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.