Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Adventures in Real Parenting: Boy Was My Face Red

When I was a kid, I would want to sink through the floor in embarrassment when I was watching television with my father and an advertisement for feminine hygiene products would come on. He's my dad. The very idea of something suggesting vaginas or bodily functions other than farting did not need to be spoken about in front of him.

Over the years, I became a little less embarrassed. When The Dancer was an infant, MathMan and I were terribly broke, buying groceries on a Shell credit card. The baby and I were sweating out a hot summer in our un-airconditioned apartment and MathMan was working about eighty hours a week as a manager for Radio Shack. For weeks at a time, I would pack up The Dancer and flee to Indiana for breaks from the monotony, hunger and heat.

One night, in my old bedroom at my parent's house, I was wrestling with a breast pump and having absolutely no success. In a huff, I tossed the vile sucking machine back into my suitcase, shoved my milk heavy breast back into that stupid bra with the flap and stalked out of the room to pluck The Dancer from my mother's arms so that I could nurse her before I exploded in a rain of milky, white sweetness all over my parents' family room.

In front of my father, I was self-conscious about nursing the baby, but I was determined to get over it. Nursing was a healthy and perfectly natural thing to do. I sat discreetly under a blanket, The Dancer sucking away like a Kirby vacuum and griped to my mother about the breast pump. Being the cheerfully helpful man that he is, my father suggested that we take a trip out to my uncle's dairy farm where I could be hooked up to the milking machines.

I responded with a simple, "Moooooo."

I never really got over the ick factor of nursing my babies with my father around, but I did what I had to do and just tried not to think about it.

You'd think at the age of forty-three and the mother of three children, I'd be over it. I assume my father might have a clue about the things I do with my private parts or that I even have them, but I am loathe to admit anything. I think it might be part of the dynamic between my generation and our parents. My parents were not terribly demonstrative, affectionate people and they certainly weren't open about things like sex and love and all the complicated and uncomplicated pieces of the human condition. There was oh so much that we never discussed. Hell, for the longest time, my mother referred to our private parts (see, there I go doing it) as "your body." For a while after I started school, I was a bit confused whenever someone used the term "body," but didn't mean privates.

How times, and parents, have changed. And so have kids, as a result. Last weekend, The Actor had two friends stay over and they watched the movie Stepbrothers. (Spoiler alert below.) Oh my. I was there, too, working away at my computer while they watched the movie, laughing at all the jokes. They didn't seem terribly concerned by my presence when one character talked about stuffing things in vaginas. They even saw me shake my head and laugh at a scene where one of the main characters rubs his scrotum on the drum kit of another. (Links not safe for work)

I tried to imagine watching a show like that with either of my parents around and I came up blank. It would just have never happened. I remember once watching a Cheech and Chong movie with my mom in the house, but, if memory serves, her eyes bugged out of her head and she stormed out of the room in disgust during one of the racier scenes.

I watched The Actor react during the movie the other night. There were times when he made eye contact with me and put his hand over his face or shook his head or rolled his eyes in embarrassment. But then what do I really expect? MathMan and I are open about sex. We discuss it in a straightforward way with the hope that we can convey both the pleasure and the responsibilities of being sexually active. We use the proper words for the genitals and we make up a few of our own, too. You know, so as not to be so bloody clinical about it.

MathMan used to hate the euphemism that I used for vagina when The Dancer was little so he came up with his own word and we've used it ever since, when we don't use the proper term, that is. I coined the term badgina, but not to imply shame of the vagina, but rather more like badass. A strong woman, a tough chick. You get the idea. A sort of family short-hand or inside joke.

So why should I expect my son to be chagrined to watch such a movie in front of me? I wondered if I was bothered or surprised or a little of both. I thought about whether it meant he and his friends were showing some lack of respect for me and did it matter? Then I wondered - would The Actor watch that movie in front of someone else's parents and be laughing and burping and farting and generally carrying on like his friends did here?

