My pre-teen boys recently learned that “Dick” is a nickname for “Richard.” So, as pre-teen boys are wont to do, they spent a goodly chunk of an afternoon coming up with clever-to-themselves names like “Richard Penis” and “Groin Richards.” Typical for the age, right? We want our kids to feel comfortable speaking freely at home while letting them know when they’ve said something that’s unacceptable out in public, so I was casually monitoring the conversation while making dinner. I was ready to clamp down on any loose f-bombs, basically.
Things seemed to be winding down as my sons settled on their favorite monikers.
“My name is Testicles Richardson!” Pre-teen the Younger announced.
“I’ll be Professor Richard P. Nis!” enthused Pre-teen the Elder.
Then, out of nowhere, my 5-year-old daughter, who until that moment had been quietly coloring by herself in the corner, piped up with: “And I’m Vagiiiiina Sam!”
Her name isn’t Sam — she was simply getting in on their game. She put a cowboy twang on it, she said it with gusto, and it was the most hilarious moment I’ve ever experienced as a father. We all laughed so hard we couldn’t catch our breath. We laughed again as we told Grandma and Grandpa about it. And we still laugh about it, as the story has become part of our family lore, The Legend of Vagina Sam, one of those treasured memories that are occasionally dusted off to be savored for years to come.
It wasn’t until later that night that I truly appreciated what happened. When my daughter finally chimed in, she had done so triumphantly. It made me proud that I was raising a daughter who would make such a statement to the world, who wouldn’t let the penises of the world go unchallenged. She had heard two boys making a bunch of penis jokes and decided that the moment required the coup de grâce of a vagina joke.
I’m a Gen-Xer and was raised in a church-going household. When I was a kid, my brothers and I joked around similarly, but my little sister was never part of that kind of talk. Boys and girls were talked to — and treated — very differently. That my daughter felt the freedom to chime in the way she did speaks volumes about how times have changed. Kids these days talk more openly about their bodies than we ever did, and why shouldn’t they? Bodies are interesting as hell! There’s so much stuff going on all the time.
In this age of evolving gender identities and increasing (but not perfect… yet) equality between the sexes, I love watching my daughter grow up in a world different than that of my own upbringing. Progressive attitudes are forging an openness we all can admire. When a nonbinary gender student joined her class last year, my daughter came home and patiently explained to us why we should all use the pronoun “they” for her new friend.
One of my generation’s parenting challenges (though now that I think about it, it must be a challenge to every generation of parents) is adjusting our thinking about people, their bodies, openness, sexuality and gender as the world changes around us. And while we do our best to teach our kids, you better believe they can teach us, too.
Take it from Vagina Sam.