Knew the title would get you going.
Do you guys remember the fabulous book ‘A Child is Born’ by Lars Hamberger and Lennart Nilssen? It was published over forty years ago. I’ve had a copy for about twenty years and it has the most amazing photos of what happens inside the female body from conception through to delivery.
There is a very good reason I’m telling you this, by the way, and it’s got to do with sex education so please bear with me.
Now, as many of you already know, I am a mother of three, two girls and a boy. The boy came along when my youngest daughter was ten and no he was not a mistake and yes, Hugo is the father of all three. We battled hard to have our boy, but that story’s for another day.
Anyway, the thing about kids is that as a parent you need to keep your eyes and ears open so that when a ‘right’ moment to discuss a tricky issue raises its head, you go for it. The right moment for my daughters to discuss sex happened when I was lying in bed feeding their brother and they were watching him like hawks. He was about six days old and the novelty of him hadn’t yet worn off. My eldest daughter was lounging in a chair and my youngest was sprawled over the bottom of the bed.
‘Mum?’ said the eldest in a tone that made my intuition twitch so I gave her a sharp look.
‘Hmm?’ I said.
‘Boys at school were filling up condoms with water and throwing them at us,’ she said.
‘That’s disgusting,’ said my youngest. Then she frowned and added, ‘How do condoms work? What do they do with them?’
And there, right there, was my moment.
‘Didn’t they cover condoms in sex education?’
Two sets of big blue eyes stared vacantly into mine and I knew that the British education system had let me down. However, I’ve never been a coward so I smiled and continued, ‘When two people make love and they don’t want to have a child, the man wears a condom to catch his sperm.’
My youngest sat up at this point and looked puzzled. ‘We know that,’ she said as if talking to an imbecile. ‘What we don’t know is how they work. How do they put a condom on?’
Aha! Ever wished you had a handy banana to hand? Then I remembered a slim can of hair mousse which would be just the very thing! And I just happened to have right next to me in my bedside table a condom. So I opened the pack and held a slick piece of latex. ‘This!’ I said, ‘Is a condom and I know this is a can of hair mousse, but just go with the flow.’ So I held the tip of the condom and rolled it down the can of hair mousse and explained to my daughters that the sex act is something not to be taken lightly, to wait for the right man, blah blah blah. And at that very moment Hugo strolled into the bedroom from work. His eyes bugged out of his head and he put his hands up in a no way in hell am I going there gesture. ‘I don’t want to know,’ he growled and backed out of the room. Coward.
‘Goodness me,’ said my eldest in an awed voice. ‘Is a man usually that big?’
I have no excuse for what followed but I couldn’t help it. ‘Only if you’re very lucky, darling,’ I purred and heard my husband howl.
‘I cannot believe you just said that,’ Hugo roared on his way down the stairs.
Ah well, the loss of innocence for a father of two daughters is too hard to bear for some men. Bless him.
But back to the book! As I said I’ve a copy of A Child Is Born and it’s travelled with me all over the world. Years ago we were seconded to that beautiful African country Zimbabwe and my son at the age of six went to the International School in Harare which had about sixty nationalities. Anyway, I was unpacking boxes in the garage and a little voice piped up, ‘This is totally gross.’ The little darling had in his hands A Child Is Born and was staring in utter disgust at a picture of a child being born in glorious, gory Technicolor. Ah well, strike while the iron is hot I always say, but on this occasion I let him lead the way. (That’s him above at six.)
Big blue eyes stared up at me and he said, ‘I thought babies were cut out?’
‘Sometimes mummy’s need to have an operation, but most times this is how a baby is born,’ I said.
His eyes went even bigger. ‘Was that how I was born?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Did it hurt?’
‘A little bit,’ I lied through my teeth since I didn’t want to traumatize him for life. ‘But you were worth it.’
He shook his head in disbelief and placed his little hand on my shoulder and looked me dead in the eye. ‘All I can say is I’m glad I’m a boy.’ Then he stood up and wandered off, probably to watch Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles.