And then I got a pretty good idea of who I am as a parent, the alleged keeper of the moral flame in some societies, because the very idea of The Actor behaving that way sent a shudder up my spine........


  1. Dealing with this kind of thing is always hard. My mother and father weren't the "discussing" type, either, although she did tell me that if God invented anything better than sex he kept it to Himself.

    My sister was married in 1987, and while most of the family was involved, my brother and my oldest sister's husband were left at home. Being men, they rented some porn, which was still playing when we all got back from the rehearsal dinner. I wasn't paying attention as I walked through the TV room to hang up my coat, with my mother trailing behind. On screen was an infamous scene from a classic porn flick, Insatiable. I cam out of the closet to find my mother watching the screen with an interested, if distant eye. I was shocked and embarrassed, but my mother took it in stride, and said, "I could have given her some pointers". Which made me laugh and blush at the same time.

  2. Badginas?

    We don't need no stnking badginas!

  3. Maybe it's because we are the same age, but as I read this I kept thinking how much I identified with it! (Could relate many similar anecdotes, but won't.)

    I think that badgina is a cool way to negotiate around a word that has always been kind of icky.

  4. Let's be honest Lisa, that is by far the most rational response to anything involving Cheech and Chong.

  5. I know what you mean. My nephew (17 or 18 at the time), his ex-girlfriend, and I were sitting watching Borat one Christmas. I also showed him the video of Eminem when he was in grade school. We never had a problem with it. Those were things I wouldn't watch with my mom today. Thanks for the heads up about the link. I will check it out when I get home.

  6. Just by the by: what do you think the conversations between those boys are like anyway?..........

  7. Your posting about the breast pump reminded me of a scene in "Worst Week Ever." If you have not watched that series, it is one of the funniest on. I liked the Brit version somewhat better, but this one is very good.

  8. I was visiting my (prim & proper) grandparents one time and assured them (truthfully) that I was allowed to watch Saturday Night Live.

    Grandma must have had her misgivings, because she stayed up to watch it with me. I kept turning the volume lower and lower, but I guess she wasn't that hard of hearing because the next morning Grandpa told me that Grandma had told him that "that program" was nothing but "sex, sex, sex."

    He paused, considered, and, most un-grandpa-like, said, "Maybe I should watch it."

    The sketch I particularly remember was Jim Belushi hearing that girls dig guys who stuff their pants, and going into a men's room to do so. He likes the initial look, and starts stuffing everything he can find in there, eventually emerging with about 4' of trousers leading the way.

    Assuming I was, say, about 14 at the time, Grandma would have been 83 and Grandpa 93.

  9. I think the newer generations are more open about all this, for sure, and it seems to be healthy. I know just what you mean about your father - even my mother didn't talk about stuff like that with him when it pertained to me; in fact I think she was more squeamish about it than I even was.

    I was about 17 one time when my father (who was a medical copywriter so into medical stuff) saw me taking vitamins with iron in them and said, "You know, you don't need to take iron until you've, uh, 'become a woman.'"

    I looked at him in astonishment and said "Uh, Dad, I became a woman about 4 years ago." He was astonished that my mother had never told him of this momentous event - and I think rather hurt.

    Looking back on it I'm astonished too. I certainly would have told my husband if we had had a daughter. Poor Daddy!

  10. I am sorry that your dad makes feel you uncomfortable about your gender but he is probable uncomfortable, too. Not that it should be an excuse.

    I am one who appreciates the vagina as it and why should we be squeamish of the word? We shouldn't. Now if I could come up with a common spelling for my version.

  11. Those baby names are so silly and stupid. I have an autistic child in my class who was still in diapers until recently. His parents word for his penis is "winky". The aides had to work with this kid on toilet training and everyone rolled their eyes at having to use that word.

    In any event, I agree with using alternate names that are at least interesting or humorous. My 21-year-old daughter, an ardent feminist, calls her own vagina a "hoo-ha". I didn't teach her that one. Cracks me up, though.

