herald

Sunday 25 September 2016

Mum's the word: Sex education for 8-year-olds or a lesson in mortification

Sex ed is a tricky subject for parents and their curious children. Picture posed.
Sex ed is a tricky subject for parents and their curious children. Picture posed.

Eight-year-old son: “Mum, why do you still have boobs?”

Me: “Huh?”

Son: “Well you don’t need them any more. You don’t have a baby to feed.”

Me: “I guess I don’t...”

Son: “Why don’t they just flatten down, then?”

Me: “Well, because I could, technically, have another baby.”

Son: “You can’t, Mum. You’re taking special medicine that stops you. Remember?”

And there it was: a strange, grown-up conversation at home with my eldest child that made me smirk with its innocence. The ‘special medicine’ reference stemmed from a conversation we’d had months earlier when he asked why he couldn’t have a new sister.

Both he and his brother had me hounded, demanding another baby sister exactly like the one they already have. (She is pretty fabulous, although I suspect they may feel they’ve had a lucky escape with just the one when she hits her teenage years.)

Aside from the not insignificant fact that I’ve told the stork never to darken my door again (or cabbage patch, if you prefer mixed metaphors) my sons aren’t as gung-ho for a new sibling when I remind them that there’s a fifty-fifty chance another baby would be a boy. Sisters, it seems, are a far more attractive proposition in our house.

Deciding neither I nor my eight-year-old were quite ready for the Birds and Bees conversation (will I ever be ready, I wonder?) I explained that I don’t want any more babies so we won’t be having more. I should have seen his very logical follow-up: “Where do babies come from?”

I took a deep breath, skirted over the science and opted for an age-appropriate fairy story that wasn’t too far from the truth (there will be plenty of time for biology lessons, I figure). “When a mum and dad love each other their bodies know and a baby grows in mum’s tummy.”

OK, I admit it sounds feeble, maybe even cringe-worthy to adults, but there is a grain of truth, at least in my story.

Our eldest was a honeymoon baby, born 9 months and 2 days after our wedding. Plenty of women find themselves pregnant without ever planning it, but, in my kids’ cases, Cupid happily played a vital role in their beginnings.

Can of worms firmly opened, my son took the bait I’d accidentally thrown, asking how I can be sure we won’t have any more kids. Here I was, smugly thinking I’d avoided the dreaded biology lesson, when he hit me with this beaut of a follow-up.

The truth is, I had a coil fitted several months after my last child was born. Now, go ask yourself how you’d describe contraception to an eight-year-old when he doesn’t even understand what conception is.

The idea of wearing a coil seems odd enough; explaining it to a kid seems positively ludicrous. In an effort to avoid nightmares (for him and me – I’m not sure who would have been a more likely candidate) I hastily chose that awful line about ‘taking special medicine that the doctor gave me.’

He was perfectly happy with my explanation, as was I. Job well done, I decided, figuring I’d bought myself, at worst, a few months’ grace before he’d have older, stickier questions that would require more detailed, less fluffy, answers.

I moved on with my life, and though the new baby sister requests still came, they were less frequent.

It turns out my self-satisfaction was short-lived. I never realised the impact my baby-making fairy tale had on my son, until he decided to share it in a public place: In front of his child-minder, an unsuspecting father, and me.

I’d rocked up to collect my boys from their after-school club when the younger one ran over and declared: “Mum, your belly looks fat, like you have a baby in it!”

So this is what mortification feels like, I thought, not realising that my eldest was about to teach me the real meaning of the word.

“Mum’s not pregnant,” he declared loudly to the adults present. Phew, I thought, he’s defending his blushing mother’s belly. Boy, was I wrong!

“She can’t have any more babies,” he elaborated, “because she takes special medicine to stop her.”

Well, thanks for clearing that up, son. It’s just great that everyone at school is now up to speed on my birth control plans…

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