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“Daddy, what’s a boner?”

Howard and I, along with dozens of other parents with excited, terrified expressions, filed in to the cafeteria of one of our local elementary schools. It was a meeting to brief us all on the upcoming presentation our fifth grade children would be attending in next week – The Adolescent Development program.

Yep, ready or not, it’s puberty time. Very soon your sweet child, who is still running around with his shirt inside out and markers on his hands, will transform into an entirely different animal.  You will need to be there to help guide him through this difficult transition, but there are rules, and you must follow them.

  1. First, you will need to say penis and vagina a lot with a straight face, and explain why dick and pussy are not appropriate, with same straight face. They will want clarification on appropriateness. For example, they might ask if their body parts could be called, Willy Wonker or Vjay jay?*
  2. Things will get hairy. Your child might run out to you naked and show off their sprouting hair and every other sprouting piece of their bodies, or shut themselves up in the bathroom and not come out again for the next four years. Both are normal.
  3. You will be buying more deodorant because sometimes in the near future you will smell something that reminds you of dirty laundry and leftover meat loaf mixed together. You will soon realize it’s not something, but someone.
  4. If you have a girl, there will be self-esteem issues and depression. If you have a boy, avoidance and anger.  Hmm… there’s something familiar about that.
  5. There will be nocturnal emissions. And I’m not talking about your husband’s gas. Just close your eyes, do the laundry and cry in your ice cream.

Now here’s the important thing, listen close. Don’t screw it up. Because you totally can, and then their perspectives on their bodies are eff’d for life. Life! How’s that for pressure? Remember, puberty is not sexuality and shouldn’t be confused as such. Just stick to the facts, man. Answer any question simply, honestly and get out as quick as you can. Do not expand or over-explain. Do not go on and on. It’s just body basics 101. Clinical stuff. Yep, you’re going to bleed every month. Yep, you smell. Yep, you will gain weight. Happens to everyone. Cookies, anyone?

Please do not do what my husband did during his ‘teachable moment”.

Tyler – Dad, what’s a boner?

Dad – Well, it’s a slang term for when your penis gets hard. It’s called an erection. (Perfectly articulated as if we speak about erections regularly – “Morning, honey. I have a big erection. Could you get me the paper?”)

Tyler – So you get an erection for having sex? (Uh, sex? What?! Where, or more accurately, who are all these new words coming from?!)

Dad – Yup.

OH MY GOD, DAD!! What??? How did you eff up so fast, on your first at bat? No no no! Erections are not for having sex. Were we not at the same meeting? Erections are a normal part of body development and function. He’s been having them since he was a baby, remember? No big deal. Now get back in there (shove) and go fix it.

Deep sigh. We’re not even out of the gate and we’ve been sidelined. I can tell this is going to be quite a growing experience, and not just for the kids. I just hope we don’t screw him up too badly. He’s such a sweet boy. I want him to grow into a sweet young man.

When the meeting ends, the shell-shocked parents stand from the cafeteria lunch tables, stretch and look around at each other with corroborated smiles, that border on giggles. We’re all in the same shaky boat heading for the falls and we know it. Up ahead, there are going to be some tricky waters to navigate. All I can say, is hang on to your erections, it’s going to be a wild ride.

*By the way, the answer is no. Those are not appropriate terms for a child’s penis or vagina. Did you get that correct? If not, (shove) get back in there and fix it!

peter brady