Nine Months Later it Turns Into You

Sex education looms large in the minds of many these days. Some say kids should learn the details of reproduction in the home; some say in the schools.

I first learned them in the place where most people learn-on the streets. Jimmy Epstein told us how it works: when your parents kiss, he said, a little polliwog-sort-of-a-thing swims from your father's mouth into your mother's, and down to her tummy. Then, nine months later, it turns into You.

We weren't sure about this theory. It seemed outlandish at first glance, its details wild and improbable. We needed to consult an authority. My sister, ever a self-reliant kind of kid, sent away to one of the larger manufacturers of Feminine Products for a pamphlet on the subject called "Growing Up and Liking It."

Now Growing Up and Liking It was not at all what we were doing at this stage of life; growing up and hating it would be closer to the truth. Who did we identify with in those days? Eternal kids like Howdy Doody and Peter Pan. Jimmy Dodd, that giant juvenile on the Mickey Mouse Club Show had grown up, hadn't he, and what was he doing in those outsized ears but trying his best to grow down again?

We were kids. We knew from jacks, and dodgeball, and noogies. What did we know from the grown-up domain of conception and fertilization? News of that whole dark and tendriled world hovered above us like an augury.

So when the grownups were safely occupied elsewhere, my sister, on the back stairs, tried interpreting for us the mysteries described in that pamphlet. She taught these mysteries to me, to my stuffed dog Pinky, and to our raunchy old tomcat Impy (who was probably pretty familiar already with most of the details.)

It was astounding information. More amazing than Santa Claus; wilder than Superman.

It struck us so, I guess, because nobody talked about sex back then.

Today of course, the world is different. Children's books on the subject abound. We have in our family one book showing hens and roosters, the pollination of flowers, and a cartoon human couple sharing a cartoon kiss. My sister has an especially jaunty one for her child showing a smiling sperm-cell dressed up in a top hat. The Electrolux salesman came to our house when my oldest was four. I left them alone in the room for a minute to get the checkbook. When I returned, he said, "this child just told me where babies come from!" He was sweating and his face was red. I guess to him it was big news.

It is big news, of course. And it's news that has to be placed in a proper context. Placing it there is the challenge that grownups today must face.

My fifth grader came home the other day and reported on the Human Growth seminar they'd had at school. The parents had had to give permission for each child to attend, so the kids had a pretty good idea what it would be about.

"So, how was Human Growth?" I asked her that night.

"OK," she said. "It was a movie about boys turning into men, and girls turning into women."

"What did you talk about?"

"Bras and periods. Nocturnal emissions. Like that."

"Did the kids get anything out of it?"

"Well, at the end they said if we had any questions, we should write them on a piece of paper. If we didn't, we should just write an "X." Then we should pass our papers forward."

"How did that go?"

"They got 52 pieces of paper back," she answered. "51 said "X." One said "Why do we have to watch this stupid film?"

It's big news, all right, and crucial news too. I guess there's still no easy way to get it told, though.

©Copyright 2002-2011 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.