*WARNING! If you are a man, you may want to stop reading right here. Or maybe even if you are a non-parent. Or someone who feels uncomfortable discussing anatomical labeling. Doesn’t pertain to you? Great- keep reading- at your own risk. Today’s topic involves the tricky subject of teaching kids about body parts. Grab some coffee.
When my daughter was born over six years ago, there were a lot of things I didn’t think about. Things that wouldn’t become pertinent until later- when you have an infant, you aren’t exactly planning for how to handle tantrums, when to start potty training, which preschool she will go to, and a host of other issues.
Here’s another one that might not cross your mind at first- What are you going to call your kid’s private parts?
OK, stick with me here- perhaps this seems like a non-issue to some; I only have girls, so maybe all parents of boys just call it a “penis”- that seems reasonable. Or a pee-pee. But with girls, it seems like there are so many more options.
I bet most people go with whatever terminology they learned when they were kids. See, here’s where I squirm: I just can’t use the word “genitals” anymore. That’s what we were taught, and for some reason, it kind of makes me want to gag. Or giggle.
I also didn’t really feel like calling my toddler’s girl parts her vagina. Maybe I have some sort of problem, but it just seemed like a little bit much and plus, the part that she’s talking about isn’t the vagina- I mean, it’s the fleshy part, not the hole. She probably didn’t even know there was a hole down there at all. (Well, not for long…keep reading.)
Now, just because vagina seemed too technical for my preferences, that didn’t mean I wanted to call it a “hoo-hoo” or a “ta-ta” or God forbid, something really inappropriate like her “cookie”.
So I took a slightly different approach and labeled her girl parts with the word my aunt taught my cousin- the good old labia. Go ahead and laugh, but it seemed to fit, given that it describes the specific part of her nether-regions that my kiddo was interested in.
Over the years there have been many times I have regretted my choice to use the word labia. Here are some examples:
- The December my daughter was four, we were shopping at Target for a pair of holiday boxers my husband was certain to never wear. (He wore them once.) As we browsed the mens’ underwear section, my daughter noticed a package of briefs. You know how all the models on the underwear packages are, ahem, rather well-endowed? Yeah, she noticed too, and loudly inquired, “Why do men have funny labias?” Of course I giggled nervously, steered our cart away from the middle-aged woman who was laughing, and made a mental note to update her gender specific anatomy terms later.
- Before bath time my one year old was waddling around sans diaper and my daughter hollered, “Mommy! There’s an apple seed stuck to Sophie’s labia! Never mind…it fell off!”
- Then there was the time she tried to start a dinner-table game with the extended family by taking turns answering questions such as “What is your favorite place in the world?” I knew things had taken a turn for the worst when she asked, “What is your favorite body part?” She cleverly answered for the family dog with, “Bowie’s favorite body part is her labia!” Tee hee.
You can understand why I cringe when hearing this word dropped in conversation. But what alternative was there?
As she got older, our uncomfortable interactions grew even worse. This problem is likely compounded by the fact that I cannot seem to talk about this stuff without laughing. Or at least without smiling unnaturally like an idiot. Seriously, what’s wrong with me? Am I 12 years old? Shouldn’t a 34 year old mother of two be able to calmly discuss private parts and keep a straight face even though her six year old is writhing with peals of laughter?
Our most recent conversation was by far the worse. I will spare you the details of how our anatomy lesson began, but as we chatted, Izzy mentioned something about her “tooth-hole.” Doing a double-take, I asked as casually as possible, “Your what?”
“My tooth-hole,” she continued conversationally, “You know, that hole by my labia.”
Aw, shit, I thought. It’s time. “Well, honey, “ I began, trying like hell not to laugh at her inventive vocabulary, “It’s not really called a tooth-hole. Why do you call it that?” I immediately regretted asking, because, having just lost a few teeth, it seemed obvious that she had found some similarities with the sensation of the gummy gap left by her tooth.
“It’s called a vagina,” I reminded her and she roared with laughter. When she recovered, she decided to take it a step further. “What about the hole in your bottom?” she asked.
I stalled, trying to buy myself some time to figure out what my response would be. Surely “butthole” seemed unsuitable. “You mean, what’s the grown-up word for that part?” I asked hesitantly. When she nodded, I bit the bullet and disclosed, “Well, that’s called your anus.”
She was nearly incoherent, and I felt that surely I had failed as a parent to provide her with this technical education at the right time. Maybe I should have been saying “vagina” and “anus” since she could crawl, rather than the half-assed “bottom” and watered-down “labia”. Perhaps then we could have avoided my juvenile lack of composure and her downright hysteria. Sex education lesson one: FAIL.
Then, because she’s Izzy, she made up a tune on the spot that she began to belt out, “We have two special parts! The first ho-o-o-le is the vagina! And the se-e-e-e-cond one is the a-a-a-a-nus!” What choice did I have but to succumb to laughter? My call for decorum was obviously hypocritical, so I may as well let it go.
So…what is your philosophy on labeling body parts for children? If you have the secret to discussing this stuff with your school-age kids without feeling like a total dumbass, let me know! And if your kids are still babies and toddlers, well, best of luck to you as you navigate south of the border!