When I used to have students ask me to write their letters of recommendation for the colleges they thought they longed to go to, one of the boxes I was almost always required to check was the student’s level of “intellectual curiosity.” To be honest, I think this is a great quality for other people to have. I just don’t think I’d rate very high on the scale.
I mostly enjoy reading mindless detective fiction and watching unchallenging (but well-written) TV shows. If I stumble across something on the History or Discovery channel, I’ll rarely hang around to watch. I only want to learn about what I want to learn about—something about the next city or country I’m going to visit, that kind of thing.
Today, though, I was thinking about how my mom had spectacularly lied to me when I was young and curious. It probably happened when one of our neighbors or relatives was pregnant and I asked her that dreaded (at the time) question about “how does the baby get out of her tummy?”
Even though my mom was an RN, I could tell my question made her uncomfortable. It was the 60’s and I’m sure I must have been in elementary school at the time, and we simply never talked about reproduction or bodily functions. Never.
So, she took a deep breath and told me that when it was time, a “natural opening” in the body, “the bottom” opened up and the baby squeezed through. I’m sure, at the time, that I thought the whole thing was just gross and certainly had no follow-up questions, but the image stayed with me—for years. We had all been crapped out of our mothers. That was just how it worked.
Imagine my surprise when my nervous sophomore biology teacher got to the chapter on human reproduction and was determined to find a way to make a discussion of sex boring. He succeeded admirably. But imagine my confusion when he threw up a transparency on the overhead projector showing the outline of a pregnant woman in the process of giving birth, and the baby was headed in entirely the wrong direction.
I think by then I knew what a vagina was so I knew there was another “natural opening” but I kept staring at that diagram and trying to reconcile it with what I had been told and had believed for maybe 7 or 8 years. I felt the impulse to raise my hand and try to clarify things, but even then I was smart enough to realize that there was a pretty good chance I was going to reveal my total ignorance if I did.
Since during those hormonal years I was mostly concerned with simply finding a kind girl who would let me experience all of the fun stuff that comes before pregnancy and birth, I didn’t feel scarred by the experience. I could understand why my mom struggled with treating the subject clearly and rationally. I soon learned that friends and heavily dog-eared books were much better sources of information than parents.
Even though I tried to be much more open and matter-of-fact as a parent, it became clear to me that it was a subject that kids don’t quite always know how to talk about either. I hope your generation is doing better at it that we did, but I’m not at all sure. After all, we never talk about it.