I remember getting ‘the talk’ in grade five. We all knew it was coming yet at the same time we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We did know that it was a right of passage of sorts. We knew the grade sixes and sevens in our small country school had been through it and survived and now it was our turn.
The class was divided up; boys you stay here and girls pack your things up and head down the hall to another class room. This alone was a relief. Whatever we were about to encounter, at least the boys weren’t going to be in the room!
I remember feeling a sense of camaraderie among the girls in the room that day. A knowing that for good or bad we were all in this together. That sometime over the next few days, months, years, this would happen to all of us and though the images they showed of how our bodies would change seemed foreign and strange, it wasn’t scary because all of these moms and women and teachers around us? Well, they’ve lived to tell of it and they seem relatively unscathed.
Of course there were a few giggles that emerged here and there, a sheer sign of discomfort, and there were discussions with best friends later that day but that was really about it. We simply learned the word puberty and could now point out exactly where our fallopian tubes were but it was all very text book, very normal, and it didn’t offer anything that would worry a parent who may not be able to attend. They knew that their kids were learning biology at a level that pertained to them at their current stage in the game. How very appropriate.
Fast forward twenty some years to when my own children reach this same age. Grade six actually, but lets be honest, no more mature than grade five. Keep in mind, this is their very first year of middle school, as if that fact alone isn’t traumatic enough for them.
It’s called Health. It’s part of a normal class they have a few times a week called HCE. (Health and Career) Sounds harmless, right? Big. Fat. Wrong!
I learned the hard way with my oldest. My poor beta-child. The one on whom we test things. Experiment. Try things on and learn by and then make adjustments for child 1.0 and child 2.0, depending on the outcome of beta.
Now don’t think I’m naive. Don’t assume I have my head buried in the sand and didn’t realize that the world has changed just a bit in the past twenty years. I get it. I do! But children are still children. And biology is still biology. So I wasn’t worried.
My biggest mistake? Not clarifying the terminology “health” and not questioning the world view of the teacher in the realm of “health” and realizing that though what I deem appropriate for this age group has not changed, the same is not true of much of the world around me.
So he attended health class, my poor eldest middle schooler. But it wasn’t like anything I’d experienced. The girls did not get up and leave the room like I so clearly remember. No, they all just sat there in their desks. Boys and girls. Boys sitting right next to girls. All staring straight forward suddenly not wanting to acknowledge each other or, heaven forbid, make eye contact.
Where my experience built sisterhood, his was one of isolation. Where I felt comforted by the women around me who had walked this road, he felt slightly repelled that the girls around him were hearing, at the same time he was, the road he had to walk. Where we were given information to store and feel educated and empowered by, they were given question time.
Oh. My. Word. Question time.
First off, I should probably redeem myself by saying that we’ve not hidden the truths of life from our children. We’ve always called penis’ penis’ and not cutesy little names that we’d have to reteach at a later date. We’ve never been embarrassed to talk about body parts or changes in our home. It comes up in random conversation at any old time. (Right, Mom/Grandma?) As they got older we talked individually with each of them about sex and God and our world view and how that all fits together. Our kids know this stuff. Appropriately. In a comfortable setting. Given their age and maturity.
Apparently what happens at the end of health class, where boys and girls are sitting in a room together, not awkward at all (ha!), comes question time. The motto of the teacher heading up Health Class? To answer anything he is asked absolutely straightforwardly and honestly without (in my opinion) giving a thought to the age of these kids.
May I remind you these kids are 11.
My son came home so overwhelmed with information that it took days to get it all out as he was processing. He heard so many things he had never heard before. So many concepts well above his level of understanding. So many things that seemed so gross! A path we had always hoped to avoid. What is happy and normal and fun at a certain age is truly gross at another and we never wanted them to think of sex as gross. We wanted them to know how awesome it is. How God gave it to us as a gift. Not gross.
Without being rude or graphic I want you to know what your child may be learning in their health class. At least, what my child learned in his. It’s a lot so if you’d rather not, please don’t read any further. You have been warned.
He learned every single way that there is to have sex. Yes, including masturbation, oral and anal. He learned how to avoid a girl getting pregnant and he learned every type of contraception possible including condoms, birth control pills and in his words, “a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember cause it didn’t make any sense to me.” He learned what blow jobs were. He learned what rainbow parties were. He learned that this is all okay! This is what our bodies do!
He wasn’t once told that it might be a good idea to wait until your older, and of course married was never once mentioned. He didn’t learn that it was absolutely okay not to do these things. He wasn’t taught how to say no. He wasn’t informed of the turmoil that this may cause later on or in a future marriage. He wasn’t made aware of the feelings that come along with it. He wasn’t told what life might be like should that girl, no matter how careful, become pregnant. He wasn’t shown a picture of him, at 11, 12, 13, holding a little baby while his friends are off paint balling or playing Xbox. He wasn’t only taught how our bodies work but he was informed, in word picture, what we can do with them.
Now, without being overly graphic can you just for a second imagine you at 11? Can you imagine what some of these concepts look like in your head? Can you imagine the tiny speck of interest that it might plant? Or at the very least a curiosity as to why. Not to mention the gross factor and how much more alien this makes your parents seem for wanting to do this.
This my friends is health class. And this is why, despite him feeling like a total loser, my child 1.0 now leaves the classroom when this portion of learning takes place. He and one other girl in his pod make their way to the library feeling like dorks and yet, they have each other. He told me they talked about it. They chatted about how it’s weird that everyone else is learning something and they’re not but they both agreed that their parents want them to learn things at home. To make sure that its appropriate because we love them. “The way we see things is different, right mom?” Yes. Yes!! It is. These two kids in the library may seem nerdy to everyone else but they’re okay with it cause they’re smart. They’ve got it figured out. Classrooms are for educating. Home is for filling in the gaps with the life stuff. The heart stuff. And while all the other kids in class are feeling a bit awkward and staring straight forward, he’s got camaraderie in the library with the one other girl who’s parents think the same way as his. Awesome.