A few summers ago, we were heading to the beach to meet up with family friends with whom we were sharing a house. Our children would be sharing a bunk room for a week, and, we imagined, all the knowledge that they had amassed between them through friends, family, and sex ed classes. We knew that our friend’s son, who was going to school in another state, had already had these classes, and that even before this, his parents had dutifully taught him everything there is to know.
We, on the other hand, as usual, were woefully behind the curve. Not only had our son not yet gone through the “Family Life Education” classes as they are euphemistically called here in Virginia, we, as parents, had not given him any real information at all. I’m sure my son would say that we are overprotective parents, although he’d probably put it in a slightly different way. When he first asked me where babies came from, I flat out panicked and blurted out the first thing that came to my head, “You go to the hospital and the doctor helps you have the baby.” Period.
And so, as we drove down to the Outer Banks, my husband and I decided that at the very first opportunity, he would head things off by taking our son for a walk on the beach to have “The Talk.”
Later, he reported their conversation to me with a half grin on his face. It had been going pretty well, he told me, until he got to the actual mechanics…
“Ewww! That’s disgusting!” my son exclaimed as he recoiled in visceral horror.
“It’s really not that bad,” my husband tried to reassure him.
“Why? Does the doctor put you to sleep first?” my son asked with such sweet innocence that I really had to wonder if we had made a terrible mistake in tearing away the veil.
As a firstborn, our son has had to weather his parents’ inexperience. It’s often difficult for us to gauge how to treat him. I’ve always felt guilty about the fact that at the tender age of two, he automatically became “a big boy” in my eyes, the very minute his little brother was born. When I look back at pictures of how very little he was back then, I am filled with sorrow and regret that I didn’t baby him for longer.
On the other hand, he has always been the kind of kid who has bridled against being treated as a child. I remember one morning, when our son was a Kindergartner, my husband returned back home after seeing him onto the school bus with his shoulders slumped and a mournful expression on his face. As he had done every morning for months, he had given our son a big hug as he saw the bus pulling up to the stop. Our son bore it stoically, but as he mounted the stairs, he stopped and turned around for a moment. Gazing into the distance he said with a world-weary sigh, “I wish people wouldn’t hug me in public.”
It’s only gotten more confusing with time. He can now finally sit in the passenger seat next to me when I drive, but I usually have to remind him of the fact as he automatically heads towards the back of the minivan. I still have to nag him to do his homework and to pick up his clothes, but to do so, I have to crane my neck to look up at him as I shout my directives. Last week my husband bought our son his first razor and he shaved for the first time. He absolutely refused a tutorial, insisting that he’d figure out how to do it “on the internet.” This week, he’s going to get braces. And so we bumble on, hoping that he feels as cherished and loved as a newborn, while knowing that we are cheering him on as he makes his way to adulthood.