  12. Ok, another freaky similarity tween ye and me: When I was growing up the word for V in our house was Begini. No kiddin'

  13. My parents are very "repressed," too, when talking about sexual stuff--My Dad even calls Jay Leno a "potty mouth." LOL! :)

    I think your approach is much better for your children. And hey, you could always use Oprah's word for vagina--"Va jay jay!" *grin*

  14. In my family, sex was discussed in private, but my mother is a huge prude in many ways. Apparently when we (my sisters and I) weren't around she was remarkably liberated, but if we were in her presence it made her extremely uncomfortable if even the mildest sexual and/or bodily function reference came on television when we were in the same room. If she wanted to watch a film or TV program with sexual content, she would tell us to leave the room.

    My father had far less hangups about it, but felt deeply uncomfortable with such things if in the presence of his daughters. With me, his son, it wasn't much of an issue.

    I'm not planning on having kids, but I bet if I did I'd probably have the same kind of response they did. Sometimes has always made me feel like all is not right with the world when I hear about some parent who openly discusses sexuality/sex life/bodily functions with their children. This is, of course, my bias.

  15. We've all dealt with the feminine hygiene commercials pretty well, and even my kids now refer to the Viagra and Cialis ads as "boner medicine commercials". There are limits, though--as many times as we've all watched Pulp Fiction as a family, it's only very recently that I've been able to stay in the same room during the Gimp scene. Our children are each wonderfully modest when it's called for.

    I went off on a tangent. I suppose what I was trying to say is it's always a complicated balancing act. You never want to be one of those awful hippie parents who just take the mystery out of everything, nor do you want to be the mom from the original "Carrie".

  16. Geoffrey - Your mom sounds like a hoot!

    Al - Don't make me sick a fresh as a daisy badgina on you!

    Bee - We are such contemporaries! I do like that word, but I try to use it judiciously.

    Mrs. Slocombe - Good point. And what are those conversations like? I'm not sure I want to know. Do I?

    MaryCatholic - (It still cracks me up that you call yourself that!!!!) Yeah, it really is generational, I think.

    Roger - I'll check it out! Thanks! And in my experience, nursing, breast pumps, the whole thing lends itself to comedy.

    Jennifer - That is a riot! I guess it all goes back to the idea that each new generation didn't invent sex.

    Maui - You make a very good point about how fathers are left out of some of their daughter's milestones. I mean, it doesn't have to be broadcast or made a big deal, but a father ought to know, I think. For medical reasons, if nothing else.

    MathMan - You? A fan of the vagina? I would have never guessed. Hey - what are you looking at? Stop that! Just kidding. Your version still cracks me up to say.

    Pagan - It's important that kids know the proper terms. But it is funny and very human, I think, to use the euphemisms, too. It's certainly more colorful!

    Gifted Typist - Stop! No way. Okay, this is just getting crazy. Maybe that one thing is what led us to devour British mysteries?

    Miss HP - Our method works for us, for sure. Sometime I'm going to have to write about how immaturely MathMan and I would behave when (I know I won't get this spelling right) we'd here NPR stories the Prime Minister of India Vadgepie.

    It was a spectacle.

    CK - I think we're very much shaped by the way we were raised. Thankfully, my mother's horror at Cheech and Chong was rather for effect and show. False modesty. She was, in fact, the person who would tell the same kind of tired jokes I bore and embarrass my kids with today. To wit:

    Q. What do you call a circumcision done with pinking shears?

    A. A frilly dilly.

    See what I mean?

    Bubs - Exactly. I want our kids to understand enough and discover a lot.

  17. Would you please write the Badgina Monologs. Please!!!

  18. Yes, what La Belette said, Please!!!

  19. firstly, yes please do...

    secondly, I chuckled all the way through this post, it bringing back so many memories of my kids and even farther back into the stone age with the breast feeding in front of the dad routine and the never-worked breast pump...I remember being mortified and gave up and hid under a blanket... I would probably STILL hide under the blanket, frankly...

    there's worse things...