So feeling pretty pleased with myself at getting off the hook so lightly, I thought no more about it.
Until… My son’s teacher at the International School was a wonderful Irish girl called Mrs Breathnough (pronounced bunok) and I absolutely adored her. It hadn’t taken her long to suss out my son’s tricky ways with maths (he’s got a photographic memory and had fooled many teachers in the past). So a couple of days after the scene in the garage, she grabbed me at the school gates.
‘Christine, a few of the mothers have asked me if I’ve been teaching sex education.’
I knew exactly where this was going and whose mouth had been flapping. ‘Oh God,’ I said and explained how the little sod had found the book. ‘What on earth has he been saying? I bet he put the fear of God into those poor wee things.’
‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘He did a much better job of it than me! He got a gold star! One of the boys said it couldn’t possibly be true that babies were born that way because his daddy told him that there was a magic zip in his mummy’s tummy (stupid man). Your wonderful son’s growled response was ‘He lied’ it was priceless.’
You know I adore hearing your comments (can’t wait for these) so come on and share your stories.
How did your parents tell you how condoms work – keep them as clean as possible please – and how did you tell your children about the birds and the bees? Tell me you didn’t use rabbits! I remember being shown a film about rabbits when I was at school and I’m still confused.
I remember when I was five, an Italian friend of my dad’s gave me a pregnant doll as a gift. My parents were mortified and promptly told me that it was a factory defect when I asked about it. Later, when I was 9, my mum finally sat me down and told me “the facts of life.” I already knew about babies though, because someone at school “stole” their sister’s biology book and told us all about it :). Oh my, now that my son’s growing I know the day of reckoning will soon come… lol
OMG, a pregnant doll? I’ve never seen one of those. My parents told me nothing, nada, zippo and certainly the word condom was never uttered. In my first job one the guys was talking about ‘rubbers’ and I was totally at sea and asked why he kept an eraser in his top pocket. The manager dragged all the men into his office and told them that ‘Christine is obviously a very well brought up girl and an innocent.’ He threatened them with the sack if they educated me in their wicked ways. Bless him.
Oh, where do I start? First I was born in the 50s here in the States with the proverbial father off at work and the mother at home. The mother who had three children back-to-back because she didn’t know how to work her diaphragm (her birth control of choice back then). Needless to say, not much was said on the subject of (hush) S-E-X.
I remember Mama being just distraught over the whole idea I was sick and could not make it to school in the fifth grade for a movie. Gee whiz.
So I’ve never had the birds-and-bees-or-rabbits talk. Which is highly dangerous. Sex feels good. Who would have known to stop it during the first or thousandth time? And with the whole “sex is a secret” credo from the 50s, it’s a wonder more babies weren’t “hatched” then or however they came into this world. Ha!
Anyway, my Methodist upbringing kept me on the straight and narrow. Thank God for church. As least I had that. So I married, then had my son. But . . . it could have gone badly in so many ways.
I swore I would never subject my child(ren) to the dangers of lack of knowledge.
And I still blame my parents on their handling of this point. This one and the punishment of my brothers by sticking me in the middle of them. This would be on our annual vacation to visit the grandparents which involved a long car trip. My two brothers would fight, so they’d get separated and I’d be the separator, which made them both at the windows. The only one I see getting punished was me. To truly punish them, one of them should take shifts being seated between my parents in the front seat.
Okay. I have issues. I admit it.
Thanks, CC, for your wonderfully frank posts. Love ’em!
My parents were horrendous and like you, Denise, I promised myself faithfully that with my children I would be open and honest. You all know how urban myths are spread at school. I have a very good friend who’s an A&E nurse and some of her stories are terrifying of how some poor deluded souls try to have a child and this is 2012! They obviously don’t have the internet or watch TV.
Now I don’t want to embarrass Hugo in any way shape or form. Would I? But he’s nine years older than me and was, shall we say, well travelled? He introduced me to the JOS (joy of s-e-x) which was just as well since I didn’t have a clue. Yes, he’s totally responsible for the woman who writes these posts and romance novels. Take a bow, big boy!
