Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let Me Tell You about the Birds and the Bees

Awhile back, my husband and I were comparing notes on the respective sex talks we had received during adolescence. I wish I could share the one he got from his grandfather because we couldn't breathe from laughing. I'm trying to keep this site PG-rated, though.

As for me, my mother claims to have given me a clinical explanation when I was about 4, though I've forgotten. I do remember asking after a church sermon, at the age of 8 or 9, what circumcision was. She provided a very thorough explanation -- replete with illustrations. After that, I never asked about any new words from church again.

In 7th grade, my mom called me downstairs one night because my dad had something to say. At first, I thought I was in trouble because I noticed two dining chairs placed opposite each other. My dad was in one, and I was ushered into the other. A nearby lamp completed what at first glance appeared to be an interrogation scene. However, my fears were allayed as my mom sat to the side, smiling and nodding encouragingly. Then my dad flushed as he haltingly delivered what appeared to be a speech he'd considered for quite awhile.

", uh..." he fumbled for words. Then I guess determination gripped him, and the words kind of rushed out. "Well, I know your mom's talked to you, but she wants me to give you a guy's're getting to be a young lady now, and you're body is changing, and boys are going to notice you...."

The whole time, my dad just got redder and redder as he stumbled through his speech. To this day, I'm not even quite sure what he said after that because I was distracted by the beads of sweat forming on his brow and my mother's supportive gesticulations.

Finally, he asked, "Do you have any questions?"

I had only one -- "Can I fall through the floor now?" But I didn't ask it. Instead, I think I just shook my head before being allowed run far, far away.

So anyway, those are the major explanations I got. My mom is very frank, so I imagine her explanation when I was little was quite good. Therefore, it's a pity I don't remember it, especially since my kids are at an age when they should probably start getting some talks of their own.

In talking to other moms, I'm finding that most people want to postpone The Talk as long as possible. A lot of parents seem uncomfortable talking about it because (consciously or subconsciously) they feel it's a dirty, secret subject. Some moms have even implied to me that kids lose their innocence by knowing about it. However, in the discomforting event that questions should arise, most moms recommend two major strategies:

Strategy 1: Deflect. Provide an excuse like "Oh, we'll talk about that later" or "You're too young for that." Then pray like the dickens the subject never comes up again
Strategy 2: Answer questions truthfully, but provide as little information as possible.
To be honest, I tried both of these methods this past summer when I got my first sex question. My middle child asked how he was born. I'm not particularly prudish, but I froze because I had no idea what to say. At first, I tried Strategy 1. That didn't work. He really wanted to know. So then I tried Strategy 2. I told him about the hospital and the birthing tub and midwife and so on. He didn't come back after that, so I thought that was the end of it. Afterwards, though, I felt I'd really botched the job, and I realized that I didn't know how to explain the birds and the bees comfortably.

My background is in instructional design, so I fell back on what I know. The first thing I did was set some goals and objectives for The Talk. What did I want to achieve? I decided on these things:

  • Open communications -- for Pete's sake, I definitely do not want their best source of info to be the pervs in the backseat of the bus!
  • Accurate understanding
  • The preservation of innocence and purity
  • A healthy attitude about enjoying sex one day, God's way

Next, I read a bunch of books on how to do it properly. Well, not It, It. I already have three kids, so I've got that part down. I mean The Talk. How to do The Talk.

Focus on the Family recommended a book that I found particularly helpful. It's called How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child's Sexual Character. The authors Stan and Brenna Jones approach sex education from a Christian perspective, so you may or may not agree with everything in it, but it provided some bits of advice that I thought were excellent.

  1. First things first. Parents have to address their own inadequacies in terms of understanding the clinical aspects of sex as well as misunderstandings regarding what the Bible actually says about it.
  2. For me, the most helpful advice was to tie every instance of sex ed to the attitudes and behaviors you want to foster. The physical mechanics are easy to grasp, but molding a healthy attitude toward sex takes constant work. As a Christian, this means explaining how God intends sex to be enjoyed. 
  3. Start sex education as early as possible. This doesn't mean teaching them what sex is necessarily, but commonsense stuff like: 
    • The parts of their body (the right names!) 
    • How wonderful and special every single body part is because God made it
    • Which body parts can be touched by other people and which are private. 
  4. Welcome questions and use them as teaching opportunities to not just teach facts, but to shape their attitudes and morals as well. This made a lot of sense to me. Deflection (Strategy 1) teaches children not to ask questions. They may even learn that sex is bad or wrong or shameful somehow. 
  5. If your child asks a question, provide 30% more information than he/she is asking. The idea is to explain sex accurately so that the child doesn't fill in gaps by himself. This can lead to the kid having some really weird misconceptions.

About a week after finishing all my books, my son (thankfully) returned to ask yet again how he was born. Curious, I asked him if he remembered about the hospital and so on. He exclaimed, "Yes, but I want to know HOW I was born."

Clearly, The Strategies weren't working, so I decided to trust Stan and Brenna. I explained about my uterus and the birthing canal and the whole nine yards. We talked about how wonderful God is to make mommies in such a way that they can give birth, and so on. That did the trick. He had some wacky ideas I had to clear up (like a trapdoor in the back of my belly), but surprisingly, it was much easier than I thought it would be. At least, he went away satisfied with that explanation. Even better, it's been months and I haven't heard that question since!

How about you parents out there? How do you treat your children's curiosity about the birds and the bees? Has anything worked really well for you in terms of educating your children?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Observations on Light

When Hurricane Irene blew through a few weeks ago, we lost power for about 36 hours. I'm not complaining. It was sort of like camping, which I generally enjoy. However, the experience made me appreciate light in a new way. Now, I'm no Newton or Huygens, but I thought I'd share a couple of observations I made during that time.

