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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Private and Not-So-Private Parts

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-uncomfortable. (S is slowly getting over E not being an infant anymore. He’s SOOO big is a daily comment.) I come in and S and E repeat the question. I respond: You have a penis and N has a vagina. She does not have a penis. I go on to explain that Daddy is like E and Mama is like N. I don’t elaborate further and E repeats my explanation a few times without any new questions. He points out his newfound knowledge to N and that’s it.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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!)

  1. 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.

  1. 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 but be prepared for baby poop and liberal bias.


  1. Heheheh..."it's called skin, now go away."

  2. I loved reading this! I know that I have had some moments with my son, and reading your post was a walk down memory lane! :)

  3. it's been several months since i've seen cleavage. good riddance 2009.


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