He’ll kill me if he reads this.
There’s no magic zipper? I better read up on this a bit. I think I’ve been going about it all wrong. Sheesh!
BTW, Great post. Oh, and Hugo: Respect, brother.
Can you imagine telling a little boy such a porker? What was he thinking?
One day, my son, one day you too will want to lock children in their rooms until they’re thirty! My girls are great escape artists. Who do you think Bronte was based on in Reckless Nights In Rome? Yep, my eldest has climbed out of a hotel bathroom window twice to escape blind dates set up by ‘friends.’
I remember my mother trying to bring up the subject and me telling her I’d already heard it all. Fab post, as usual, CC!
Hi Alicia, lovely to see you here and congratulations on the new book!
I bet you were a handful!
I feel sorry for my mom. I know she explained all that stuff to me, probably multiple times, and I tuned out each and every discussion. I probably felt like I was in trouble because she was so serious. So the day I got my “girl time” and ran screaming because I thought I was hemorrhaging to death, she was so frustrated! And then she had to explain it all, all over again. By the time my school got around to explaining things I’d had my period for two years and knew it all. yeesh.
By the way, I love how your accent comes through in your writing. Even though we haven’t met I can totally hear you in my head 🙂
At least, it’s an accent to my American ears 😉
I must re-blog the post on ‘wanna hear me?’ because my accent’s right there!
I love all the American accents. My son had many American teachers and he’s still retained a drawl even today. Hugo and I are Scottish. The girls have polite English accents. So you can imagine the confusion for people who don’t know us when we’re out together.
Melinda, how are you?
You can hear me in your head? I think that’s the nicest thing anyone can say to a writer – thank you! Although on another level, it’s a scary thought.
Don’t get me started on ‘the curse’ and it is a damned curse.
They never told me anything. Would have been a hoot if they had – Irish, working class, catholic and gaelic as the first language!
Love your Olympic posts. Yes, my mother’s catholic, father protestant and from Glasgow, so you can imagine my childhood – they didn’t spare the rod. Hugo’s people are from Wester Ross and his mother and father and aunts all spoke gaelic.
We share a lot – especially the rod it would seem!
My mom never talked to me about sex, so I had to learn a out it from other sources. Needless to say, I swore I’d be open with my boys and have discussions when the topics came up. I figured it I couldn’t talk to them about sex when they were four or eight or ten, I’d never be able to do it when they were teenagers and needed the talks.
My favorite question … at 12, my oldest son asked me if I’d ever given their father a blowjob. After I picked myself up off the floor, I asked him if he knew what a blowjob was. Turns out, his friend’s 14 YO brother had been telling them about it, but had it all wrong. So I told him what it really was and I’m sure five minutes later, he was gathering his group together so he could tell them the truth.
Life is never dull with children around.
ROFL! Sheila, bless him, yet another urban myth. I can quite understand you don’t want to share what your son ‘thought’ a blowjob was! I’m crying with laughter here. Life is definitely never dull.
And by the way am I in trouble? Hugo’s reading the comments. I humbly apologise, big boy!
“I have no excuse for what followed but I couldn’t help it. ‘Only if you’re very lucky, darling,’ I purred …” That is so you, Christine! LOL Poor Hugo. I can just see him popping into that room and then backing out. 🙂
He’s backing out of this blog if this keeps up. He’s just said ‘How embarrassing is this?’ Ah well, could be worse I could tell you all about the time he ended up in A&E in Nairobi with something caught in his zipper – but I won’t. Actually, I might, because it would be a brilliant blog post and bring a tear to the eye of every male reader.
My you are writing interesting posts lately Christine! LOL! I want to back out of the room along with Hugo! 🙂 Seriously, I relate to others who have commented earlier. There was no talk of sex in my home. We watched a film in fifth grade, which would put me at age 10, and it was more about the change of our bodies as we enter puberty rather than sex and all that entailed. The subject was never discussed. Now with my two sons, it was my husband who talked to them. Although I was never shy about the subject around them. It seems I missed out on the condom talk. Darn!