Observation 1: "I must work...while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work." [John 9:4] 
I have long maintained that the electric lightbulb is one of the worst inventions ever. Instead of resting at sunset, we keep working, working, working until fatigue forces us to bed. During our power outage, though, I discovered how much I rely on electric light to extend the day and buy me some extra time -- because I want to keep working, working, working.

BTW, in case you're interested in what a marble track
from hell looks like, here is an image of it & all
its 400+ pieces. It was a Christmas gift last year.
Still trying to decide if the person who gave it to us
really likes us or not.
On our first day without power, I spent most of the daytime assembling a marble track from hell. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but I wasted so much of the day, that I found myself trying to mop and clean up late at night by candlelight. It was eye-straining, painful, and even counterproductive as hot wax dripped all over the place.

The next morning, I rose at the break of day in order to fold laundry, clean up, organize piles, etc. I couldn't help but feel a great sense of urgency to take full advantage of the light while it lasted because nighttime was advancing all too quickly.

Fortunately, the power came on again about mid-day, but I hope not to lose that pressure to get things done -- in all areas of my life. I frequently forget that my life is just a breath of wind, here and gone, so that 36-hour blackout was an excellent reminder to redeem the time.

Observation 2: "A light to all who are in the house" [Matthew 5:15]
During the blackout, I ushered the kids upstairs to bed, put them to sleep, blew out all the candles, and laid down myself. Then I remembered that I had, as I invariably do, left something downstairs. Not having any matches or a flashlight with me, I stumbled downstairs in total darkness until I found a candle and matches. Then with my candle, I easily retrieved my object and went back to bed.

Once upstairs, I set the candle down and realized, "Arrgh, I forgot something else." This time, I didn't feel like getting any drippy wax on my hand, so I left the candle burning in my room while fetching whatever it was I'd forgotten. On the return trip upstairs, it hit me. I noticed that I didn't have nearly the same difficulty managing the steps as I'd when I stumbled down them on the previous trip in total darkness.

I thought this curious since I couldn't see the candle at all. But the light was unmistakable. It traveled from my bedroom and down the turns of the staircase just enough for me to make out the shadowy steps I had to take. Even though the source of light was so slight and tenuous, it was enough to pierce the complete and utter darkness that had existed before. It amazed me that the all the darkness in a two-story colonial couldn't stand up to a flicker from a single taper. A tiny scrap of light may look insignificant, but it has real penetrating power.


So these are my two "great" insights from the storm (though as you can see from the quotes, Jesus thought of them a long time ago. Ah well, I suppose I could do worse than to come up with the same conclusions as God. ;-)

Ok, one last thought about light -- I want to share this video on creating water bottle lights. Someone sent it to me after the storm had already passed, but I thought it was brilliant. It shows how to create cheap lighting for the underprivileged living in slums. Why do I love this video so much? I don't know. I like the ingenuity of design and the cool recycle. Mostly, though, I love how this invention makes light so freely and easily accessible to everyone --because everyone should have the opportunity to live in light.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Finding the Silver Lining

School commenced this past week, and my Pocket Rocket started kindergarten.

I love him to pieces, but I'm also a little relieved he's out of the house for three and a half hours a day. In a way, he reminds me of a border collie that has to be kept constantly busy, or else it starts eating shoes and furniture. When my puppy starts devising ways to amuse himself, nothing good ever comes of it.

For instance, several weeks ago, I was lying in bed, trying to get the baby to sleep when I heard my husband yelling at the top of his lungs. I raced downstairs, and then I freaked out, too.

The entire family room was caked with greasy, white, melty globs of coconut oil. It covered the floor, the couch, the air conditioner, the media center, clothes I had just ironed, pillows, tables, toys... The place looked like a snow globe that had settled. Indeed, that was just what our Whirling Dervish had planned. With its solid, snowy appearance and moldable texture, coconut oil seemed like the perfect medium for starting "a snowball fight." And from all appearances, he flung it with much gusto at his elder sibling. (At least my older son had the good sense not to participate.)

The kicker is that the little stinker didn't seem at all abashed -- not even while my husband and I were chastising him. Quite the opposite, rather. He was so pleased with his new game that he was still trying to demonstrate to us exactly how it worked.

He's the complete opposite of my oldest child who maintains a healthy appreciation for law and order. No, from the very beginning, my second child has been Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. The first clue came when he was just a little over six months old and he removed all the knobs from a dresser in a hotel in under four minutes. This marked the start of a career in demolition and destruction.

So now my mischief-maker is in kindergarten, and I've been concerned for months that he might not do well in a more regulated setting.

"How was your day?" I asked, when he came home on his very first day of school.

Delightedly he enthused, "Awesome!"

"What did you do today?"

He happily replied, "Oh, nothing." Then after a few moments, he continued quite proudly, "Guess what?! I got to yellow today! But I didn't get to red! Isn't that great?!" (Note: Yellow is a disciplinary warning for misbehaving kids. Red is real trouble.)

I sympathize with his teacher. Truly, I do. In a hundred years, I don't think she'll ever meet another child capable of creating as much chaos as mine.

At the same time, though, I couldn't help but think how nice perspective can be. Only my kid would see the sunny side of being disciplined. I had to smile at his self-confidence. Whereas other kids might be mortified or discouraged, his self-esteem had only been boosted by the event. Being able to find the silver lining is a lovely quality. I hope he never loses it.

Piracicaba by Tiago Hoisel

I know I've linked to this image before, but I really think this is my kid.
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