The Birds, the Bees and my Seven-Year-Old: when is it time for ‘the talk’?

“So how exactly do babies get inside your tummy?”.  Now there’s a question.  It’s been asked by my 7-year-old now on three occasions. Conversations tend to start with him wondering whether he’ll ‘get another brother or sister’, then, after various two-ings and fro-ings, culminate with the killer question. How to answer it has left me a bit stumped, because tales of ‘storks’ are ridiculous (especially given his suspicions about Father Christmas when he was only three), but I’m also not really up for a biology class – he’s only 7. I also don’t want him regaling his mates in the playground with his own interpretation of the facts of life and opening Pandora’s box for all…

I think I’d always assumed that with two boys, my husband would take care of those conversations.  However, it turns out I’m in the firing line and my initial attempts at answering leave a lot to be desired – a load of waffle about flowers, eggs and seeds.

When my son first asked me about why boys and girls look different, I steered clear from anatomical labels, preferring softer-edged terms because of the likelihood of him repeating my words. I knew others who were of the ‘tell it how it is’ school-of-thought and someone who even explained the facts of life (in full detail) to her then three-year-old.  There’s stuff on the internet which is a bit biological, whereas I must admit, I was slightly relieved to be able to point to my cesarean scar when they asked me how babies came out of their mummy’s tummies.  But now that the question is how did they get there in the first place, I am regretting not having explained more when he was younger, given that it’d mean less of a ‘reveal’ now.

A couple of years later, the sight of ‘Sex and Relationships’ on the Reception class curriculum raised a few eyebrows amongst my fellow mums. At that age, even the word ‘knickers’ has them in hysterics – so we feared we’d never hear the end of it (it’s all I can do to quell the toilet humour as it is…). However, the reality of learning about the life-cycle of a frog, butterfly and a bit on flowers was tamer than we feared.

Clearly he’s now after for a bit more by way of explanation. Yet tales from those who’ve gone before me don’t fill me with optimism.  A few years ago, a friend of a friend’s daughter didn’t look her in the eye for a week after hearing the ‘disgusting thing’ (in her words) that her parents had done.  Apparently, it was only made worse when shortly afterwards, Kate Middleton announced her pregnancy. To her, that only meant one thing: they had done it too.

Although the full-facts feel a bit full-on, I’ve found being vague about stuff doesn’t work either.  Keen to jump on the bandwagon of a recent NSPCC visit to school, I gamely showed my kids the ‘Pantasourus’ video from the NSPCC that evening in the name of reinforcement. It didn’t go quite how I expected, as my eldest said “that went right over my head” and my youngest asked “why is he talking about washing his pants?”. ‘Rock and a hard place’ springs to mind…

In a bid to gently side-step (but not totally cop-out), I tried to find an age-appropriate educational video on the internet, but most of the information seems to be for mums of girls, whereas advice for boy-chat seems pretty vague. Although I didn’t come up trumps, I came across some useful advice advising that the trick to navigating these kinds of potentially land-your-kid-in-therapy-for-life conversations was to respond as if you are a prisoner of war. Provide only the information requested and nothing more”, and to be straight-up about limiting information to what feels suitable by explaining that you’ll explain more when they’re older.  Whilst the analogy to being a prisoner of war made me LOL, I’m not sure how that would work with my son. I guess the main gist is that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, but can instead be eked-out in stages.

After seeing both silly videos and witnessing the cringe-worthy attempts by other parents, I’m going to kick the conversation into the long grass – it’ll buy me time to give my husband a nudge…

Related Content:

Facts of life – educational books for kids

The hormone factory – educational website aimed at older kids

Puberty for boys – educational video for kids

 

 

Letter to Lego: spare a thought…

Dear Lego,

We first got to know each other when my brother was obsessed by your Space-themed sets in the ‘80s (we still have his astronauts to this day). Back then your pieces were pretty basic, varying in colour and size, but little else – yet they still held our attention for hours.  Whilst my brother’s Lego creations were largely out of bounds, I remember him helping me make an approximation of a dog to cheer me up after I broke my collar bone.

