My 6-year-old had just been picked up from school. The baby sat two seats away from her, eyes fixated on the back of my headrest as Elmo danced across the car movie screen. We were awash in a sea of minivans and hybrids with the rest of the after school traffic. As we trudged slowly down the road I flipped through my mental dinner recipe Rolodex absentmindedly.
My first grader, oblivious to mommy’s distraction, was regaling the car with a tale of the most exciting things from the day…either fish sticks had been served for lunch or they’d had a fire drill. I’d missed the plot though so it was only by chance I heard, “…but also [friend] came back today. She had a baby!”
The word ‘baby’ stood out in the fog of my mind. My grip tightened on the steering wheel as I held my breath, “What?”
“[Friend], remember her? Didn’t I tell you her mommy had a baby?” Ashton found my now saucer-sized eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Oh,” I exhaled, “right.”
My panic, short-lived but intense, erupted as I briefly imagined my daughter – a little girl still – with a friend who’d be having a baby. It was a silly thought, my kid is only 6, but it brought to mind a serious fear I’d always had.
Sex talks, ever since I’d become old enough to hear one, had made me overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Not without reason though. I remembered my dad – the strong, silent type, who my brother & I knew more for discipline than heart to heart discourse– sitting me down one summer day before I began 7th grade. He rested in his Lazy Boy flipping through the channels before stopping on the Jerry Springer Show.
He cleared his throat, “You see that?”
I barely nodded in reply. A pencil thin pre-teen with a stringy ponytail wearing a tube top and ripped shorts danced across the stage as she screamed into the camera that she was “gonna have a baby, whether my mama likes it or not!”
“That’s a fast girl. Nobody likes a fast girl, don’t forget that.” And with that, he turned back to ESPN, and our “conversation” was over. I blushed as I crept from the room and ran back down the hallway. Praying to erase all memory of the instance from my brain.
‘Fast,’ in the Black Parent Lexicon was synonymous with promiscuity, a dangerous fascination with the opposite sex and a surefire one-way ticket to hell. In other words, all the things a little brown girl from the suburbs should avoid.
That seems like a lifetime ago, now though. Here I am with my own brood and one day, I would indeed have to inform them about certain things. But kids are faced with many more choices so much earlier these days, I think. How do I prepare them for that?
I don’t want the Wee B3 to be afraid of it all. But I do want them to be respectful of themselves and their partners and all of the complicated mess that includes. I’d like for them to know the consequences that come with sharing your body and (hopefully) your heart with someone. And how that deserves to be something special. Not a vulgar anecdote told in the locker room the next day at school. Not saying I know that from experience or anything *cough* (oh god, I hope my parents aren’t still reading).
And to make matters more confusing, my oldest girl is very different from what I remember of myself as a child. She comes home most days questioning me about why she has to wait to get married. Sharing what her newest “boyfriend” did on the playground. Noting how “romantic” the kissing scene in Night at the Museum was. I mean…what in the world? If she’s this intrigued with the idea of relationships at age 6, I have no idea what Junior High will bring.
So when it comes to broaching topics of self-esteem and consent and contraception and so many other things that sexuality consists of, I’m at a loss. And that worries me. I don’t want to be the parent with her head buried in the sand. My kids deserve better than that.
But I suppose while I wait to find the right words, for today as the 6-year-old goes on about how the cafeteria monitor tripped over a Jello carton and how unfair it was not to have extra recess, I’ll just thank the gods that I can leave that other conversation for another time. Right?
And maybe, in the meantime, one of you mamas can offer me some advice because I’d hate to leave things up to Jerry Springer again.