  20. Breast pumps, what a waste of petroleum-based products. I never could get that stupid thing to work.

    But around my dad or grandpa, I left the room to breast feed. I couldn't even do the under-the-blanket thing.

    My dad is aware that I have a vagina and use it but...we all pretend that it isn't happening. It's a mutual thing since I don't want to know about his sex life either. We all think in pictures and those are pics I do.not.want in my head.

    The first and last time my dad tried his hippie crap on me was when I was a teenager and he said that I shouldn't use tampons because they plug everything up and keep the "natural flow" from happening and so are unhealthy. I told him that when he bleeds from the end of his penis for a week every month, he can use whatever product he likes but I'll use whatever I damn well please.

    Yes, I did say that to my father at the age of 15. Now you see why my parents hate me. ;)

  21. I used to work at a TV station, in the early to mid 80's.

    This was probably about 1982... A man called and was connected to my phone because I coordinated the national TV commercials that aired.

    He was screaming at me because he thought it was disgusting and wrong for us to show any ads for "feminine products."

    He felt like it was going to harm his then adolescent son's development.

    That's what I thought of when I read this post, that's why!

  22. My son, at 14 now, has always been the most moral and law abiding citizen in the house. This can be a pain indeed:
    "Dad, your going 7 miles over the speed limit"
    "Dad you did not put that in the recycle bin"
    He also, even still, cannot cuss or swear, even though I drop the F bomb on a far too regular basis.
    He will not even say "Hell" for some reason believing it to be one of those seven words that one cannot say.
    Instead he says "h.e double hockey sticks"
    It makes me laugh, and wonder!

  23. I prefer to call mine Sophie after Sophie Tucker, "the last of the red hot mamas." ;)

  24. This whole being open things smacks of real parenting. What's wrong with plopping the kids in front of the teevee and putting Clerks in?

  25. Okay--this is such an incredibly good post that I need to comment using numbers:
    1. Why aren't your reading your stuff on NPR? You're way better than many of those people who read their essays on air.

    2. We taught The Kid the proper words for her parts, but we maintained her kiddy-pronunciation of "JYE-na" because it was effing hilarious to us. "Badgina" is also wonderful.

    3. My parents never even held hands in front of us kids, much less talked about any of this stuff. My mom talked to me about menstruation (after finding my first maxi-pad had clogged her toilet--oops) using more "you know"s than a pro football player. Sheesh. I didn't know! That was the point!

    This really is a great post. I think it's cool the way you've taught that kind of openness and trust to your kids.

  26. I'm with you. I remember I was in the fashion show when I was 18.

    We had to walk on stage and dance then we were escorted down steps on the front of the stage. My father was one of the photographers.

    Everytime I twirled the audiance would clap. Wow, they really like me, I thought. Then I looked down, my boob had popped out of the shirt.

    I screamed. Ran down the steps into my fathers arms. Covered myself and ran to the dressing room.

    The trauma, unbearable.

  27. The boy (and his friends) are going to act this way no matter what. They're prepubescent boys. Being obnoxious brats is part of one's balls dropping.

  28. For one thing, you can't imagine watcihng a movie like "Stepbrothers" with your parents, because no such movie could have existed then. Seriously.

    Do you remember wondering if The Simpsons was appropriate for The Dancer (I'm guessing)?

    I like "Badgina" (I don't think anyone already said it) because it it makes me think of the vagina as a badge.

    With my mother (who I never never saw naked or nurse my brother 12 years younger than me) the codeword for feminine products was "stuff," as in, "When you go to the store, will you get me some stuff?" (And, that was certainly the only occasion worthy of discussing the matter.) Fortunately, I started my period sliding down the laundry chute of my best friend's house when were were staying the night at her dad's house and he helped me out.


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