By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
As parents, we often find ourselves answering big questions at the most unusual times. It happened to me last week on the drive back from the splash park. It was about 96 degrees that day, with a heat index of what felt like 205. “Sweltering” was the word that came to mind.
The kids and I ran around at the splash park in a desperate attempt to stay cool. Then we dried off and climbed into the minivan. Eight-year-old Adam asked if we could stop by our favorite ice-cream place on the way home, since it was SO HOT. I couldn’t argue with his logic. Climbing into that hot, stuffy minivan definitely made ice cream sound wildly appealing. So off we went.
Normally, I ask the kids to hold their ice cream cups and not eat until we get home, so as not to end up with a car interior coated in chocolate milkshake. But it was too hot that day to wait, so everybody ate while I drove the few miles to our house.
In that short time period, here’s the conversation that transpired. Three-year-old Kate, little sister to big brothers, kicked it off with this surprising line:
Kate (who was holding her ice cream cup between her legs): “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be careful not to drip the ice cream on my penis.”
Me (horrified but trying to sound casual and nonchalant): “What?! No, Kate, girls do not have a penis. That’s only for boys. Girls have different parts.”
(Side note: Let me interrupt here and say that, years ago, I followed some child-rearing book’s advice about not making up nicknames for body parts. The book said it’s better for kids to know the correct names of the parts of the human body so they won’t be confused later on. It made sense at the time. But I will admit that I nearly wrecked the car when my 3-year-old girl said the word “penis.” A nickname like wee-wee would have been far less jarring. But I digress. I’ll pick it up where we left off.)
Jack (6-years-old and honestly curious): “If she doesn’t have a penis, then where does the pee come out?”
Me (trying to figure out how ice-cream could have led to all this): “Well, her part is just different from yours. Pee comes out of her private parts. They’re private because nobody should be looking at them or touching them except for Kate. They’re private,” I said, proud of how I’d delayed the task of trying to teach a 3-year-old how to pronounce the word “urethra.”
Jack: “And nobody is supposed to see your naked bootie, right Mom?”
Me: “That’s right. Hey, is this ice cream good or what?”
Thankfully, the conversation switched back to the merits of chocolate versus vanilla at that point and I felt relieved. But I also realized that, of all the people in the van, I was the only one who felt the least bit awkward about the topic. The rest of them were just figuring things out and asking questions, as they should. We parents are the ones who bring all the weird baggage to the issue.
When we got home and finished our ice-cream, I told everyone to go upstairs and take their baths and showers to wash off the chlorine and sweat. They all followed orders, and I checked in on each of them to make sure soap was actually being used and armpits scrubbed.
Ten minutes later, Kate rounded the corner dressed in her favorite pink Elmo pajamas and sat in front of me while I brushed out her wet hair.
“Did you remember to wash your arms and legs and everything else?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “And I even remembered to wash my pirate parts.”
“Pirate parts?” I asked.
“Yep, the pirate parts, just like you said,” she confirmed.
I nodded and switched on the hair dryer, trying like crazy not to laugh.
Obviously, this won’t be our last anatomy lesson.