Honesty, honestly

14 Nov

Our downstairs neighbor told us that her 4-year-old daughter has been asking questions about her vagina, which is freaking her husband out. His solution is kind of brilliant, really. He’s decided it’s all going to be the tushie – that the butt is the back tushie, and the vagina is the front tushie. Now they’re trying to figure out how to talk to her about her body parts. As the mom works for a global non-profit dealing with public health and contraception, it’s pretty clear that Papa Smurf is going to lose this particular battle. As she says, body parts have names, and she is going to teach her what those names are.

I don’t know whether or not we are going to be parents who lie to their kids. I’m not such an upstanding moral person that I’m unwilling on principle to lie to my children (what would that principle be, really? The truth is always better? Really?). I was reading Michael Chabon’s (uneven, but excellent in spots) book Manhood for Amateurs about what he did when his kids asked him about drug use. How many times, daddy, did you smoke pot? He actually responded well, with the underlying desire to not lie to his children. Something like, I don’t really know how to talk to you about this stuff, but I want to try to be honest. Well-played, soul-searching Berkeley man.

When I was in middle school, my Best Friend Forever used to get free milks from the milk kid during lunch. I don’t know if he really leaned on the kid, or was just friends with him, or it was a kind of mutually tacit “who fucking cares” kind of situation. But in spring, the assistant principal caught him at it, and dragged him into his office:

We know, he tells my BFF, that you’ve been stealing milk.
(oh, shit)
How many milks did you steal?
(um, ok, it’s April, two milks a day, carry the two)…”like, 300?

The pure shock on the assistant principal’s face let BFF know that he’d been expecting an answer like more like 6. Truth-telling can be over-rated, I tell you. Over-rated.

My own feelings about lying to Brooklyn Baby are that the legitimate justification for lying is to preserve magic, but not to preserve innocence. This is why it is ok to lie about the Tooth Fairy, but not to lie about death or sex or drug use. I’m happy for kid to believe that there are dragons in the world, for example. Or fairies. Or, I mean, when it comes down to it, Elijah for that matter.

But I’m not really in the game when it comes to lying to BB about whether it’s ok or not to do drugs. Some drugs are legal and some are illegal, some have bad effects on people and their relationships, while also having really interesting effects on perception and your personality. That society deems methadone controlled but legal, but heroin illegal, is an arbitrary thing, managed by pharma and political stakeholders as much as medical decision-makers. Alcohol versus marijuana? Really?

Ditto sex. I’m not really looking forward to uncomfortable conversations, but I’m also not going to pretend that he doesn’t have a penis. There’s no front tushie for this one, sorry. This may be a finer line between innocence and magic, and that sounds about right, actually.

Of course, we’ll see. The whole thing is much more practically a combination of who we are as parents, who he becomes as a person, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But the innocence/magic distinction is an early attempt to place a marker in the sand.

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2 Responses to “Honesty, honestly”

  1. Alan November 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Firstly we call vagina “who-ja-mee-flip” for our daughter.

    A penis is a “thing-a-mee-jig” (doesn’t come up that often, but maybe one day if we have a boy).

    Also, I fully intend to lie to my little baby girl ALL THE TIME, especially when I don’t know the answer to something. Of course that’s only about things that don’t really matter – I agree with you about the serious drugs/death stuff. But on most things, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the fact that she’ll actually believe what I make up, which my wife has unfortunately stopped doing.

  2. Alan November 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Also sometimes we use “whizzer” for penis (the full suite of terminology includes “taking a whiz” and visiting the “whizzbox”)

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