What’s Going on Down There?

So. When my oldest was about eleven or twelve, puberty questions started. With, ready for this, “Mom, what’s an implant?” Oh. Right. Ok. Now, wait. What did you ask me? You know, that kind of question that has NO context, that comes out of not just left field, but out of the ballpark, and blasts through your kitchen while you’re browning onions. Well, so. Ok. Implants. Since that providential question, my kids and I have covered, among many interesting topics (note that somehow Steve is always mysteriously and conveniently absent): “what does it mean when my friend said his dad ‘got fixed?’” to “will I know when I have a wet dream” (that one was in Target, not quite 10 am, and I was still drinking coffee) to “in my book, it says there are five stages of breast development. . . so, when will I be finished with stage one – never?” It’s been almost 12 years of raising boys to men and starting to raise girls to teenagers. And while no time or effort make any of us experts or even very comfy with the topics, experience has shown me that talking is better than not, and books can be your best friend. Here’s how we’ve bridged the questions and come up with honest, appropriate and memorable answers.

First. I followed great advice. I called my brother after said implant question happened, when I realized my oldest son was wanting more information and explanation than he was willing to ask. David (my brother and, conveniently, a pediatrician) highly encouraged me to get my hands on What’s Going on Down There? There are several versions, but obviously, he wanted me to get the “for boys” edition.

little boy in glasses reading about whats going on down there

And he said, “Katie, two things. First, read the whole book. Cover to cover. And make sure Steve does, too. You have to know what your kids will know, after reading it. And second, don’t say ‘let me know if you have any questions.’ Rather, say ‘we’ll talk about your questions when you finish, ok?’ so they know you’re expecting questions and you’re happy to talk about them.” Brilliant, really. It hadn’t really occurred to me to read the WHOLE book, since I obviously knew the material, but I understood better when I read it – oh man. My son will know THIS after he reads it? Lord. Ok. And. Heads up. Get ready for the questions, because sure enough, they’ll have them. Mine did.

Also, I liked that Karen’s book is NOT moral. There’s no “this is bad,” or “this is better,” or “you should not.” It’s just factual, direct and thorough (very). That allowed me to put my own moral spin on it, and couch the book in a compassionate, intimate and tender way. Make sense? Also, huge extra win? Your kids will swear. to. you that they aren’t old enough for “long chapter books, Mom.” “No way, there is no way I have that much time, Mom, to read a book with CHAPTERS!” This one will kill that claim. In one day. No lie. My oldest read the whole thing, cover to cover, while sitting at a tee-ball game. Was classic. But. Myth debunked. On to Hemingway and Rand.

So, coming from a childhood where we didn’t read books about puberty, but talked exclusively to our parents or our health ed/home ec teacher, books seemed impersonal and too uncontrolled. But David assured me that the good ones were a) plentiful, b) direct with their language, c) didn’t include elementary cartoons, d) didn’t discuss rape and e) provided a handy glossary. I cannot speak to any other resource but Karen Gravelle’s book, but in looking for something to guide your next few years with your son, I’d highly suggest facing it all head on, being very open to his questions, reminding him you’ve never been a boy so aren’t sure the exact specifics for wet dreams and that God loves him almost as much as you do. That’s about it.

young girl reading a book on a living room sofa

Now, for girls. Girls it seems would be easier, since well, I am one and always have been. But, we’re more complicated (shocking), and we tend to have WAY MORE QUESTIONS and scenarios and what-ifs and “please I need to know EXACTLY what you’re talking about Mom and EXACTLY when it will happen” conversations. A book was recommended to me years ago, before my daughter was ready, but just this past year as she curved around from eight to nine, Ellie started asking about her body. Enter the American Girl Doll book on puberty.

I know. That’s what I said, too, when it was first recommended to me. The American GIRL DOLL book? Yeah, no, I don’t think so. Nice try, but suggest again. No way am I educating my daughter with dolls and characters from the 1700’s.

I was wrong. Not the first time. The book is amazing. It’s kind. It’s very thorough. It’s serial, so your daughter only reads the book she’s ready for. It’s very educational and funny and realistic. It’s actually called The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls. And let me tell you, Ellie (and Livy, as she looks at pictures over Ellie’s shoulder) loves it. Bras, pimples, emotions, nutrition, body shapes, eye health, teeth hygiene, even “how to properly wash your hair brush.” Ellie is constantly reminding me how to be a healthier, better, more prepared girl. 🙂 I love her.

In this particular book, the very last pages begin to introduce menstrual cycles. Nothing anatomical or sexual or “too much,” in my opinion, for my nine year old child. The second book in the series, written by the same Dr. Cara Natterson, is more advanced and in depth, deals with peer pressure, body changes and nicely opens the dialogue for more topics. It does not, however, discuss sex, which I also like.

It’s not that books or resources make the discussion fun. But, I would offer, they make the discussion easier. In no way do I suggest replacing the conversation with the book. Obviously. I like knowing what my kids know, as best as I can. I like being the authority and source to present it first, so I can tailor the message and remind them that “not everyone knows these things just yet, and it’s not our job to educate them.” I like that now, after the book’s been read and questioned, the topic isn’t hidden, so it’s not (as) awkward to reference or talk about.

What do you use? What has worked for you and your family? I’d love to know!

XOXO Katie

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