We've been out for dinner, and are ambling slowly home, Alistair, The Blondies, and I. Alistair spots a white Range Rover, nudges The Boy and...
‘See that? That’s a girl’s car, that is.’ A snort.
‘Why? Do you drive it with your vagina?’
The Blondies are falling about laughing, Alistair is looking outraged, and I’m grinning. ‘I didn’t know a penis disqualifies you from owning certain types of car.’ Alistair shoots me a look of panicked ‘Not in front of The Blondies!’ fear. Because I’m a contrary bastard, I reply. ‘Penis. Vagina.’ I get a warning glance in return. ‘PEE-NISSS. VAG-IIINA.’
‘They’re just words, Daddy.’ The Boy.
‘Yes, I know, but…’
‘They’re not swears, Daddy.’ The Girl.
‘No, of course not, I…’ Alistair is floundering. Caught out by my lefty liberal permissiveness which means nothing’s off limits for The Blondies. His mouth flaps open a few times, but he’s no match for us. I take pity on him, and challenge The Blondies to a race home.
Really, nothing is off limits when we talk. It’s led to some tricky conversations at times (which I shall not be repeating for your amusement, sorry), but it means that penis and vagina aren’t words that are generally giggled at. Apart from when I’m titting about, obviously. And it’s not just words, either. It’s being comfortable with their bodies too.
After years of fretting, I’m mildly confident in my (stretchmarked, withered, wobbly) skin. If the surrounding households aren’t at home, I’m happy to drift about the garden in only bikini bottoms and sunglasses (and then have to dart inside when Mr Nice Neighbour calls ‘hello!’ over the fence). And The Blondies are much the same. I find myself asking The Girl ‘What happened to your clothes?’ more often than I thought was possible. And last night, The Boy passed me on the stairs, arms full of Star Wars figures, en route to the bath, naked as the day he was born, and not showing the slightest sign of being self-conscious.
It’s made me quite proud. Because as far back as I can remember, I was mortified by my body. No skipping around the house in just my pants, no way. I still cringe at the memory of having to sit on swimming pool steps, in the nuddy, on a family holiday when I was aged four. Which is ridiculous, because my parents were naturists and used to drag us off to Cap d’Agde, and Formentera so they could cause maximum awkwardness by sunbathing naked. Negotiations over spending money were always conducted with my eyes determinedly fixed on the far horizon. The Third Law of Parenting – your child will rebel against the things you hold most dear – held true and strong.
So apart from the garden, I’ve never sunbathed topless. I won’t even sit in my bikini in public. Not because I worry about being ogled (I’ve had two kids, so the likely reaction to any public unveiling is more likely to be horror and mass vomiting), but because I’m just not comfortable with people I don’t know seeing my body. Yet I’m not a prude, or have hang ups about being naked. I sleep naked, always have done. I’m matter of fact with The Blondies about things. And in return, they seem fairly relaxed too, about their bodies, my body, Alistair’s body (although the ‘Have you seen Daddy’s willy? No, but Mum, have you SEEN it? It’s MASSIVE!’ conversation still causes my toes to curl).
I was quite chuffed about how easy going they were about bodies. Yep. Totally got this parenting thing SORTED. They don’t have any of the hang ups I had when I was even younger than they are now. Obviously, there are still a lot of years to come, and I know the pressures of teenagehood, especially for girls. But still. Doing alright so far.
Remind me again of the First Law of Parenting? Oh yes. Even when you are right, you will be wrong.
The Boy brought home a letter from school last week. Year 4 are starting Sex Education, if you are Victorian Dad, you have the option of withdrawing your child from these lessons… Standard stuff. I mentioned it on the way home. Instantly, The Boy’s shoulders shot up to his ears, his chin tucked into his neck, he scowled furiously and didn’t answer.
‘The Boy? Did you hear me?’
‘So you’re starting sex education soon? Do you know what sort of thing you’ll be learning about?’ Helpful, interested, bright tone of voice.
‘Sorry darling, what did you say?’
‘I don’t want to go to the lessons.’ The Boy muttered into his chest.
‘Why? Are you worried it’ll be a bit embarrassing, talking about that kind of thing with everyone else?’ I was a bit puzzled, but he is getting older, more aware of girls…
‘No, because it’s DISGUSTING!’ A thought occurred to him, and he brightened up. ‘Can I be ill that day?’
So if someone, anyone, can explain to me how The Boy will happily skip around the garden wearing nothing but a bucket on his head, how he’ll wander into the bathroom for a chat when I’m having a shower, how he’ll fidget and say he’s got an itchy scrotum… All that, but having puberty (which he already knows about) explained again to him in a classroom… that’s ‘DISGUSTING’?
I thought I’d got it right. But I forgot. A parent’s place is in the wrong.