One reason I decided to talk to my children about anything and everything, from early childhood on, is that life wasn’t like that for me growing up.
As a child, I learned certain topics were “off limits.” Through the unintentional trial and error of asking the “wrong” questions, I found my queries met with snickers, adult-whispers or “you’re-too-young.”
I remember overhearing a conversation (in hushed tones) about a girl who was 16 and pregnant. I wondered how that could happen. I thought only married people had babies, but I knew not to ask.
I had learned: We didn’t talk about those things at home. I talked to friends and listened well on the playground.
In first grade, a girl told me that her mom was pregnant. She said it happened because her dad had stuck his “thing” in her mom and “drops came out." I assumed the “drops” were pee. I was grossed out and conflicted. I wanted to be a mommy someday, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to let some boy pee in me!
By the time I was in sixth grade, I had pieced together more accurate details. Most of my friends’ parents were having “the talk” with them. I waited apprehensively for the day my parents would talk to me. Many of my girlfriends had started their periods. I didn’t know whether to look toward that day with excitement or dread.
Then one Saturday, I sat in my bedroom, sure that my parents were
never going to “talk” to me. If they did, what would that conversation be like?
At school, we hadn’t had sex-ed yet, so I didn’t really know details about the reproduction system. I had finally started my period, but I really didn’t know why I was having a period.
I had three older sisters. Our bathroom held a Stayfree/Tampax stock pile. I’d read the packages plenty of times, so I knew what my options were when the big day arrived.
For three days, I’d kept the secret. I’d never felt comfortable talking to adults about private things. This was no exception.
I’d felt sick to my stomach, not from cramps, but from the nagging feeling that I needed to tell my mother, who would break the news to my dad: there were now five hormonal women in the house. (He was greatly outnumbered — even our dog was a girl!)
When I’d finally summoned my courage, my mom and sister laughed to hear I’d been nervous. Mom asked if I had any questions. I said no, bolting from the room.
That was the end of our talk.
I did have questions, but I had no idea how to talk to my parents about things that were troubling me. How did kids get started with those conversations? Part of me dreaded the idea of “the talk,” but deep inside, I desperately wanted my parents to understand me.
I sat on my bed and stared at my image in the dresser mirror. Then, I did
something that was sad and funny and drama-queen-esque. The comedy (and drama) of the situation eluded the adolescent-me; it was my way of coping.
I proceeded to give myself “the talk!" Face to face with my own reflection, I assumed a motherly role, elaborating on the reasons for the changes in my body and emotions. I assured myself that everything I was thinking and feeling was “normal,” that I would be OK.
I had many of the physical details wrong, but my intentions were spot-on. Strangely enough, when I finished “the talk,” I felt better.
I ventured outside to find my best friend, who happened to be a boy. Maybe we could play tag or throw Frisbee or hang out on my old swingset and talk. Sometimes, it just felt good to be a kid, and that’s what I wanted more than anything at that moment.
Years later, that friend would be a groomsman in my wedding.
My sisters would come to me the night before telling me not to be surprised if Mom cornered me to give me a “talk.” Apparently, that was the established pattern.
Being the gracious, respectful young woman that I was, I told them that if she tried such a thing, she would get punched, if not physically, verbally. Needless to say, my mother never had “the talk” with me.
The 20-some years between that day and this have led me to understand that my parents were not intentionally trying to neglect my emotional need. Nor were they consciously leaving me to fend for myself. In their defense, they didn’t have the tools they needed to open the dialogue. No one had ever equipped them; their parents had never had “the talk” with them.
With age comes wisdom. Whether in an attempt to make up for days-gone-by or a response to life-in-the-now, my parents have taken each of their grandchildren out to dinner for their 16th birthdays, giving them gifts to remind them that their sexuality is a treasure. Sure, the kids tease their siblings and cousins when it’s their turn, but there’s no denying that their grandparents care.
Somehow, there’s redemption in that. It’s never too late to set things right, even a generation later.
If you’ve followed this series, you know that “The Talk” is not a one-time deal. It’s an ongoing conversation. You don’t want your kids learning about sex on the giant hamburgers at school. God forbid they resort to sitting in front of a mirror and giving themselves “the talk!"
There’s no time like the present. Open your heart and your mouth. The words are there, waiting to be heard.