Lego 2.jpg

Many years later, my sons are also obsessed by you. Like classic addicts, it doesn’t matter how much our guys have, it’s never enough.  In an attempt to keep you in check, we keep your instruction books so they can rebuild models after re-appropriating them for their own creations. Sounds good in theory, but not so fun now that all your models have specialist pieces – some customised further with stickers.  I suspect that these days it’s unnecessary to put up with ‘approximations’ of dogs, when there’s probably specific breeds for sale. Sure, there’s some dinosaur claws which resemble the detail on Jestro’s Lair, but generally, once a model has been dismantled, finding a piece again is harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

I end up assuming the role of a quasi-quality-controller, devising ways to efficiently sift and scrutinise the pieces whilst wondering if all this search-and-find has any benefit beyond model-making (brain-training for ‘spot the difference’ perhaps??). Back in the real-world, it’s only a matter of seconds after a piece is found (miraculous in itself), that I’m tasked with finding an even more obscure one. “I need a black two-er” is music to my ears when I’ve been searching in vain for a piece that I don’t even understand from the picture.

Seems my kids unwittingly buy-into your motto (‘only the best is the best’) – by insisting that only the correct piece will do.  Sometimes they humour me by heeding my suggestions to improvise where possible, but often even I can see that can’t be done (the black middle-bit from flying Jay comes to mind…).

Apparently, there are now well over 600 billion Lego pieces – most of which seem to be on our floor.  I hear you’ve even designed an X-Wing Fighter requiring 5 million bricks – a masterpiece perhaps, but not for the poor buggers trying to find the right bits…

Whilst I don’t want to cramp your style (your models are works of art), please spare a thought for us parents – attempting to find pieces on the one hand, whilst trying to avoid hoovering them on the other. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’ve got faith in you – after all, you’re the world’s most powerful brand and have been voted toy of the century twice – not bad for an 83-year-old who started life making wooden toys.

Perhaps you could start by sticking a couple of spares in your Lego sets, so we can be freed from the ‘finding’ to do what you’ve always intended: ‘play well’.

Yours Faithfully,

Wonderinalexland

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Stuff – when less is more

How my sons made me realise I was a feminist…

Perhaps I’ve been lucky to take equality for granted and not feel that I’ve fallen foul of the patriarchy.  Perhaps that’s also lucky, given that I’m a product of single-sex education, but far from my schools being girlification-factories, they made gender seem irrelevant.  I had bloke-mates outside school (courtesy of having a brother) and earned a bit of status by being the chief-introducer of boys into my friendship circles. It’s also fair to say I sported looks that I only grew into in my 20s.  These were perhaps a blessing in disguise as I was accepted as a mate rather than viewed as totty with a lobotomy.

After being at an all-girls school, it was perhaps inevitable that most of my mates were blokes at Uni, with friendships enduring as boyfriends came and went.  Before getting married I even had a ‘Cock Night’ (…yeah, I know, not a great phrase…) with my close male mates (involving beer and an American diner); in addition to a classic ‘Hen weekend’ (featuring sparkly dresses).  Despite it being the era of ‘Cool Britannia’, Geri Halliwell’s Girl Power felt too contrived for me, yet whilst I was neither shouty or angsty, being equal to blokes was just a given. I didn’t feel the need to do bad ass kicks, wear a Feminist t-shirt, or buy tickets to the Vagina Monologues to prove it.

‘Feminism’ felt a bit too bra-burny – Germaine Geer seemed to take herself far too seriously.  There was some-sort of Feminist module on my psychology course which spent a lot of time appearing to split hairs in order to establish two opposing schools of thought: firstly that women share more similarities than differences to men; or, on the other hand that women are different from men in valuable ways and that they should be celebrated. I felt in the first camp, whereas ‘feminism’ seemed to be about the latter (and appeared to diss men in the process).

Those I knew who were on the F-bandwagon seemed to be fervent, angry and spent a lot of time complaining about their ex-boyfriends (which, after a few drinks invariably led to a lot of Alanis Morissette being shouted-along-to on dancefloors).  I didn’t feel angry or angsty, I had good mates who were blokes and liked getting dolled-up – it didn’t feel like a contradiction to me, but neither did it appear to fit the F-profile.

