Sarah R. Callender

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page


In Body Stuff, General, Parenting on March 22, 2012 at 6:52 am

A Persuasive Essay, in Which Sarah (who is not a sex educator) Explains Why You Might Want To Be Discussing the Birds and the Bees with Your Children

Our family did The Sex Talk when the kiddos hit kindergarten. This was, I admit, mostly to avoid my own embarrassment. I figured if the kids were too young to know they should be mortified by the conversation, I wouldn’t be so mortified.

But our desire to introduce the topic sooner rather than later was also based on two other facts:

First, Sex is confusing.

For this I blame Ancient Greece. Sure, the Greeks may be the co-founders of modern civilization, but one only has to look at birth stories from Greek Mythology to understand why we might be confused about birds and bees today.

Athena, for example, spent most of her gestation and childhood in Zeus’ skull. When Hephaestus, a blacksmith, took a wedge and split open Zeus’ head, out popped a full-grown Athena, all dressed in armor (complete with javelin and flouncy skirt).

Equally interesting and violent, Aphrodite was born from the sea-foam that rose up from her father’s castrated genitals. Oy!

Dionysus was born from Zeus’ thigh. (Which explains why we never hear that Zeus “peed just a little” during post-partum jumping jacks.)

And Helen of Troy was born (hatched, technically) after Zeus turned himself into a swan and impregnated Leda, Helen’s mother.  Why a swan? you may ask. I suppose Zeus might have asked, Why not a swan?

We also need to give our kids the skinny on sex because of the omnipresence of sexual language and imagery. Our kids will be exposed to it even if we’re vigilant and concerned and involved. Even if we monitor screen time. Even if we home-school them. Call me crazy, but I prefer that my kids learn stuff from me rather than from one of those super-classy Go Daddy ads or from the news headlines detailing the sexcapades of elected officials or, worst of all, from some sicko trolling for kids via the internet.

Two books we started reading to the kids (when Buddy hit kindergarten) were Amazing You! And What’s the Big Secret?. I’d recommend both as good jumping off points; the cartoon illustrations are appealing to kids, and the text is honest and direct.

I will say that in What’s the Big Secret, there’s a page on masturbation that (according to the negative Amazon reviews) tends to disturb at least seven parents in the United States. One negative reviewer was also appalled by the use of the words “vulva” and “scrotum” in this particular book. I suppose she was hoping for “hoochie” and “balls”?

God bless America.

I will also say that the first few times, I skipped right over the page that explained what goes where during sex. At least until Buddy realized that unless sperm had wings or ninja powers, the transfer from the guy’s penis all the way over to the woman’s egg seemed unlikely.

Buddy started jabbing the tips of his index fingers together, asking, “But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

So I swallowed, then forced myself to tell him the truth. “The penis just gets really really close to the vagina.” I paused. “Actually, it goes inside the vagina.”

He nodded. “Oh,” he said. “OK.”

“Buddy? Do you want me to keep reading, or does this make you feel a little uncomfortable?”

A very long pause. “It does makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I want you to keep reading.”

Now, three years later, I am extra glad we’ve already broached the topic, as at age nine, Buddy has reached the mortified stage.  A few weeks ago, Sweetie told us (over post-church Sunday dinner) that so-and-so in her class was saying the f-word.

“Oh,” I said. “What’s the f-word?”

“Fuck,” she said, her little voice as clear as a bell.

It hurt my ears a little, but I was also relieved that she seemed to believe this boy had exposed her to the f-word. As opposed to her mother. Who has been known to use it on occasion.

“That’s right,” I said. “That’s the f-word. Do you know what it means?”

Buddy and Sweetie shook their heads.

I glanced at Husbandio who gave me the green light to take this conversation to the finish line. “Well,” I said. “It’s a not very nice way of saying “having sex.”

Well, as soon as that sentence was out of my mouth, Buddy picked up his milk, chugged it, then stood up and hurried his dinner plate to the kitchen counter, his fair skin blushing pink. “May I please be excused?”

Without waiting for us to answer, he hurried away. It seems the topic still makes him feel a little uncomfortable, only now he does NOT want to hear more.

Yet The Talk needs to keep evolving and changing as our kids get older.

