, everybody knew they were there, and it was understood that if any of us had any questions we could go and ask my mom.
I’m not saying this was the perfect system, as some things made their way in to the house that maybe I shouldn’t have seen, but you can’t blame my mom. She’s not to blame for the fact that my eldest brother would rent movies and watch them with his friends and I would sneak in to the room to watch them. I saw Death Wish, A Clockwork Orange, and Scarface many, many years before I should have, but whenever I gasped at a certain scene, someone always took the time to explain to me what was happening on screen and that it was just a movie – like Bambi or Old Yeller. (Of course, most of the time it was my brother complaining to my mom and she would have to come and get me and explain it to me).
Before the age of eight, I knew about things like rape, and murder and sex. I knew about child abductions and mental illness and drugs (thanks mostly to those awesome after school specials). And none of it overwhelmed me. It was all explained to me in a sensible way in an environment where I felt the safest.
What was my mom going to do, I had five older siblings (3 boys, 2 girls)? I was learning what they were learning. She tried to ensure that some things were not for my eyes, but I always found a way to see them. All she could do was explain them once I couldn’t un-see them. My dad (my real dad) wasn’t so bad at this either, as even though he may not have always approved of everything I saw at home, he couldn’t really be a hypocrite- after all, he was the one who had that weird doll dressed in a trench coat who was anatomically correct and not wearing much under that coat (The doll’s name was Uncle Sherman, if I remember correctly; a gag gift from my stepmom).
Needless to say, I knew quite a bit about many things before I ever stepped foot in my first health class in grade 7. And while many of my friends were all slack-jawed and wide-eyed while viewing their first opposite sex anatomy lesson, I was doodling pictures of super heroes on the desk- female ones, with big boobs.
So, I’m always shocked when people look at me oddly when I tell them my 3-year-old daughter knows the clinical terminology for both the male and female reproductive organs. It’s not like she’s using made up words (“Wee Wee,” “Va-jay jay”) slang (“Willie”, “Cooch”) or terms that might be offensive (c@#$, C*+%), she’s just calling things what they actually are: a penis and a vagina. Why not teach her the actual terms for things instead of asking her to learn dozens of words that are just going to confuse the issue. Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina. Good? Great! Let’s move on.
That’s how I was raised. My mom didn’t hide the fact that Bambi’s Mom got killed, that Billy Shot Old Yeller, or that Jeff Goldblume was laughable in his role as a perverted street thug in Death Wish II. She always gave it to us straight. She never said Bambi’s Mom or Old Yeller were sleeping, and she never said that that awful, disturbing scene from Death Wish didn’t go on. She just told it to me in a way I would understand and be able to make sense of it.
So forgive me if I don’t confuse the issue by asking my little girl to call a Penis a Weiner like it was one of those little sausage dogs, or a Vagina a "Clam" like if she holds in her pee she'll get a pearl someday. I’m just not doing it. I call things by their actual names. So does my daughter. And I call parents who choose not to talk frankly to their kids by using proper anatomical names for their body parts to be doing their kids a disservice. Because, I'll be honest with you, if you’re still in your thirties calling a Vagina a "Va jay jay' someone didn’t do their job.