My oldest daughter's fourth grade teacher gave her class "the talk" the other day. No, not THAT talk; Health and Human Development isn't until fifth grade, and let's be honest - if the school is really giving your child brand-new information in that area, you are way behind the eight ball. No, I mean the "it's time to start wearing deodorant" talk. Yep, she sat them down after PE class last week and told them to go out and get some deodorant - and wear it - because some of the kids really need it, and she didn't want to embarrass anyone by pointing fingers.
Now, several other mothers were upset by this event. "It's not her place to tell my child he needs deodorant," said one mom. Another told me, "I don't think she should have talked to the girls and boys together in case anyone got embarrassed." A third thought that the teacher should have e-mailed the parents of the odiferous children and shared her concerns with them directly, rather than addressing it with the entire class. Still another thought that the way she talked to them was "far too direct and not gentle enough" for her taste.
Me? I appreciate her concern for the children, as well as her directness. And I'd rather she spend her time writing lessons than e-mailing individual parents about personal hygiene issues. But the bottom line is, I've been in that classroom after recess on a 98-degree day often enough to know that THEY ALL NEED TO BE WEARING DEODORANT. DAILY. Even the ones who don't really "need" it yet stink to high heaven after a half hour on the playground. And as far as I'm concerned, until you've spent the afternoon in an enclosed space with 23 nine- and ten-year olds after an hour of PE class, you are NOT, in fact, entitled to an opinion on this subject.
But I wasn't there for "the talk", and some of the other moms were truly bothered by it. So I asked my (overly sensitive and easily upset) daughter to relate exactly what her teacher had said to the class. She told me, "She was really funny, Mommy. She said, 'Y'all need to ask your parents to go out and get you some deodorant, because you're coming to the age where these things are important. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I'm not going to name any names, but some of you are growing up and it's time to think about personal hygiene.' Mom, she's SO right. Some of the boys REALLY smell." Uh, yeah, they do. And did I mention that the teacher is pregnant? Imagine a room full of sweaty pre-teen bodies under those conditions. I could barely stand to smell MYSELF when I was pregnant.
As parents, we like to think we know when our kids are ready for the next step. When are they ready to be weaned or potty-trained? Are they ready for preschool? Time for braces? Is it time for "the talk"? Ages and stages are such a big deal when our kids are babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but we tend to forget that it's just as big a deal when they hit elementary school. Some girls get their periods in fourth grade. Some boys start to have, um, "special" dreams as young as age 10. Puberty, with its body odor, growth spurts, changing bodies and voices, hair in weird places - it's happening whether we parents want it to or not. If kids aren't prepared for these things, what will they think when it happens to them? If we don't tell them what the next step is, how will they know?
Too many parents bury their heads in the sand and say, "S/he's too young! S/he shouldn't know about these things yet!" I hear you, I really do. And in a perfect world, our kids wouldn't need to know this stuff yet. But the reality is, they are probably hearing about puberty from their better-informed peers on the playground. Imagine my surprise the day my oldest child came home - from second grade - and said, "What's sex?" I gave her the standard "It's whether you're a boy or a girl, you know, like when you have to check off a box on a doctor's form or something" thing. She said, "I don't think that's it. Lilly said it has to do with grown-up private parts rubbing together to make babies." Oh. Oh my. Okay. My husband is STILL thankful he worked late that day.
But this is exactly my point: Wouldn't I rather she hear it from me? Under circumstances that I control? In a setting where she's free to ask questions and get correct information? As a former teacher, I can tell you that what our kids hear on the playground is usually WAY off-base. (When I taught sixth-grade science, I had a student tell me, "But my friend says you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex." Oh, boy. I rest my case.) And even though, for most third- or fourth-graders, the sex talk isn't necessary just yet, the puberty talk is. Trust me, it's hard to "unteach" what they've erroneously heard. No, it's far easier to give kids accurate information the first time, with our own morals and religious beliefs involved, than it is to erase what their classmates have told them already. And really, who would you rather your kids get their information from - you, or a bunch of kids who are just as (or even more!) uninformed about this stuff than they are?
So, as usual, when I found myself in a group of parents commenting on the deodorant issue, I couldn't keep my mouth shut and leave well enough alone. No, I had to put in my two cents, which is basically this: what better way to open a discussion of the changes their bodies will be going through than this? Let's just look at it as an opportunity to have a frank discussion with your child about what is coming. Yes, it's uncomfortable - for parents as well as kids. Yes, it's a tough subject to tackle. But being calm and matter-of-fact about it sends the message that we are comfortable talking with our kids, that we are willing to answer their questions, that we welcome them to come to us with ANYTHING at all. And isn't that the point? I want my girls to know that they can come to me and I won't be embarrassed or get upset at their questions. (Their dad, that's another story. I'm working on that one. He's mortified at the thought of them asking him anything, but he'll have to get over that.)
Slacker Mom Says... we can't bury our heads in the sand. Our kids will grow up. It won't go away just because we're ignoring it. We need to look for opportunities to talk with our kids about what's going on. We can't assume that they are too young, that they'll come to us when they want answers. Don't let their peer group educate them; teach them what they need to know, but with the emphasis on the moral standards that are important to your family. Open the dialogue. Whether it's puberty, religion, politics, finances, whatever, I want my kids to feel comfortable asking me for answers and sharing their concerns with me. It's important to me that they know I will always be there for them, that I will always help them with any problem, that I'll help provide answers and information when they need it. Because what's the alternative?
And for the record, my daughter started wearing deodorant last spring, as soon as it got hot again. I bought it, put in the bathroom, and said, "Use it. Every day. Here's how."