When my eldest son was two and a half or so, our little family was running to catch a rush hour train at Union Square. Fighting our way against the tide, my husband held our son tightly on his hip as he pushed forth down the stairs. At some point midway down, my son exclaimed, in a volume that only a two year-old can achieve, “Dad! You’re squashing my testicles!!”. Needless to say, the throng of commuters parted as people stopped to stare, then giggle, then outright snort. We made the train with time to spare.
I am one of those moms, the ones that teach their kids to say “penis” and “testicles” and “vagina” as opposed to “wiener” or “bunny” or “lady town” or some other cutesy, infantilized euphemism. To my eternal disappointment, at 5 and 9 they have discovered there is a veritable thesaurus worth of words for testicles and have since adopted “nuts” as their go to when discussing that part of their anatomy. You wouldn’t think a nine year-old and a five year-old would be talking about testicles so much. You would be mistaken.
I’ve never minced around the subject of bodies or babies. My kids have never been under the illusion of storks or tummy zippers or magic fairy dust bringing babies forth into this world. We moms get little enough credit, I’m not going to minimize the blood, sweat, and tears of labor and delivery and give kudos to some glorified carrier pigeon. I’ve stopped short of telling them about how their dad compared my first son’s birth to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, and all the accompanying carnage, or about the choice words I had for the nurse on duty during my exceedingly speedy delivery of the second. But I’ve answered their questions as they’ve come up. We started with the tried and true “a special part of the mom gets together with a special part of the dad” and added details as we’ve gone along; sort of like a birds and bees charm bracelet. The little one usually goes on his merry way, happy with whatever new slang word for testes he has learned. But the big one—the big one is getting curiouser and curiouser, particularly about girls and how their bodies are changing. And the only Alice around this house of males is me.
He still has a long way to go before his voice breaks, before he starts developing muscles, before he starts needing to worry about anti-perspirant, Clearasil, and shaving. We have a few more years before crusty gym shorts and stinky sneakers and pilfered magazines hidden under the mattress. But though he is still a few years away from the onset of puberty, his interest in the whole shebang has increased ten fold. If curiosity killed the cat, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a few feline corpses hidden about his room.
It makes sense. I remember fourth grade myself (Mrs. T and The Wall and long division; the first time I kissed a boy, mono, school dances in the cafeteria. Shelly Brighton* and her giant boobs). By the end of that year, there were definitely some rising fifth grade breasts on parade. Which means the same will likely hold true for my own fourth grader. My son seems miles away, but there are a few boys in his grade that are more physically mature than he. Boys who, as my husband puts it, will have a full beard by 13. They are the ones who will have a five o’clock shadow on their way to middle school home room, the ones who will have a receding hairline by graduation, the ones to whom all the other young men in the locker room compare their still narrow chests and baby smooth cheeks to.
It’s likely that in the next year or two some of his friends are going to get hairier, taller, pimplier, and grossest of all, interested in girls. We are also living in Denmark, a country that does not shy away from nut swinging/boob bouncing nudity. There are naked breasts on bus advertisements. There are wrinkly testicles on the beach. He would have to be blind not to notice. Put that together with the changes he may be starting to feel, and ones that his peers are starting to show, it is only natural that he is going to notice that the times, they are a changin’. And though I have never shied away from talking about bodies, I am, at the end of the day, a girl. The only Alice. I can give him accurate, concise and truthful information about periods and ovaries, a detailed comparison between Tampax and OB, but the snakes and snails and puppy dog tails stuff is a little more foreign to me. Talking, with both me and his father, only imparts so much information. He is requesting visual confirmation. Fearing finding google searches for naked fourth grade girls or something similar on my computer, I did the only thing I could think of.
I ordered a book.
The book came last week. Before I could even see it, he unwrapped it and went off to his room to read it. By himself. Under his duvet. He did this once or twice over the next day or two, obviously found whatever information he was seeking, and the book has been sitting in his drawer since. But it’s there if he needs it. I may need to read it myself, just to brush up on this stuff.
Fourth grade was a long time ago.
*Oh, Shelly Brighton, how we all envied those fourth-grade somethings. (Not her real name)