Lovely to see you here, sweetheart. Hmm, he’s doing more than backing out, I’m receiving the beady eye. I remember a strange little film about puberty too. The boys just stared at their desks. As you can probably tell I’m not shy either, but these days the girls just hold up their hands and say ‘enough already’ which is fair enough. The condom talk was a good one, it’s always good to use humour in certain situations it sort of breaks the ice, if you know what I mean.
Ha! I had to laugh. I mean, I read the title and thought “yeah, right.” Only I should have remembered it was you!
I don’t remember much of the education establishment attempts to teach me anything about sex, apart from the length of pregnancy for various animals (and DON’T go there). So, in lieu of any personal stories, here’s an old joke …
A duck goes into his neighborhood chemist. “I’d like a condom, please.”
Chemist: “Would you like me to put it on your bill?”
Duck: “What sort of pervert do you think I am?”
Good one, Nigel! Always guaranteed to put a smile on our face!
OMG! Have I laughed (make that cackled) while reading your post! You should seriously consider a stand-up routine.
Well, my dad was an Ob-gyn (he delivered both my daughters) and my mother is a nurse, so there was no awkward sex talks. I’ve read through all his books (by reading I mean looked at the pictures) before I was five. My friends all asked me, Miss Information.
At that time, most everyone in Costa Rica was Catholic. My Mom replied to any question with a “just say no”. And here I was with a “what happens when you want to say yes?” Needless to say, both my girls had very interesting “talks”.
How are you? You see, you had a great start with two people as parents unafraid to get right down and dirty. ‘Just say no’ great advice for any mother.
Don’t think I could do a stand up routine – I’d get stage fright.
Great post, C.C. Like Karen said, your recent posts have been totally awesome and made me laugh.
We got the talk in health education class when I was 9 or 10 but I had read about it before that. The really embarrassing thing was that my mom was the school nurse and she gave the talk. I was mortified but thankfully no class mates teased me about it.
My kids are only 3 so they don’t need the talk yet but I’ll be reading them some picture books about it when they get a little older. My daughter wants to play being pregnant, though. She covers my tummy with a blanket and puts a plush toy under it and after a while the baby is born when it’s ready.
Thank you, Reetta,
Still not sure I’ve hit the spot with the posts, but will keep trying.
Again someone who has a nurse in the family – lucky you.
Three year olds are something else. Wait until they’re six!
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I love how honest you were with your daughters. That’s wonderful! Your son’s response to the other kids is priceless. 🙂 I was one of those kids that read really above my level, so um in 4th or 5th grade I was reading an adult novel with sex scenes. That’s how I learned about sex. It was a gentle introduction. Then in middle school we had sex ed and watched a baby being born. That was scary. 😛
I think for any young girl to see a baby being born can be an ordeal. It’s not as if we see it happening all the time as we might have done in the dim and distant past where life and death were part of everyday living.
My son just thought the pictures were ‘gross.’ 🙂
This is a delightful story, so funny and so well told. I particularly love the line, “Only if you’re lucky, darling.” I am blessed with an ex-husband who is so open with our three boys that they’ve rarely come to me with questions. It’s a good thing because I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have your moxy to pull out the condom and the hair products!
Hello Deliberately Delicious (love the moniker). Not sure I’d have done the condom thing with boys. But with my daughters it was a case of striking while the iron was hot, no saying when the chance might arise (pardon the pun) again! Hugo couldn’t believe I said that. Ah well, it’s all good fun.
Thank you so much for stopping by!
I came here from Deliberately Delicious! All I can say is, you are one a brave woman! Great, barrel of laughs story…
Thank you for stopping by! I don’t know about brave… 🙂
My mum never did tell me how condoms worked, and to this day I have a fear of them! I love that riposte to your kids re the can of whatever it was!
Aww, didn’t she? Maybe she was shy. Humour helps when it comes to condoms. Thank you for very much for commenting. I appreciate it!