Family Practice: The birds and the bees and the moments of uneaseWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The permission slip came home. “Your child will be studying the subject of human growth and development in school.” I signed a similar permission slip at the beginning of the year for my kindergartner, but the introductory letter on the third grade slip was much more in-depth. All of a sudden words like “egg,” “sperm” and “uterus” were leaping off the page; by the second paragraph my collar started feeling ever-so-slightly tight around my neck.
I wasn’t quite prepared for this yet. Aside from the fact that my brain had been filled near to capacity with Thanksgiving, my brother’s wedding, Christmas decorations and gift shopping, I was also thinking that fourth or fifth grade was the “it” year. Although the wording didn’t reach beyond “reproduction” and “must be fertilized,” I was confident that my 8-year-old would be wondering, whether he asked or not, how exactly an egg cell joins a sperm cell.
In order to dodge as much “off the street” information as possible and establish a decent communication channel on the subject, my husband and I decided to tell our son most everything right off the bat.
Our willingness to spill the beans was partially based on the fact that he already had the gist. It came out during Katy Perry’s “E.T.” being played on the radio one day that he at least thought he knew what sex was. When I asked him to give me the specifics, he was pretty darn close. Still, I don’t know that he had quite connected the sex part with the reproduction part, and the terminology he used in his explanation was closer to something you would read on a kids’ version of Urban Dictionary than something you would read on WebMD.
My son has also had a bit of a heads up in related topic areas, because we haven’t avoided much of anything over the years. My birthing and feeding of his baby sisters, along with his inability to leave me alone while I’m in the bathroom, had already given him an awareness of things like breasts and menstruation. Although I was a little leery at first, I now figure that raising a son who thinks that breasts are for feeding first and foremost and knows that women are in some physical and emotional turmoil at least once a month is but a gift to the women of his future.
I also thought that human reproduction being addressed in school was actually a good opportunity to set the whole record straight. However, the word about the third grade birds and bees unit came right before Thanksgiving, so finding the right time to give a pre-game pep talk was difficult to say the least. My husband and I weren’t certain when the subject was being presented in the classroom, but we wanted to make sure we threw in our two cents first.
As Thanksgiving break was coming to an end, we figured we’d better sit him down and have “the talk” just in case the next school week was his formal introduction to eggs and sperm and uterui. Although I’m a fan of honesty and was prepared to tell him all there is to know, I’ve also learned by having kids that it’s sometimes best to avoid offering too much information (or TMI as the kids are calling it these days). Offering too much only seems to lead to greater confusion and a look of “Why are you telling me this?”
It turns out that we were still met with a why-are-you-telling-me-this atmosphere. I’m fairly certain our son would have expressed more interest had we given him our parental take on the multiplication and division unit also in his near academic future. Somewhat to my surprise, he didn’t seem uncomfortable, just bored.
I barely would have even known he had been listening had he not pulled out the million dollar question just as we were all standing up to resume our normal lives: “So, how do the egg and the sperm get together?” I reopened my handy dandy medical book, removed my thumb from its one possible TMI corner, and let him see for himself while also offering a simple verbal explanation, which he seemed to accept as more than sufficient.
Although I was surprised to learn that third grade is the kick-off year for the traditionally feared elements of sex education, I have to admit that there is a certain brilliance to introducing it to children before they find it interesting. Whether we individually decide as parents to hold out on the details as long as possible in order to salvage some innocence, or get it out there early on as to not draw inappropriate attention or misinformation, life still goes on.