Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life Can Be Puzzling

The reproduction of mankind is a great marvel and mystery. Had God consulted me in the matter, I should have advised him to continue the generation of the species by fashioning them out of clay. ~Martin Luther

            “Mom, should I be reading this? I don’t think I should be reading this.”  My daughter Ally, then age nine, asked me this question with a very red face as she perused the four pages on sexual reproduction in a book I had given her about the human body. In our family we don’t believe in making certain subjects taboo, and the Bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The “Song of Solomon” is read with just as much reverence and respect as any other part of Scripture, and we have a menagerie of pets who, being uninhibited about such things, have provided us with many opportunities to discuss the workings of the human body also.

            Nevertheless, Ally was instinctively embarrassed about this topic. It was a combination of factors-past negative experiences, admonitions to “not talk about that” in her previous foster home, and the result of the Fall that causes us to regard our own bodies with shame, although God very clearly tells us otherwise. We addressed the issues of sex very early on, for our children had already been exposed to things way before they should have and we did not want them to develop a warped, perverted view of something that, in its proper context, is a beautiful gift from God.

            As a child of seven or eight, when I began asking my mother questions, she handed me a book and told me to read it and then come back to her if there was anything I didn’t understand. After reading the book, I was still not quite clear on some things. However, I could see that my mother was squeamish about the subject, no doubt the result of a rather strict Southern Baptist upbringing, so I sought out my father. A New York City native raised in the Bronx, my father had come to the faith later in his life and thus did not regard this topic as taboo. He explained things to me very clearly and I realized that I had seen plenty of animals doing that. I just had not known exactly what they were doing. I remember how my dad then used Psalm 139 to show me that there is nothing dirty or ugly about sex and that someday, when I was grown and married, I would discover that it was indeed a great wonder, another of those things that God said was “very good”.

            In the beginning, ALL things were good, and God made them all good, and He blessed them. It is human beings who have perverted and distorted God’s Creation, because of the Fall into sin and disobedience. Therefore, Alyssa’s reaction was what one would expect, but I did not want her to feel that way. My husband also believes that so often, adolescent girls are ashamed of their bodies and feel that they are worthless and inferior. In some cases they are even taught that they are “cursed”. Is it any wonder that so many girls have low self-esteem?  Thus, we have been very intentional in celebrating our girls’ beauty and femininity. Each of them was taken out to dinner by their daddy on her ninth birthday and given a special necklace with a pearl in it to remind them that they are pearls of great price. They were also taken out to lunch by their daddy when they reached that special milestone that is delicately referred to as “becoming a woman”. Since they both reached that milestone at an early age, we were glad we discussed “the facts” with them when we did!

            I say “we” because my husband has been very much a part of all of this and, unlike many men, he is not embarrassed or afraid to discuss it. Thus I believe that all three of our kids are developing healthy attitudes about the opposite sex, love, and marriage. We decided from the beginning that we would encourage them to talk to us about anything…and I mean ANYTHING. We never wanted to have the disconnect that can occur around age twelve, when many kids shut down communication with their parents. No. That is simply not allowed. I don’t read their journals, although I would if I felt it necessary, but I do check their Facebook feeds regularly, we are aware of where they are going and who they are with at all times, and, when they are away, they had better answer their cell phones! This, to me, is just common sense.

            Raina has taken a course in self-defense and could easily take down any guy who messed with her. I do not want my kids fearful; I want them confident and self-sufficient. I want them to have meaningful experiences and I want to empower them, not shelter them. We have always operated on the premise that we were raising ADULTS, not perpetual children. Yet we are still, even though they are now thirteen, fifteen, and nineteen, ever available to give advice, answer questions, and give them a good lecture if necessary. We also hold the power of the car keys (since we bought the car, after all), and the power to cut them off from electronic devices and other pleasures. This is called “grounding” and I don’t actually care if it makes them angry. They live in our house and they can do us the courtesy of abiding by our standards, making good grades, showing us respect, and doing what is asked of them. Most of the time, they don’t resent it.