Subsequently, I worked in a male-dominated profession in a part of the business whose acronym was CMS. It had more women than the other areas, so it was referred to jokingly as ‘Chicks who Make Slides’. It was so overtly sexist, it made me laugh – I didn’t take it seriously, it was just part of the banter (just as IT guys were called geeks, regardless of whether they were or not).  My impression of feminists is that they couldn’t and wouldn’t let that lie (someone I knew took offence at a kid’s animation referring to ‘scantily clad mermaids’…). Of course, ‘banter’ isn’t on when it’s used to excuse pernicious behaviour that’s better described as ‘bullying’, but I wasn’t insulted because it wasn’t underpinned by a disparaging view of women – it’s all about the context.

So, my experiences continued to reinforce views that I happily took for granted and further distanced me from the F-crew – I was a girl in a man’s world and that felt ok. It was only when I got married and had kids that my friendship groups shifted from being predominantly male to female.  It started with maternity leave and has since grown over time; seemingly by having a baby, I quite literally joined ‘the club’.  I don’t really know whether my female mates would identify themselves as feminists (I’m sure that they’d vary), yet I also know that they’d certainly take the principles as a given.

Now that I have two boys, I don’t feel ‘outnumbered’ in our household – even though they’re more likely to wrestle one another than sew, gender isn’t a big deal (after all, we know girls who’re wired the same way).

That was until the morning that White Van Man parked over driveway, blocking me in.  Fearing a ‘late mark’ from the kids’ school, I bounded next door to ask if the van belonged to one of their workmen and turned out it did.  The guy came out the house and said, “all right princess, I’ll move it in a minute”. This was no banter, no turn of phrase, it had a ring of the patriarchy about it and immediately triggered my F-allegiance. Would he have called my husband “princess” in a ‘calm down dear’ voice?  NO! Am I an actual princess? NO! Then WTF?! So, I replied, “You don’t need to ‘princess-me’, just move your van”.

Low and behold, when I returned to the car, the first thing my sons asked was “why did that man call you a princess?”, which led to their first lesson in feminism during the 10-minute commute to school. Their question unlocked viewpoints that were so fundamental, I’ve never explained them before, but White Van Man triggered a vehemence that I didn’t know I had. I borrowed from Roald Dahl’s Matilda to explain the basics: “the man thought he was big, but really he was small”.  Now even my 5-year-old knows: never call someone a ‘Princess’, unless they are one, or you’re about to marry them (but even then, best not as it’s just too cheesy…).

Although my words may have gone over their heads, I’m sure the sentiment won’t.  Having bought “Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World” as a birthday present for a few of their mates recently, I now actively talk-up their sparky female friends as ‘strong women’. This description was initially refuted by my 5-year-old who corrected me: “she’s not a woman, she’s a girl” – the ‘strong’ bit wasn’t in question.

So here I find myself, drawn towards the term that I previously avoided.  It doesn’t just feel that it’s me who’s changing though – these days feminism takes many forms and there’s less rigidity and ‘biker-chick’ about it.  There’s even a comedy podcast called ‘The Guilty Feminist’, reflecting how feminists are now laughing at themselves, making others laugh and embracing their femininity.

But as the incident with White Van Man taught me, feminism isn’t just a theme for female households, our boys are half of the story. There’s an unspoken expectation of what it means to be a boy, and whilst we’re rearing modern-day girls to be more like boys, things will only be equal if boys have a wider scope too. Maybe we need to raise them to be more like girls to avoid the ‘boys don’t cry’ trap? A bit of wrestling and sewing for all then? Big-up the sisterhood, but also the brotherhood!

Related Content:

Standard Issue Magazine Current Affairs Podcast and Comedy Gigcast

The Guilty Feminist Comedy Podcast

How to raise a feminist son NY Times article

Why I’m raising my sons to be feminists by Parent.Co

It’s OK for Women not to be Ambitious by India Knight

Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst, Book Review

‘Feminism needs a revolution’ – Alanis Morissette Time article

Other blogs in ‘Conversations with your kids’, by Wonderinalexland

Other blogs in ‘Parenting’ by Wonderinalexland

 

Creating a rod for our own backs?

