My eagerness to be open with my children about body parts and sexually related topics gets me in some challenging conversations with our three-year-old son Zander. I spent a weekend in New York City with a friend where we saw The Vagina Monologues. Being righteous about vaginal pride, this play had a serious impact on me. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Zander would catch some of the many phone conversations I had about the play during the following week.
One afternoon Zander and I were having a snack together at the table while eighteen-month-old Sadie was still napping. We were chatting about the mourning doves and robins out on the lawn. Suddenly he said, “Mommy, did you go see Da Bagina Monologues in New York City wid Riley?”
“Yes, Zander, I did,” I responded, both proud of how well he managed to gather all those details and wondering if my husband, Bruce, had talked with him about it while I was gone. It is easy to forget that when I am on the phone while he is playing across the room, he is not only hearing me chat but also feasting on every detail.
“What is Da Bagina Monologues?” pause, drifting eye contact. Then he said with a full mouth of apple, “What is dey (they)?”
“It is a play that Mommy and Riley went to see,” I said with a little less enthusiasm because I was beginning to wonder where we were heading.
“What iiiiz da play, Mommy?”
Wanting to walk my talk of being open I said, “It is about women and their vaginas.” This is the exact response my mother gave to my seventy-six-year-old father when he reluctantly asked her about the play I was seeing.
“What do dey do?”
Now I realized he wasn’t going to let up until he had some answers. “Well, the characters in the play talked about their vaginas. And they talked about what it is like to be a woman.” I was hopeful the exit ramp was in sight.
He pointed directly at my crotch; “Did you talk about yoooour vagina?” I almost gasped in shock and realized how foolish I was to think a child of mine would settle such an unspecific answer.
Now he had me rattled, which made me more eager to stay with him without squelching the conversation, which would undoubtedly lead to having it resurface in the crowded grocery store. I regained my balance, “Actually no. I was in the audience watching the play.” Then I cleverly added, “Just like you were in the audience when we watched the play, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
“Did udder (other) grown-up girls talk about dare baginas?”
“Yes,” I said timidly. Somehow I was amazed that he was like a rabid pit bull when it came to seeking details about body parts, but at the same time I fully recognized how I was responsible for fueling that trait.
“Daaaz (there’s) a robin, Mommy. Is it looking for food?” Ah, I miraculously came out unscathed and not too far out of the appropriate zone. I dove into the bird talk with extra enthusiasm and the vagina talk drifted away…until it drifted back.
The next day at lunch he brought us back to the vaginas.
“Bears don’t have tales. Do they have bums?”
“Yes, all creatures have bums.” A simple yes would have probably kept me out of the vagina territory, but I used the “all creatures” phrase which always inspires genitalia discussions. It is almost as if I had this subconscious desire to challenge myself to stay afloat in the conversation. This is where any normal parent would have redirected him.
“Do mommy bears have baginas?”
“What do daddy bears have?”
“They have penises.”
“What do baby girl bears have?”
“They have vaginas…(I make an impulsive decision to be specific and regret it the minutes I say it) but smaller vaginas.” Why did I have to mention size?
“And baby boy bears have smaller penises dan dare daddies.” So on it went through the mommies, daddies and babies of bears, deer, and moose. I got myself cornered (more like I cornered myself) into affirming which animal family members had what and whether their penises and vaginas were big or small. “Do you have a bagina, Mommy?”
“Is it a BIIIIG one?”
I was in disbelief at how I set myself up for that one and how I wasn’t quick enough to get around the question. “Well (scramble, panic, choke),” thinking before I speak has never been my best event. While I was trying to process the question, come up with possible answers, and continue to be honest, I blurted out, “It is bigger than Sadie’s…” Immediately, I regret this response, but there is no turning back. I wanted to say more to avoid future public chats about my “big vagina,” but I didn’t trust myself by that time. I left it floating out there.
“Does Grandma Nana have a bagina?”
This made me really nervous, so I shifted into my busy, confident voice to mask my terror, “Yes because she is a woman. All girls and women have vaginas.” Now I thought I had circled him back to a safe place.
“How big is Nana’s…” A surge of adrenaline shot down my thighs, and I was certain my eyes were popping right out of my head. But suddenly and luckily he drifted off in thought. By then I was horrified that my own mother’s vagina was part of all this talk, especially since she is not a person who chats about her vagina in any context. The thought of him bringing any of this up with her or my father who, I might add, had never even used the term caused me to have internal panic. He continued, “Nana has a bagina, too. You and Sadie and Cedar and Nana all have baginas.”
“Right on fella, now, are you going to have any more of your peanut butter sandwich before we go up for stories?” I should have used this line much earlier in the conversation. He picked up his sandwich, took a bite and started talking about the goldfinch outside, and then he moved onto the weather. Before I knew it, we were off to read a story during which not one character’s genitals were mentioned.