In the latest journal entry, I noted that a frightening and somewhat destructive earthquake meant that I had no privacy the rest of the day. I'm a pretty modest person, ordinarily, but of course I put kids' needs first. Years later, I now realize that some people are even more modest than I am—at least, it takes more than a nearby earthquake to breach their needs for privacy.
It got me thinking...
I was that mom who helped other kids when they needed it.
Even in the bathroom.
“I need help,” some little kid in our homeschool group would say. So just like any mom would, I'd help the kid.
Even if it meant wiping a butt.
Years and years into doing this (here and there, once in a blue moon). I was amazed to hear that some other people didn't feel that they could or should do that for a small child who was not their own.
“You wouldn't help my daughter?” I asked, very much surprised.
“No, I'd run and get you.”
“Leaving my kid alone on a toilet in a public restroom?” I wasn't totally pleased at this mental picture. “Well, what if I were gone, unavailable?” I pressed. After all, I wasn't elbowing other moms away for the privilege of helping their kids in the bathroom—I did it because those other moms weren't available. And because I'd been asked. Often very nicely, with the word please.
“You're never gone and unavailable,” the mom said to me.
Note to self, I thought. Never leave my child in that particular mom's care.
I was that mom who was pretty open with my kids. So they knew a fair bit about things that some moms thought of as too adult for little ears.
And sometimes they shared their knowledge with other kids.
Somehow one of my preschool-aged kids' friends saw some menstrual blood. I can't remember exactly how this happened—maybe no toilet paper in the park restroom, so I was holding a certain something when I came out of the stall to get a paper towel. My kids and their friend were waiting for me, and the little girl gasped when she saw some blood.
“Is that blood?” she asked, horrified.
I quickly wrapped the certain something and ducked back into the stall to properly dispose of it, all the while hurrying to reassure her, “Yes, but don't worry, honey, I'm fine. Everything's fine.”
The little girl still looked shocked as I began to wash my hands. So one of my daughters tried to comfort her with an explanation. “My mom's just on her period,” she said.
“What's that mean?”
I tried to intercede with words to the effect that we should let her mom explain, but my daughter had already gone into teaching mode: “The blood is coming out of her angina—”
I interrupted to correct her: “Honey, it's vagina. Angina is the chest pains your papa has been feeling.” (Hey, what do you want? My daughter wasn't yet four years old!)
And she was still talking: “...And that means that she isn't pregnant and she is not going to have a baby in a few months.”
The little friend looked very confused. I tried to decide whether to address her confusion or change the subject, but my little chatterbox went on: “If she was pregnant, the baby would come out of her angina—”
“Vagina,” I corrected again.
“...Vagina,” she concluded.
“Okay, girls, let's go play!” I said firmly. This time I succeeded in distracting them..
Note to self: Tell the little girl's mother exactly what was said (and what was not said—we'd talked about two things coming out of the vagina but zero things going into the vagina!) Warn her that her daughter might think one of her private parts is called an angina!
I was that mom who didn't censor while reading books.
My small kids and I had these lovely, amazing discussions whenever something strange or upsetting came up during a reading session. Ma Ingalls (Laura Ingalls Wilder's mother) just said something lousy about Indians. My kids adore and respect Mrs. Ingalls—so why did she say that awful thing??? We talked about racism, we talked about judging people by modern standards when those people lived long ago, we talked about people being complex mixtures of the good and the bad. The Swiss Family Robinson killed every animal they saw—even animals they had no intention of eating. What's up with that? We discussed different perspectives on animals and the environment and wildlife and hunting.
When you come to think about it, what a lovely way to start conversations about hard subjects! When reading storybooks or novels with our children, we aren't as personally invested as we would be if we were discussing our next-door-neighbors or Uncle Don. There isn't as much chance for later embarrassing blurts from the mouths of babes!
I was surprised to hear from a few friends that they'd never had these sorts of discussions. When Ma Ingalls said something racist, they changed her words. When the Robinsons killed a cute little seal, they skipped over that paragraph.
“Why?” I asked. “We've had such valuable discussions whenever something like this comes up.”
“I don't want a valuable discussion at bedtime!” one of my friends said with a shrug.
I know a few little kids who get ultra-disturbed by things that other kids take in stride, so I “get” that their parents do and should protect them. It just never occurred to me to censor a children's book.