“Please can I have an apple that I can see through?” was the latest school snack request from my youngest.  My husband thought I was nothing short of a lunatic when he came into the kitchen to see me wrestling with an apple and chopping it in half by accident. Thankfully it was still acceptable on a technicality: you could still see through it if you held the two halves together. Phew.

Despite these production challenges, I’m resisting the temptation to buy an apple-corer for two reasons: (1) it would feel a little ridiculous to fill our kitchen drawer with more stuff in order to panda to the latest whim; (2) the whim is likely to go as quickly as it came (and even quicker if I spend any time or money on it…). But somehow, recognising that doesn’t stop me from doing it. I guess there are many times in the day when I tell him ‘no’, so I take the policy that if I can say ‘yes’, I do. No doubt this is at some level guilt-fuelled – I want him to know that I’m listening and that I care.

I had thought that kids would grow out of toddler foibles by the time they got to school, but as I’ve written previously, my kids expect a different level of ‘service’ from me than they do from my husband.  My husband’s approach is a very simple ‘don’t go there in the first place’, in his mind, I’m creating a rod for my own back. You can also bet your bottom dollar that no kid in the 1950s asked his/her parent for an apple they could see through – they’d have been happy with an apple full stop.

The ridiculous nature of what I was doing reminded me of this picture that I saw recently on the internet (credited to Bunmi Laditan) which made me laugh:

rod for own back blog.jpg

The growth of this ludicrous list is probably to over-compensate for parental guilt – caused by the pressures of modern-day life – at the same time that parenting trends are becoming more exacting. One in three families have both parents working full time, families now eat fewer meals together and spend less time together in general – although this effect is more pronounced the wealthier you are.

I’m assuming that my son is asking me for bespoke snacks as a way of testing his power.  My eldest was given a quartered apple every day for the two years that preceded his brother joining him at school and during that time he never asked for anything else (a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’!). In contrast, my youngest had only been to school for a couple of weeks before he decided that a standard apple was out. He’d clocked other people’s snacks, so wanted novelty, variety (and what everyone else had…): Dailylea Dunkers, breadsticks, Cheddars, Ritz crackers, cheese and biscuits, even sandwiches.

Since he’s in the slip-stream of his older brother, he probably wants to feel unique, exert influence and test out how much we’re prepared to do for him. Whilst I draw the line at making sandwiches for snacks, I figure that a spot of apple-art seems like a small adjustment to make. Especially if it encourages fruit-eating and makes him feel good in the process.

I could be wrong and he’s just a little tyrant, turning me into his willing servant – but elsewhere I see other parents doing similar things.  Not so long ago, I read an article about a mum talking about why she still brushes her nine-year-old daughter’s hair.  It’s the same with my seven-year old’s bedtime stories which he continues to enjoy, despite being able to read to himself. Whilst these things may sound unnecessary, I’m sure they reflect a similar pattern in other households. I remember a friend referring to the ‘ham step’ in her kitchen – so-called because that’s where her 18-month-old daughter insisted on sitting to eat ham. Seems that each family has it’s own quirks.

So, I’ll do my best to hollow-out the apples, with the recent warnings of ‘avocado hand’ ringing in my ears. …That is until the next request comes in 😉 !

Related content:

Guilt: it doesn’t make you a better parent, it just makes you worry more

Why being imperfect makes us the perfect parents

Other parenting articles

How well do you know your kids?

I recently saw a post from onehullofadad who’s also got a 5-year-old.  He asked him a series of questions and I thought it was a fun idea, so have followed-suit.  My sons’ nursery used to ask them questions like ‘what makes you happy / sad / what do you most like / least like about school’? etc each year and I remember enjoying seeing the responses and this was a bit similar.

I can imagine it’s the sort of list that would be lovely for them to be asked at different ages and to then see how it changes.  Whilst some things will endure, it captures their age and era as much as any dated photo and call me an old sentimental, but I find something appealing about that.

