When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my school passed out a pamplet about menstruation. It was written by Kotex, and the main characters were three girls who were pen pals. They spent the entire time writing about how their bodies were changing as they navigated puberty. I showed it to my mom, and she asked me to read it and come to her with any questions. I didn't really have any. Charlie Brown and the Kotex Girls were pretty thorough. Or at least I thought they were.
I also remember my dad trying to talk to me. We were watching an episode of The Facts of Life, and Tootie and Jeff were contemplating sex. My dad looked at me and said, "You know you shouldn't be doing that, right?"
My response: "They love each other and are talking about marriage. Isn't that what they're supposed to do?" Plus, I was 11 and Tootie was 19 or 20. She seemed like an old woman to me. My dad got flustered and changed the subject.
Although everything turned out fine for me, I want a more open relationship with my daughters. I read about the things that are happening with kids these days, and the landscape is so different from when I was a girl. To me, it's downright frightening at times. Keeping communications open with them is critical.
My first talk with Mini Me was when she was five. She had just taken a bath, and I was helping her into her PJs. We talked about what made girls different from boys and how those parts are private. I told her no one should try to touch her priviate parts, and if they did, she should go to a teacher and to me right away.
She nodded, and then proceeded to ask me about our next's days itinerary. Every so often, I would broach the subject again and pepper in new information. We talked about strangers, what to do if she were lost, and I reminded her every time that there was nothing that she couldn't ask me.
She took me up on my offer two years later. We were on our way home from a birthday party, and I was beat. The radio station that usually plays popular music and home loan commercials decided to run a series of Planned Parenthood ads that day. Mini Me picked up on the subject matter before I could change the station.
"Can teenagers get pregnant?" she asked.
"Um, yes." I said.
"Were you pregnant in high school?"
"No," I said.
"Huh?" I wasn't really sure where she was going with this.
"How is it that some girls get pregnant in high school, but you didn't?"
"Um, I didn't spend time with boys in a way that I could get pregnant." I was dodging, but I just wasn't ready.
"Spend time like how? You mean like eating lunch?"
This was not going well. I had flashbacks of an Happy Days episode where a girl thought you got pregnant by swimming with boys. I took a deep breath.
"Let's get home. I'll put your sister down for a nap, and then we can talk."
She seemed satisfied, but home was less than five minutes away, and the baby was already asleep. This stall wasn't going to buy me much time.
After Lil Ma was in her room, I sat down with Mini Me and started our conversation.
"Do you remember when I explained how you and your sister came out of Mom's tummy?"
She nodded. "You squeezed and we came out through your privates."
"Yes," I said. "And babies are put into a mommy's tummy through her privates. mommy and daddy touch their private parts to make a baby."
"Ew!" She frowned.
"So, when two grown-ups decide that they want to be a mommy and a daddy...."
"They touch privates." She finished my sentence with her frown still intact.
"That's right. Girls and boys in high school make sometimes babies when they don't fully understand what they're doing."
"Umph," Mini Me crossed her arms. "I don't want to have a baby in high school, so I won't be rubbing my privates with a boy. I'm waiting until I'm 30."
"Smart girl," I smiled. There was a lot more to cover, but I figured that was enough for one day.
That was about eight months ago. During her annual physical, the pediatrician mentioned the p word: puberty. I take that as a sign to have another talk. They get a little easier each time, but I still get a edgy. It's more important that I keep the lines of communication open, so I push my nerves aside.
At what age do you think it's appropriate to talk to your kids about sex? How did you handle the conversation? Did you use any books, or did you just wing it?