Head, shoulders, knees and toes

This week was full of teachable moments. Beyond the usual: it’s important to share our toys, we covered both the importance of not cheating when playing a game (even if the older kids are doing it and winning) and telling the truth (even when you’ve done something wrong and don’t want to get in trouble for it).

Later on because the issue arose, I also had the opportunity to discuss with my son that you don’t play with your penis in front of your friends or play with your friends’ penises. In other words, until you are an adult the only person who should touch your penis is you, and the only penis you should touch is your own and not in public. I explained that when he’s an adult he can choose to make other choices, but until then these are the rules.

Add that to the list of conversations I never planned to have but just did! And yes, it’s getting to be a long list.

Some people will be falling out of their seat laughing while reading this. Others of you will be squirming out of your seat because I just said penis 5 times. So let’s talk about that because in another time I might have too.

I was abused when I was a little girl.  I was so young. so. so. young. And no one really knows for sure what happened or at least that was the lie we told ourselves to make it better, to make it bearable. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe he didn’t actually do anything. It was. He did. I remember. I chose not to remember for a long time, but even when my mind drew a blank screen, my body remembered. When at 18 I finally had my hymen surgically removed because it was so scarred over that it was essentially impermeable, I remembered. Every time someone touches me when I don’t want them to, I remember. Every time a lover gets too sexual too fast, I remember. This is the broken place that I hold deep inside of me. But it is also the reason I can talk about penises and vaginas and respect for our bodies with my four-year-old son without flinching, without blushing, without implying shame or naughtiness.

Bodies are incredibly fascinating and inquisitive minds are infinitely and innocently curious at the tender age of four, so when I explained to my son that everyone needed to keep their hands to themselves he said “Why?” with a look of utter non-comprehension on his sweet face that I would love for him to never lose. Even though I know developmentally, he will be old enough to understand “why?” on a factual level in a few years from now; I don’t ever want him to understand why in the profound and inexpressible way I already did at his age.

So to the woman who said that children have no need to know what their “private parts” are called I invite you to rethink your logic. Your child does not have naughty parts, your child’s curiosity about their body and others’ bodies is not wrong or shameful, and you as his or her parent have the opportunity, dare I say the obligation, to empower them now, while they’re still “too young” to know their body. Tell them that their penis is called a penis just like their knees are called knees, that their vagina is called a vagina, just like their toes are called toes and that their body is theirs alone. We like to say knowledge is power, so empower them. What’s the worst that could happen? Who knows you might learn something too.

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