starting to understand how little time there is to truly appreciate
those positive parenting moments -- in between the scolding, the giving
in and the outright contradictory governing -- moments you team with
your spouse and do something so well they should give you a SuperParent
of the Moment Award on national TV. Ours came after dinner, relaxing on
the couch with the twins, with nothing better to do than answer the
most important questions of their entire lives. We're talking about
sex. S.E.X. Good thing we'd had a few glasses of wine.
I give Rachel and Riley credit: At 11 years old, they know more than I
did when I was 20. Contraception, STDs, sperm, humping and -- YIKES --
recreational intercourse. ("Why would you do that?") It's a
fascinating, complicated subject, really, especially given that they're
not allowed to actually do any of it for another decade or so...
Rachel was surprisingly upfront -- even cocky -- about her knowledge.
Riley, on the other hand, hid under a pillow and asked if he could be
excused, claiming it was all "way TMI" -- too much information. And,
yet, there he was, riveted, his hand raised when we asked if both kids
if they knew what the Pill was or how a woman gets pregnant.
"Why do you think someone might wait to have sex until they're older?"
Vanessa called on Riley. He had his hand up first.
"Cuz they're not ready. With all their emotions and stuff. It's a lot
of responsibility." EXACT-A-MUNDO. This was a nice, mature start.
Ostrich-like, Riley then once again buried his head.
"OK, Rachel, can you tell me what sex is?" I asked, expecting some cute
story about a stork or neutered Teletubby popping out a Telebaby from a
"'Kay," she began, trying to keep from cracking up. "The little
fishies, let's say, they start swimming around together -- they like
each other, or whatever. Then they lie down in, like, a coral reef or
something, do some grinding (insert uncontrollable laughter), then
comes baby fishy!"
Pretty good description, actually, just lacking the gory details. We
had to make sure they had a few specifics about ovulation, penetration,
ejaculation and a nine-month waiting period (not for goldfish, I
suppose....). So we launched in.
Luckily, Vanessa had started 'em young with Where Did I Come From
(great pics!), which was a brilliant beginning. (In fact, I'd like to
re-visit the book as there are a few details I'm still confused about.)
Plus, the three of them have pretty much grown up naked together, which
is bound to generate a lot of talking and comfort.
"What's f-ing yourself mean?" Rachel suddenly asked. I hadn't seen that
one coming... "RACHEL!!!" Riley yelled from under his pillow,
incredulous, but even more curious. Just as drugs or pre-marital sex is
a tough discussion to be preachy or honest about (the truth may set you
free, it will also set you up for trouble when your kids find out you
stretched it...), masturbation, too, was a surprisingly difficult topic.
Eventually we got around to discussing where they'd gotten their ideas
about sex, and if they had any questions (please, no...). They talked
about a scene from the movie "White Chicks" involving a fake penis --
their grandma had rented it for them thinking "Unrated" meant rated G
or less. Then there was a Mad TV skit with a Circumciser 4000, a
documentary they'd seen on AIDS in Africa and the Planned Parenthood
workshops we'd attended. (And, yes, that's an endorsement.)
The Birds & the Bees touches on so many issues -- none of which
have to do with birds, insects or honey. Love, homosexuality, sexual
harassment -- PORN came up, for God sake! At this point I wondered if
there was any good edu-tainment on the matter -- DVDs with hip actors,
animation and interactive activities. "Let's let Squidward explain that
question, kids. And when you have a problem in real life, we'll find
another cartoon character to try and answer it..."
"Look," I said, "The main thing is you can talk to us, at any time,
about anything. Riley. You got that? I can't see your face under the
Right now they know they can come to us -- we're still a big part of
their world. But, like most things involving fluid exchange and
long-term commitment, it's not always going to go smoothly.
Clearly, talking's a key step -- the more the merrier. Still, we know
damn well it's all going to turn on an inebriated evening, a young
crush, an older boyfriend, a hot tub and raging hormones. We'll do what
we can to prepare them with more of these open-ended chats,
embarrassing presentations and continued workshops -- then lock them in
their rooms for several years without media or outside chatter of any
kind. After that, it's just life: in motion and, at some point,
The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, who recently married Vanessa, the mother of 11-year-old twins -- Rachel and Riley.
Illustration by Cary Pillo