However, I also agree with onehullofadad, that not only would my kids’ choice of film change, their other answers would also differ more-or-less for every day of the week.  They are still at the age where they are influenced by their most immediate experiences.  However, it’s Lego that’s been the most consistent – they are walking adverts for how it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Here are the questions, along with the answers my 5-year-old and 7-year-old gave.  We did it like a game of ‘Mr and Mrs’ (I wrote my answer down before they told me theirs):

What is your favourite…

1.Colour –

Youngest: I said “orange” / he said “red”

Eldest: I said “red” / he said “red”

2.Thing to do

Youngest: I said “Lego” / he said “Game of Life”

Eldest: I said “BMX track or Monopoly” / he said “play”

3.Thing to eat

Youngest: I said “sweets” / he said “sausages”

Eldest: I said “cheese and biscuits” / he said “sausages & pasta”

4.Place to go

Youngest: I said “bouncy play centre” / he said “bouncy play centre”

Eldest: I said “BMX track” / he said “Spain”

5.Thing you like doing the most with Mummy

Youngest: I said “make things” / he said “build a jet pack­”

Eldest: I said “reading” / he said “arts and crafts”

6.Thing you like doing the most with Daddy

Youngest: I said “Lego” / he said “Lego”

Eldest: I said “Lego” / he said “BMX track”

7.Thing you like doing the most with your brother

Youngest: I said “Lego” / he said “Lego”

Eldest: I said “Lego” / he said “Lego”

8.Thing to do at school

Youngest: I said “Lego” / he said “draw on the board”

Eldest: I said “writing” / he said “playing”

9.Ice cream flavour

Youngest: I said “chocolate” / he said “vanilla”

Eldest: I said “rum and raisin” / he said “rum and raisin”

10.Snack  –

Youngest: I said “cheese and biscuits” / he said “pain au chocolat”

Eldest: I said “Ritz crackers” / he said “breadsticks”

11.Superhero

Youngest: I said “Batman” / he said “Dark Seed”                

Eldest: I said “Hulk” / he said “Dark Seed”

12.Animal

Youngest: I said “shark” / he said reindeer”

Eldest: I said shark” / he said “shark”

13.Film

Youngest: I said Batman” / he said “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Eldest: I said “Danny Champion of world or Swallows and Amazons / he said “Swallows and Amazons”

14.TV programme

Youngest: I said “Mr Bean cartoon” / he said “Mr Bean cartoon”

Eldest: I said “Horrible Histories” / he said “Horrible Histories”

15.Book

Youngest: I said “Midnight Gang or James and the Giant Peach” / he said “Midnight Gang

Eldest: I said “Midnight Gang” / he said “Midnight Gang”

16.Music

Youngest: I said “’Hamburger, cheeseburger, lettuce and tomato, hamburger, cheeseburger, lettuce and tomato, hey, where’s the ketchup?’ sung to the ‘Macarana’ music” / he said “same but saying ‘ladies’ rather than ‘lettuce’”

Eldest: I said “’Uptown Funk’ by Bruno Mars” / he said “Uptown Funk”

I then happened to be chatting to my sister-in-law (who has an 11-year-old) about her daughter now having an ipod – but when I asked what her daughter’s favourite music was, she said she wasn’t sure.  It then occurred to me that as our children get older, there’s more and more that we won’t know about them.  I suspect it’ll creep-up imperceptibly.  Whilst I joke that I’ll be sitting behind my sons at their first dates in the cinema, the reality is that’d just be plain weird.

Anticipating this future means it’s even sweeter that they sometimes preferred my answers (above) to their own.  It’s nice to know that for the moment at least, when it comes to some things, I know them better than they know themselves.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That’s a question that we’ve all been asked at some point.  Usually starting as early as toddler-hood when replies often include fireman, policeman, princess, fairy (and anything else in dressing-up boxes or favourite books).  My youngest wanted to be a dragon.  As he was only three, I didn’t burst his bubble.

