In the age of google images and YouTube, parenting a tween is terrifying. All it takes is one misspelled word and our sweet innocent children are subjected to a swath of unwholesome images and videos–the kind that make eyes bleed. A few too many misdirected searches for “Pokemon” and “kittens” caused a bit of panic that I wasn’t ready to explain. It became pretty clear to my husband and I that it was time for “the talk.”
Unlike what we received as teens (nothing), as parents we decided that it would be best to give a biologically accurate and heartfelt delivery of this message one-on-one with our kids. We wanted them to hear what sex was from us–not from their friends or television. When we were younger, if we dared look, our sources were printed dictionaries or encyclopedias. Today’s version of that being the internet, we felt the earlier the better.
My daughter was a ripe age of 9 when I swooped her off her feet to a bed and breakfast deep in the fall foliage of the Shenandoah Valley. I told her, “You and I are going to have a Mommy/Daughter Date Weekend!” She beamed with excitement at the thought of uninterrupted attention. “Mom, can we ride bikes and run through the park? Can we eat ice cream and watch cartoons?”
“Of course,” I told her. “And we can have mommy/daughter talk time too!”
She had no clue. To this day, I feel kind of bad for what was to come. Somewhere in my mind, I was convinced that this was the year she needed to hear about the birds and the bees. This was the year, because all students in her grade would be getting the ‘family life unit.” This was the year, because if I didn’t do it, someone or something else would explain it to her first. The thought of her googling some key words on the topic made me freeze with fear.
Therefore, we had a date weekend. We did all the stuff she asked. We rode our bikes through a parking lot at the foothills of a beautiful red and orange canopy of fall leaves in the Shenandoah mountainscape. We told each other stories over dinner and snuggled while watching movies in our PJs. It was golden. I have such joyful memories when I think back to those moments.
After all the fun activities we planned has been done, the only thing left to do was to have the talk. Naturally, I stalled. But while cozy and happy in the thick comforters of the bed, I nervously blurted out, “How are you?”
Things were already not going as I had planned. I was not a bumbling mess when I rehearsed this in my brain. In my mental version, we had a great conversation, my daughter thoughtfully asking questions, and me doling out well-crafted answers.
“How are you,” is the phrase you ask acquaintances you see in the grocery store. We had been together the entire day. Realizing I sounded awkward, I followed that up with…”Well, I mean…okay…so, have you ever had questions you were too scared or embarrassed to ask?” Another awkward approach.
Confused, my daughter stops to search my face. “You mean…like…girl stuff?”
She gets it. She’s the one who dives in. I say YES and then she asks, “Well, why do older girls want to shave their legs?”
She falls into my poorly set trap. We chat. We talk about weird human phenomenon, like why people decide to shave, what makes someone interested in doing drugs, why girls wear special clothing contraptions? We talk about the strange processes of puberty and how it takes over our brains…we even talk about…that thing.
After my thorough biological explanation of how children are manufactured, I ask, “Do you have any other questions you’d like to ask?” Eyes averted, she asks one and then says, “Ok mom, I’m done for the day. Can we watch another movie now?” The door that was opened has now been abruptly shut. To which I say, “Of course!”
Happily, we both breathe a sigh of relief and stare at the TV watching a children’s movie. Though these types of conversations are probably best done on an ongoing everyday basis, ours was intentional and it was okay. One year later, she feels empowered to keep asking questions and they become more interesting and thoughtful as time passes. I’m less red in the face when she asks, and she’s more comfortable asking. There’s nothing more I could ask for.
The next morning, we woke up, enjoyed breakfast together, took one last bike ride through the fall scenery and headed home.
We had a great trip and deepened our relationship. It was both imperfect and perfect at the same time.
Our son turns 9 this year, to which my daughter told him, “Lucky you! You get to have awkward conversations with dad this year!” Confused, he probed, “What do you mean?” She knowingly laughed and said, “You’ll see. It will be ‘fun.'” She used air quotes with her fingers. I’ll take that as a compliment.