            After Ally finished reading the pages in the anatomy book, I asked her if she wanted anything clarified. She said no, but was that why the rabbits bled when they went into heat? I said yes. That was all, for about two years. Then one day, we discovered in the course of conversation that she still was fuzzy on how the sperm actually gets to the egg. This resulted in a rather hilarious conversation during which I tried desperately to conceal my amusement, while my husband spoke very candidly and Tony kept saying, “Wow, is this awkward.”  Raina wanted to know why he thought it was awkward-she is definitely the opinionated and outspoken one, to the point where I once asked cautiously, “You don’t , like, discuss this topic at SCHOOL, in front of people, do you?” For that I was rewarded with THE LOOK, the one that says “Mom is not smart”, and an exasperated, “Wow, Mom, what do you think?”

            As the conversation progressed to ovaries, Ally, who had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird (yes, I know eleven is young for that book. Don’t judge me. I read it when I was nine) said, “Ovaries?? Like Jean Louise wears?”

            “OVERALLS!!” Raina and I shouted in chorus, and Raina fell over laughing.

            “Awkward,” Tony muttered.

            Finally, Ally reached a conclusion. “So, it’s like a puzzle-the way they fit-and everything?”

            “Yes,” we agreed.

            “Well, I’m never playing with THAT puzzle.”

            “You’ll change your mind when you get older.”

            “Nope. Gonna leave that puzzle on the shelf.”

            “Well, sure. Until you get MARRIED,” Raina emphasized.

            “Yeah, but a puzzle with only two pieces is no fun anyway.”

            With that, I gave way to hysterics. And I would be willing to bet that we are the only family in the Universe whose euphemism for sex is “playing with the puzzle”. Quite frankly, Ally is still pretty grossed out by the whole thing, which is at it should be when you are thirteen, but she also understands that she won’t always be grossed out by it. She also still plays with dolls sometimes and Raina, while of course interested in boys, is at this time consumed by training her horse, riding her bike, making jewelry, learning to cook, hanging out with her sister and her BFFs, and making good grades. Though they both like to wear some makeup and have the usual teenage obsession with hairstyles and pop music and movie stars, they are only boy-crazy in the most innocent sense and understand why their father has said that it is not yet time for courtship (this is Biblical courtship as opposed to dating, which is a whole other topic for another time).

            There have been embarrassing moments, of course, like when Raina was ten and we were at the zoo and she asked what the turtles were doing. I told her they were mating, and I cringed and laughed at the same time when she turned around and yelled, “HEY, EVERYBODY! COME LOOK AT THE TURTLES MATING!”  It was almost as bad as the time when Ally asked about Santa Claus, having pretty much figured it out for herself, and we told her about St.Nicholas, and that we got the Santa myth from him but that he was a real person and was now a saint in Heaven. She went to school the next day and informed the first grade that Santa Claus was dead. So the ways in which your children can humiliate you are certainly not limited to sex, and discussing sex should be as natural as discussing Santa Claus, or, in our case, time travel, the nature of reality, the literary and cultural references in Lost, and why Finn and Jake are brothers even though Jake is a dog and Finn is a human (adoption, of course).

            At the center of it all, for us, is God, and what He says, or doesn’t say, about things. Some things are right and some are wrong and some may very well be matters of opinion. I hope that we as parents have set the right example as continual seekers of Truth. And never underestimate the power of literature and movies as teaching tools- I had tried to explain artificial insemination to Ally once she understood the concept of sex, but the movie Gattaca did a much better job. Hearing me talk about racial injustice is all very well, but Scout Finch and Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, along with Minnie and Aibeleen and Skeeter in The Help, were probably a lot more effective. I can say that God is with us in all circumstances, but Corrie ten Boom’s personal experiences in The Hiding Place brought it home in a much more powerful way. I believe that children need to know things, and we as parents need to determine when they are ready, and for most it is probably far earlier than we think. They are going to hear everything somewhere, and I would rather they hear it at home first. If they haven’t, then I want them to be comfortable asking about it, or talking about it, without fear that we will be shocked. If they do wrong, I want them to be able to tell us, even though they know there will be consequences, because the truth is ALWAYS better than a lie. When we had to have our dog Buttercup put down, I did not lie and tell Ally, “Oh, she lives at the vet now,” or any of the other silly things I have heard. I told her that Buttercup was old and sick and it was time to let her go. I was also able to say with conviction that if we want Buttercup in Heaven, we will have her, because C.S.Lewis and Martin Luther and William Wilberforce all believed that and they are far wiser than I.

            Indeed, the truth is always best-however “puzzling” it may be. Can I get an “Amen”?

Only in the U.S. do we find children drawing a picture of a baby coming from the clouds or from under a cabbage leaf.” ~Floyd Martinson

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