Parenting is often on the fly, I’ve come to learn. By that, I mean I make a lot of shit up when posed with hard or unexpected questions.
For example, La Chica, age 8, asked recently, “Why do they make underwear so fancy when no one will see them? It’s not like I’m going to drop my pants and say ‘Hey look!’ right?” Right, little girl. That’s absolutely right. It’s absurd to ever show people your underwear so please always keep your pants on. Always and forever please.
But the sexuality and intimacy questions keep coming. Because they’re trying to make sense of it. Hell, many adults are still trying to make sense of it.
The other day, the Boy asked, “Why do kids tease and make fun of each other for loving someone? Like Male Friends A, B, and C tease me every day about loving Female Friend D. That we’re in love. But we’re not in love. We’re friends. It’s really annoying and I’ve ignored them, but when they’re always around in school, it’s hard not to listen to it. I try to talk to them about how I don’t like it, but they ignore me and keep teasing me. I try to change the subject, but they keep teasing me. I don’t even know what they’re talking about. Why do they keep doing it?”
Because Sweet Pea, they’re 10 and 11 years old. Ten- and 11-year-olds are generally annoying. But more importantly, they don’t understand what this intimate love is about. Yet they are force-fed these concepts from an early age with hypersexualized societal “norms” now. They are bombarded with false and exaggerated notions of sexuality on billboards, in commercials, on tween cable shows, in song lyrics. Parents talk about how their 6-year-old son is already such a ladies’ man with so many girlfriends in school. Parents talk about how their 5-year-old daughter flirts with classmates.
Our children are grappling with a concept that has been thrust at them, but it’s not developmentally appropriate for their age yet. They don’t know what to do with this sexuality, with this intimate, vulnerable sharing of self, and how both are so intertwined. “What is love?”, they wonder. They know they love their parents. They know they love Minecraft. They know they love mac and cheese. They also know they don’t understand what this other “love” means.
I tell the Boy that kids (and adults) throw things out to the universe to see what sticks. They try things on for size. Does it fit? Does it resonate? Does it make sense? So in their attempts at trying to make sense of this other intimate “love,” they utter it out loud to try to identify and label what they think it means. If they can see it, maybe that will help in understanding it. Words have meaning and the world keeps talking about it, but what is it?
Oh, you spend a lot of time with Female Friend D, and you are both happy to see each other. Might this be the love we don’t understand? Let’s see! If it quacks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck. But see, the Boy and Female Friend D also don’t know what love is. They do know they enjoy reading the same books. They do know they enjoy talking about their pets. They do know they enjoy being silly. Is it love? Perhaps in a few more years it might develop into love. But right now, they’re 10 and 11. They simply enjoy each other’s company.
The Boy understands the latter. He thinks she’s nice and fun and kind. There’s still such an innocence and simplicity in their psyches and world. I tell him he will know what love means when he feels it, and it may be a while. But he’ll know. I tell him he need not try to understand what his friends are talking about or why they’re doing it because there are no good answers he can understand yet. I tell him to let life unfold and he’ll know soon enough. More importantly, I tell him to keep his pants on too because no one needs to see any fancy, or plain cotton, underthings.