February 3, 2011

An Anatomy Lesson

We're curious by nature, we humans.

As babies, we discover things by chomping on them and seeing how much drool we can coat them with. It's a great method of exploration, really. It teaches us about textures, hard vs. soft, and which things stand up well to the chew test. A teething ring is A-OK. The cat's tail, not so much.

As toddlers, we learn the hard way, much to our parents' dismay. Their warnings about hot stoves and jumping head-first from our bunk beds are meaningless until we experience the results for ourselves, hopefully without any lasting injury. Eventually, it starts to sink in that mom and dad just might be onto something with their guidance, and it might go something like this: if I hit my sister, I get a major time-out or a spanking, neither of which are particularly pleasant, so I will therefore think twice before carrying out my revenge on her for stealing my Legos. We learn the concept of cause and effect in a hurry. Frankly, I'm amazed so many of us survive.

Around the same time, we get pretty curious about the anatomical differences we observe while in the bathtub with our siblings. We observe that we have one type of thing and our brothers or sisters have a different type of thing, so we realize that if we're going to be walking around with this thing for the rest of our lives, we should probably know what the heck it is and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to discover the name for the other thing while we're at it. Therefore, we ask our parents very pointed questions at unexpected times that can catch them flat-footed and stammering for an answer on the spur of the moment.

It's important for us, as parents, to be at least somewhat prepared for these questions when they come. We don't want to give our kids any reason to feel embarrassed. I think we did pretty well with Brady, staying very matter-of-fact and acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to ask and us to answer these questions, which it was, but let's be honest: I have yet to meet a parent who doesn't feel at least a little bit squirmy when answering them for the first time. Especially us dads, for some reason. It's natural to feel that way, but we have to remember that they're just curious and we have the information they need. Just be cool, shoot it to them straight, and you'll be fine. It's not as if you have to have the sex talk with your two-year-old daughter, dads. You've got a few more years to sweat that one out.

That being said, I admit I was caught off guard the other night during bath time. Not by a question, but by Brady's explanation to Ellie about the facts as he saw them. Turns out we have a thing or two to review with him.

Brady has proudly announced what he has more than once. He's a boy. We do that. And since Ellie hadn't questioned us directly about her anatomy to that point, she only had one term in her vocabulary that she could employ: the one she had learned from Brady. But that was just the beginning of the conversation. Here's how it went down:

Ellie (after openly studying baby Riley for a little while): Daddy, my have a penis!
Me: Oh.....No, honey, only boys have a penis.
Brady (in a very condescending tone): Yeah, Ellie, girls have a virus.

Yes, a virus.

A thousand replies on the tip of my tongue, many of them inappropriate for the present company, I sat speechless for a moment. I badly wanted to blurt out, "Well, son, some certainly do, but you'll want to stay far away from those ones." Then I realized that this was a good teaching moment and that I should probably take the opportunity set them straight, so I did what any self-respecting parent would do: I fell on the floor laughing.

For some reason, I never did get around to correcting them. I'll have another chance soon, no doubt. Sometimes you're just so flat-out floored by what your kids come up with that you can't help but be caught up in the moment, and setting them straight just doesn't matter.

You don't have to seize every teaching moment. Sometimes, it's OK to just sit back and laugh.

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