My doctor got a gold star this week. Not just because it was long overdue, because I attribute my first son's life to her confident prediction, a seeming prescription, that I would get pregnant in the fall of 2001 no problem. But, also, because she is trying, hard, to be open with her own kids.
I went to her Midtown mid-rise about the strain in my voice, but came away, as usual, with more than just medical advice. She seems, in the cumulative hour max I've probably spent with her in my life, a calm and non-judgmental sort, just the kind of person, ahead of me in years and experience, that I like to poll on some of the bigger of my life questions.
She asked how old my kids were and I asked about hers. She has two girls who are now, she offered, with surprise in her voice, already 12 and 13.
"Wow," I said, and then hit her with the first thing that popped in my head when I think of parenting adolescents. "Do you talk openly with them about things?"
A look crossed her face. I had obviously struck a nerve. She shook her head in frustration as she felt my glands, looked down my throat.
"You know, I try, but they don't want to hear it from me, it's embarrassing for them," she said. "Even when we're watching Gilmore Girls together, which we do 'cause all of us like it, they'll be upset that I talk about someone kissing."
I nodded. I know. My kids are the same. "They don't really want to think about their parents as people," I said.
"Right, especially people who have sex," she said and we laughed.
I told her that my 8-year-old was very inquisitive, asked a lot of very detailed questions about sex, ones that I sometimes found it hard to answer, like when he said, "OK, I get it that semen carries the sperm into the woman's vagina to get together with the egg, but how, exactly does the semen come out of the penis???"
That one had been a stumper, I said, "'cause I'm not sure he's ready, or I'm ready, to talk about orgasms."
She had stopped examining me at this point to focus straight on these non-medical concerns of mine and, it turns out, hers.
"Oh," she said, "I have this great book for kids on orgasms, that talks, really, about what it's like, explains the sort of contractions the body makes...it's great."
"How did your kids take it?" I asked.
Sheepishly, she acknowledged, truthfully, "I never gave it to them. It's sitting on my bookshelf."
I laughed,"So you read it?"
"Pretty much," she said, putting her stethoscope back in her ears, back to business, "I guess I have to try harder..."
I gave her a star for her efforts on my behalf and on behalf of her kids and gave her my card to check out the blog. She took it happily, like a prescription.
"Maybe it will help me..." she said hopefully. I would love to think I could return the favor.
I continued my polling on the subject of talking openly, talking about orgasm, with a friend I likewise respect and trust, a woman with bold, beautiful white-girl dreadlocks she pulls off gracefully. I am so jealous.
As I repeated the story about my doctor and the book, how hard it is to talk about orgasm, she interrupted me to tell me what she told her own nearly-8-year-old son.
"I told him 'it's like the biggest, wildest sneeze,'" she said, demonstrating how, in fact, she had physically shown him the gyrations of such a "sneeze." I cracked up.
"That's awesome!" I said. But she wasn't finished.
"And, then, I told him, 'it's followed by a stream of warm Coca-Cola...' and he said, 'Ummmm...' " She closed her eyes to show how the description alone had made him feel yummy, made him understand how such a thing might feel good. Or maybe he was just imagining Coca-Cola and liked it, but, either way, the link to orgasm was positive, as it should be.
"Then," I laughed, "he locked himself in the bathroom for three days and...No,not really,not yet. But soon." Scary.
I was reminded by her story of what my own mother said to me about childbirth, how she explained it in a way I could understand. She always said it was like "taking the longest, hardest bowel moment of your life." Nice. Certainly visceral. Two kids later, I wouldn't wholly disagree. And it had made me feel better then and through the years as I got closer to having children to relate something so strange and scary to a just slightly more intense version of something I did regularly, if I was lucky. Gold star for you, Mom.
Talking about this stuff is incredibly hard. We are so puritanical ourselves, so ashamed of even the most natural of acts, that even handing off a book can be hard. But the alternative, I always think, is so much worse. I hate to think of my kids learning about really important things from other clueless kids at school. The ones who act like they know, who "teach" all the other kids things are usually, it seems, the ones who go off half-cocked, no pun intended.
I was reminded by these conversations to beseech my own children at breakfast yesterday, as they ate their waffles and cereal and fruit with no thoughts, I imagine, of orgasm, "You know you can ask me anything, right?"
As usual, I got a great round, in unison, of "Whatever, Mom!" It is the favorite response to whenever I have crossed the line beyond where their little brains want to go. I do think they know, though. I've told them often enough, like a mantra. But whether they'll do it or not at the important moments is another question. I better be paying attention, close attention. Just in case they forget to ask, I better be ready to tell. Yikes. Anybody have a gold star?