I learned more about my son’s first grade class in ten minutes on the highway than I’ve learned all year at the dinner table.
We were returning from picking up a friend for an overnight. As my crowded van sped down the highway, the boys started discussing school. “Do you remember (X) doing his freak-out dance?”
“Bow-wow-freak-out!” Hysterical giggles. First grade humor. I tuned out–until I heard, “…you know, when he said the word that means…” I glanced in the rearview and saw Alex’s friend indicating a particular part of his body.
“His penis?” Alex said innocently.
“Don’t say it!”
I began to listen carefully. The details were a little muddy, but the story involved the word “wiener” and miming riding a motorcycle. Not particularly risqué, but clearly, the boys found it so. It had all the hallmarks of the scenarios I’ve outlined before: the “dirty” feeling, the embarrassed giggles, the body as the butt of titillating jokes.
I wanted to intervene, but my kids weren’t the only ones in the car. It’s not my place to teach someone else’s kids about sexuality. Right?
“This is where it begins,” Christian warned when I told him about it. “You’d better nip this in the bud.” I threw my hands helplessly in the air, for the first time caught unprepared.
It was a busy weekend, and nearly two days passed before I got a chance to draw Alex aside. Yet even with 48 hours to prep, I was woefully unprepared. I know I can cause just as many neuroses by making a federal case out of something small as I would by ignoring it altogether.
I started by asking him to tell me about it, hoping I would find inSpiration by hearing his perspectives. It didn’t really help. I pointed out that (X) might not have been talking about the penis at all. After all, “wiener” is a name for a kind of a dog and for a hot dog. And I told Alex the basic sexuality lesson: our bodies are beautiful, and we should treat them with respect.
He gave me The Look. It’s the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of The Look, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. The Look told me I had both hit the important point, and missed the delivery entirely. So I stumbled around for almost five minutes, seeking a pithy statement that never came, and finally gave it up as lost.
Three hours later, I had it: Our bodies are the gift God gave us to serve him. Everything we do to serve God, to not serve God, we use our bodies to do. That’s why our bodies are beautiful, and why we should respect them–because they’re all we have to serve God with. Fortunately, I got another shot the next day when Alex brought it up at the dinner table.
You might say I’m overreacting. Boys do toilet humor. Lots of girls do toilet humor, too. There’s a whole class of movies based on toilet humor, and good people enjoy them all the time, right? You might say I’m being a Puritan by suggesting that bawdy humor demeans the person.
But I would respond: How can women expect to be respected by men, and men by women, when the body is treated with derision for its functions? The constant barrage of disrespect toward the physical home of our souls desensitizes us to abuses. We start to look at ourselves and everyone else as two separate entities: the soul, which is worthy of respect, and the body, which isn’t.
But that’s not how it works. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of jokes about weight or acne or Coke-bottle glasses knows the body and soul are inseparable. An insult to one wounds the whole. Like it or not, the way we treat our bodies in thought and word and action impacts the whole person.
Besides, little ears are listening. Ever since that day, Nicholas has been repeating softly, “Bow-wow freak out.” If he got that, what else did he “get”? Somewhere in that mysterious little brain, he’s processing all he heard from the Big Boys. He doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about, but he heard the word “penis” and he heard someone he looks up to acting like it’s a scandalous thing.
Personally, I’d rather I and my children view themselves and everyone they know with a sense of wonder and beauty.
Parents of older children–you’ve all had situations come up. Kids start learning about and processing their sexuality a bit at a time, usually in the presence of their peers. I’d like to be better prepared the next time. What situations and attitudes have you encountered as kids get older? How did you deal with them?