wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Birds and the bees, shooting the breeze

Peter Mayles, Where Did I Come From?

Peter Mayles, Where Did I Come From?

My son McCool is three years old. He has a baby in his tummy. The baby is coming out through his belly button one day soon. It is a little boy. And he’s excited to see him. And wants to share this excitement with me. We’re reading a bedtime story called There’s a House Inside My Mummy. We read it a lot when I was pregnant with GG. I’ve noticed McCool always chooses his reading material according to who is reading. It’s a clever tactic to keep the grown ups interested. I get John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat a lot (because it’s my favourite). Poor grandma gets The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (because she has the patience to read it). We fight over who won’t read Horton Hears a Who! ‘It’s too long’, we moan, ‘we need some more VOOOOM’. Who would have thought us literary types would try desperately to avoid Dr Seuss. But we’re all happy when we land Walter the Farting Dog.

I try to tell him that only women can have babies (even if this isn’t exactly correct) but he doesn’t want to listen. He likes the idea of a little one sprouting from his belly. He’s been asking a lot of questions about babies in bellies. He has a little cousin arriving soon.

I think that perhaps it’s time. To talk about sex. But, really, where do you start? I always thought it would be fairly straightforward. Just answer the questions down the line. But the questions are so curly. And the answers aren’t much easier. And now I realise the dilemma. McCool still finds it hard to distinguish between the real and the fantasy. At what point does cold hard reality have to come slamming down? Can’t we keep the boundaries blurred for just a little while longer?

My parents (hippies I used to say) believed in being direct. I can remember the first time I found out where babies came from. Even though I would have read hundreds of stories on my mother’s lap, it is this book I remember most clearly. I was around the age my son is now, I guess. 1976. Something about the tone, the conversation, must have set it apart. Important. To be remembered. I remember the delicate, almost technical, illustrations of a child inside a mother’s womb. The anatomy. I remember the precise wording of the pages. There was no passion. This was scientific. No room for questions.

It’s grade 2 and I’m in the school yard. I’m swinging on the monkey bars (we had those in the playground then). I’ve been talking to my best friend Christina for an hour. About sex. About who does what. And how it works. What goes where. She hasn’t said a word. I have her undivided attention. I feel like I’m an expert. I say it all in a matter-of-fact voice. As if it’s no big deal.

There's a House Inside My Mummy

There’s a House Inside My Mummy

The next day Christina’s big sister comes up to me in the playground. She’s in grade 6. She says that I shouldn’t talk that way. The way I talked yesterday. That it’s dirty. And disgusting. She says I’m too young to know things like that. And, as she leaves, she says, Oh, and my parents don’t want you playing with Christina any more.

I don’t know why but I feel ashamed. As if I need to be washed. As if I’m rubbing off on people. There’s a collision between the message I’m getting (from my mother) and the message I’m getting (from my peers). For some reason, it’s the children around me who have greater impact. I’m left confused. I don’t talk about this with my mum. I learn quickly that bodies, what they do, how they express themselves, should be hidden, that sex is something to keep secret.

But mum perseveres. Later in primary school we move on to Peter Mayles’ hilarious What’s Happening to Me? and Where Did I Come From?, two classics that answered all the key questions in a comic tone. Just seeing the illustrations again now makes me giggle. I remember my mother and I laughing at the page that had all different shapes of breasts and arguing over which ones would be best: the pendulous; the throw-over-your-shoulder; the pert and neat.

I wonder now if there are any new books that I can read to McCool. Has sex education moved into the digital sphere (there’s probably an App available somewhere they can stroke with their fingers)? Or do we still return to the classics?


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13 thoughts on “Birds and the bees, shooting the breeze

  1. Great post Kirsten, though I am sorry you got the cold shoulder at school for being more comfortable than some kids’ parents were talking about sex. I’d always remembered Where Did I Come From? with great affection until I read this review on Amazon, which gave me pause.

    The Puberty Book is based on the actual questions young people ask. Perhaps a bit old for McCool but one to have on hand.

    Funnily enough, someone posed a similar question about books to help talk with children about sex in response to a recent post on my blog. I’ll put a link to your post in a reply.

  2. Aw, this is so cute, Kirsten! Believe me, your son is too young to understand or care about the realities of where babies come from! By the time he’s old enough to understand, he’ll know better than to ask his parents anyway! As your story here points out, kids learn from kids for the most part. You can give him direct answers to direct questions, and have the funny books available, but I really think they learn on their own. I don’t remember ever having a conversation with Max about where babies come from. We did have a couple books around when he was about 10, I think–and I’m pretty sure he did look at them. But he was a very private kind of kid, and he certainly wouldn’t have been imaginative enough to play that he had a baby in his belly!

    • The latest play involved McCool using his tow truck to pull the baby out because it was stuck! Very funny. He is intensely curious about the world, as I was. I don’t think it’s long before I’ll be answering those questions, along with many many others.

  3. Juanita Kwok on said:

    Hi Kirsten,

    I was interested to read (haven’t seen it myself) that for the first time there is a tampon or sanitary pad ad with the word vagina in it. According to the Herald article I read, it caused quite a few complaints from horrified viewers which got Family First jumping up and down to say it should be removed from broadcast. Jane Caro is it? from Gruen Transfer said its about time we called a vagina a vagina which I heartily agree with. Fromthe beginning I used the words vagina and penis with my daughters.

    But more to your point, my 9 year old daughter told me sex was kissing or something and asked me if I knew about it. When I told her I did, and told her it involved a man’s penis going into a woman’s vagina well she just about fell out of bed laughing.

    Juanita ( in Bathurst ) x
    PS. We still have monkey bars here at Bathurst South, just newer ones than those you played on.

    • Actually, where I had the conversation in the playground was at Eglinton Primary (not far from you). I don’t really get why people are scared of naming genitals. McCool has been taught a pet name (by his dad!) but I never wanted to go down that path. It always amazed me that Oprah Winfrey of all people couldn’t say the word (vagina) and had to substitute va-jayjay. So strange.

  4. LOL one of my sons remarked to me recently that they never really had a problem with knowing anything about sex and where babies come from – but not everyone’s got a midwife for a mother! Talk about bringing your work home with you.
    I remember taking them to the community health centre one holidays and they had an hour there before the movies started. They were in stitches about the condoms in a babies potty that was on the reception desk (free condoms take a handful)
    The receptionist also had boys so gave me two handfuls for them. They spent the trip home blowing up condoms in the car and flicking them around to see if they fly around like balloons do when you let them go. The police car going the other way did not stop me. And one son reading a pamphlet…..What’s scabbies mum? That would be Scabies, pet.

    My new website is just launched Kirsten – a launching blog coming soon but new address with rss feral007.com/countrylife/

    all done by my babyboy

  5. You were lucky to be in the know about sex Kirsten! Apart from a strange conversation I had as a five year old with my very knowing friend Nadine (her parents had shag pile carpet and a nudie painting in their bedroom! Scandalous!), I had no clues. Don’t know what I must have been doing in sex education classes(zoning out and reading literature probably) but when sex finally happened it all came as a big shock! I didn’t even know about erections! Fortunately I’m a fast learner but really – I knew nussingk! (Said in Sargeant Shultz voice). I made sure my kids had lots of access to books about it and we always used anatomically correct language for genitals.

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