I was slightly more perturbed the other morning when (now a five year old) he announced, unprompted at breakfast that “when I grow up I want to be a criminal”.  Great.  Just great.  How on earth did he get to that?  He’s the chief joker in the family so will do and say anything for a laugh.  The only reasonable answer I could think of was “drink your milk” (whilst texting a friend in advance of a playdate to warn of his intentions).

It got me thinking back to when I was about nine and I wanted to be a nun.  It confused my parents as we weren’t practicing Catholics.  We weren’t even Catholic.  I liked the outfit (more specifically the veil) and that was that.  My brother wanted to be a lawyer (having been impressed by Perry Mason’s leather-clad swivel-chair on the TV show).  Many moons later, he made it – although I’m not sure how much reality and fiction have in common.

As for me, I went through a number of ideas, being inspired by whatever I was learning at school.  I remember wanting to walk across Greenland after hearing about its dangerous and inaccessible interior.  The bigger the challenge, the better.  It was exciting to dream, unimpeded by practicalities.  The idea of my kids being inspired by others’ heroism, ingenuity, creativity or sporting achievements is an appealing antidote to the current emphasis on appearances and desire for 15 minutes of fame.

Whilst Alexander Fleming, Thomas Edison, Mary Anning and Florence Nightingale have less superficial allure than the glitz of current celebrity-lifestyles, their stories are more fascinating.  You may have seen my blog about the timeline we have on our wall – it’s been a good way of setting these people and their amazing deeds in context.  Truth-be-told, I’m struggling to identify current-day heroes.  Maybe that’s because we only appreciate the value of people in hindsight.

But it’s not all about external markers of success.  Even if they aren’t responsible for the greatest invention of their era, I hope they find fulfillment by pursuing their dreams.  Ultimately Joseph Campbell’s words are all that matters: “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”.

The Things They Say: Children’s talk to make you smile

One thing I’m kicking myself for is not writing down more of what my kids said in those cute moments when they were trying to communicate, but got it wrong.

I still remember getting my thumb caught in my dad’s car and saying “I’ve got my finger duck [stuck]” – which was received with much merriment.  Not exactly the response I was looking for (my thumb really hurt where I’d managed to wedge it…).  I was probably about the age that my youngest is now.

Experts say you shouldn’t encourage baby-talk as it may stunt their development, but it’s so cute that I see why parents allow childish vocab to stick.  Conversely, others argue that correcting them can harm their confidence and in doing so, delay development.

Of course, there are two aspects to this: the meaning of what they are saying and the words to say it with.  I find my youngest is all at sea when he tries to find the right word for an unfamiliar concept.  For example, on a recent holiday there was lots of talk from my eldest about the buffet breakfast (his hotel highlight), leading my youngest to check later “is there a buffalo for breakfast?” before saying “I’m going on the banister” (balcony).

He also heard people talking about ipads and as he had only heard about them, rather than seen them, he very proudly showed me his ipad (a little paper notepad that he got given in a party bag).  It was very cute, but I needed to come clean with him as I worried he’d sound like he was from the dark ages when interacting with potentially tech-savvy peers.

In contrast, my eldest intended on talking about a computer, however he ended up  talking about a ‘bincooter’ – a word that he used consistently as a 2/3 year old.  He also mixed phrases up that he didn’t hear that often.  He was probably about 5 or 6 when I needed to do a quick pit-stop for some dry cleaning and he asked me “are we going to the tumble drier?”.

We’ve also heard references to “square words” from my youngest (in case you’re wondering, “stupid” is a “square word” apparently) and heard his delight when recounting a film (“The Witch behind the Wardrobe”) that he watched with his grandparents when they were taking care of him.  It was only because my mother-in-law had also mentioned it to me that I knew he was really talking about “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

The charm lies not only in the comedy of the errors, it’s also because it highlights their relative naivety about the world.  That’s probably something that has been an unexpected bonus about having kids.  Being able to see and experience things through their eyes certainly makes the world seem shiny, interesting and new.  It’s a journey of discovery for them – their morning can be made or broken by the type of breakfast cereal on offer, or whether their socks are itchy.  Yes, it can be draining at times, but it is also amazing to be able to make someone’s day by finding their lost Lego figure.