When we lived in Minnesota, we enrolled our daughter in the state sponsored Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program. We paid a small fee, sent her to preschool two mornings per week, and twice a month I joined her in her classroom. On parent days, the moms would spend an hour with our kids, then we’d go to our own classroom, with coffee and snacks and our own teacher.
Midway through the year, we started building up to “safe touch” week. The kids were going to learn about safe touch in their classroom, and the parent educator helped us prepare ourselves and our children for that discussion. Naturally, we had lots of questions.
“So, how do we help our kids understand why some parts of their body are private? Why we always cover certain areas? Why it’s okay for someone to touch some places but not others? How these parts are private, but not something to be ashamed of?”
All of which led, of course, into sex talk, and that four is just as good an age as any to start talking about sex.
I was shocked. An equally stunned mom thought out loud, “I would have never thought to start talking this early about sex!”
She looked at the ceiling, still thinking. “But then again, by the time my parents wanted to talk to me, my hormones had already kicked in and I thought, ‘eeeewwww! I’m not talking to you about that!'”
Our resident expert mom, who had already been through the program three times with her other children, and who was my personal put-together-even-though-I-have-four-kids idol, pshawed us all and said, “Talking about sex is easy at this age! They’re not embarrassed. They’ll probably just ask for ice cream when you’re done.”
She added, “It’s easier than telling them about Santa.”
Our instructor suggested a book for us all, What’s the Big Secret, and I picked it up at the library that afternoon while the kids got their Magic Treehouse books (We hadn’t talked to our son about sex yet either. He was six at the time.) At home, I pre-read the book in the bathroom, the only room for privacy as any parent will know. I found it satisfactory, left it on the counter, and then went into the kitchen to start working on dinner.
When my husband came home from work, I was in full cooking mode, the oven fan running full blast, and I couldn’t hear a thing. He kissed me on the cheek and said, “Uhhhh, the kids are looking at this book…”
Crap! I hadn’t told him yet.
“Oh yeah,” I laughed nervously, “They must have found it in the bathroom. I was going to read it to them tonight.”
I poked my head into the living room where they were huddled together on the couch, giggling and pointing. I wiped my hands and asked my husband, “Maybe we should just do it now?”
My heart pounded faster than a hummingbird’s, and my palms were sweaty. I think my voice might have cracked when I said, “Hey kids, do you want to read that book together?”
Our son had asked me once how babies get out of their mom’s bellies, and without thinking, I said, “They come out through the mom’s vagina.” He and our daughter looked horrified. Then he laughed and pointed at his sister and said, “You’re going to have to do that one day!” I’m pretty sure that was the day she decided she wanted to be a boy.
It was obvious that I needed help in the tact department when it came to things like this, so I sat between them, wiped my hands on my jeans again, and started reading. I don’t remember a word of the book. I just remember the relief I felt as I turned each page, thinking, we’re doing this. We’re really doing it.
The kids giggled and pointed at the drawings of penises. Our daughter was fascinated by the diagram of a baby inside a mother’s womb. My husband and I answered any questions they had, but they didn’t have many.
When we were all finished, I asked, “Do y’all have any more questions?”
And our son said, “What’s for dinner?”
Alcohol for me, buddy. Spaghetti for you.
The expert mom was right. It really was easy. But we haven’t had the courage to tell them about Santa yet. I wonder if there’s a book for that…
That was three years ago, and our kids don’t remember any of it. But we’ve laid the groundwork and have gotten nerves out of the way. So when our daughter started asking questions the other night, I answered them as well as I could, reminded her of the book, and she said she wanted to look at it again. I ordered our own copy yesterday.
What’s the Big Secret? Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown, illustrated by Marc Brown