A few months ago my three-year-old son, E, and his new sister, N, were bathing together and my son asked: Where is N’s penis? My husband, S, who was in charge of bath that night (YAY!) yells: AAALLLLEEEEXXX.
I have been designated handler-of-all-questions-
I leave the room with an air of smugness last seen when my son greeted my mom’s friend at our door with Hello. It’s nice to meet you.
I had been thinking about this issue since E discovered his penis. Armed with my feminist theory, philosophy and biology classes, I already knew how I was going to handle the gender, sex, and my body talks:
- I wasn’t going to shy away or ignore any question. I wanted him to love and respect his body and I would mirror that by respecting his question.
- I wanted to use scientific terms. “Hoo-ha” and “weenie” aren’t human body parts nor are they anything I want associated with my body or my children’s. (I just learned that my sister uses “vah-jay-jay” which had I known that before the talk, I may have been willing to incorporate. It sounds like the cool neighbor in an old-school 70’s sitcom. Who’s at the door? It’s VAH-JAY-JAY!)
- I also wanted to emphasize what N HAS, not what she doesn’t have. I’ve read way to much Freud to describe women as a “lack” of anything.
- Most importantly, I wanted to move at E’s pace. E doesn’t seem to care who are boys and who are girls so I have yet to comment on “appropriate” pronouns and gender definitions. Anyway, as any VERY liberal-arts student will tell you, gender definitions are best left fluid.
And the talk in the bathroom went just like I wanted it.
Until last week. E totally blindsided me.
I’m leaning over a bit while wearing appropriate breast-feeding attire. E points and asks: What’s that? Now I look down and say hopefully: Those are my breasts. He says: NO. What’s that? And points his finger clearly between my breasts. I start panicking. Is there a scientific word for cleavage? Is there a feminist word for cleavage? Why is my three-year-old noticing cleavage?
Well, (I pause trying to buy time. But I can’t ignore his question -- That’s Rule #1!) It’s where my breasts meet... Like they are friends getting together for coffee. Maybe I can call it Starbucks.
What IS it? he insists. I look left. I look right. I use Jedi mind-tricks to force my cats to appear and actually let him pet them. And he just looks from me to my chest. So I tell him. I give him the word that every heterosexual male has come to love. It’s called cleavage E. And my feminist, scientific, and mommy selves DIE.
The next day he asks again.
I can’t wait for him to point it out on his teachers.
PS. My husband was leaning over without a shirt on and E pointed to a SKIN roll (NOT a fat roll) and says: Beavage! Which I guess is breast plus cleavage. Or right around the time Child Protective Services calls.
This post is written by Alex Iwashyna, a happily married (seriously!) mom with a BA in Philosophy and a Medical Degree and the drive to become neither. She is hopefully this writing thing will pan out. Follow her rants on twitter.com/failebg but be prepared for baby poop and liberal bias.