Throughout history, if kids got The Talk at all, it was really just a single talk. One terribly embarrassing conversation, after which parents could put away the copy of Where Did I Come From, breathing a sigh of relief that THAT duty could be crossed off the list.

But Seattle-based sex education experts Amy LangJulie Metzger and Jo Langford believe The Talks should keep happening as the kids mature. Even if our kids aren’t asking. In Lang’s article titled, “The Three Biggest Myths Even Smart Moms Believe That Get in the Way of The Sex Talks,” the Number One biggest myth is that parents don’t need to have the conversation if kids aren’t asking about sex.

Our kids may not be asking us about sex, but they are likely talking about it with their peers. And even if they’re not talking about it with their peers, they are still seeing sexual imagery and hearing sexual language.

Think about it: Thanks to technology, an elected politician can take a photo of his penis and email it to a special friend! Or several special friends! And then the whole world is privy to these indiscretions.

It is difficult to avoid coverage of Weiner’s wiener or Limbaugh’s misogynistic idiocy that likens women to porn stars and prostitutes. It’s even more difficult to watch a simple football game on television without seeing sexual imagery.

Go Daddy ads, for example, are trashy and stupid, but man, do my kids’ ears perk up during those 30-second spots. I suppose when you have two hot women painting the body of another hot, faceless woman who just happens to be naked, that grabs a person’s attention.

And what about Victoria’s Secret ads? According to Macmillan’s Online Dictionary, soft porn is described as “films, magazines, photographs, etc. that show sexual images but not sexual acts.” Don’t those angel-filled ads qualify as soft porn? I think so. Perhaps it’s the erotic noises in the background music. Or the way the model is lying across the back of a white horse. Or the way she’s touching her lips with her fingertips. Or maybe it’s just the perfect breasts everywhere. And there’s always lots of wind blowing. Have you noticed? Are we women sexier in a strong wind? Here. This one has the music and the wind and the perfect breasts.

And speaking of perfect breasts, let’s chat for a moment about the difference between pornography of the 1980’s vs. pornography today. Thanks to technology, more breasts can be “perfect,” either by surgery or by airbrushing. Also thanks to technology, porn is available on any computer, AND it’s available in Hi-Def video form. Gone are the days of still-shot photos. Now kids can get their sex education and learn what women really like via porn videos.

The topic of pornography is a larger one for another time, but let’s just consider this: if children are watching porn videos on the internet (and we are naive if we think they aren’t!) they will believe that’s how sex works. No need for relationships, no need for small talk or meaningful conversation or a getting-to-know-you period of courtship. No sir. Give the guy a bit of chicka-baobao background music, and the clothes just fall right off.

That’s a myth that disturbs me a whole lot more than castrated genitals.

I’m certainly no expert, but I’d prefer that Buddy and Sweetie learn from me, not from the internet, not from the mythical worlds of Victoria’s Secret fantasies. Not from kids on the school bus or the playground. Certainly not from Danica Patrick who, in my opinion, really blew her chance at being an excellent role model to girls. But that’s an entirely separate topic.

It’s a myth that educating kids about sexual matters turns them into sex-crazed creatures. It’s a myth that reading the page about masturbation turns kiddos into mega-masturbators. But it’s no myth that too many of us American parents are surprisingly prudish and squeamish when it comes to talking about sex.

Teaching kids about sexual matters (including safety and responsibility) increases the chances that they will turn into responsible, respectful teenagers who grow into responsible, respectful adults.

And it’s a fact that our modern civilization could use a few more of those.


In General on March 5, 2012 at 6:38 am

Spring is springing here in Seattle. Leaves are budding on the bare branches of Husbandio’s blueberry plants. Tulip bulbs are pushing their way out of the dark dirt with their stolid determination. On Saturday, I turned off the heat for a few hours and welcomed the fresh air through open windows.

Spring is springing in other ways too. Just this week, Buddy got teased relentlessly for having a crush on his lovely female reading partner. Sweetie blushed crimson when she saw a second grade boy (code name J-Guy) at the park. She also asked me, totally out of the blue, a few birds-and-bees related questions, the first of which: Mama, who does it hurt more, the mom or the baby, when the baby comes out? 

So is Love in the air? Does romance bloom more easily alongside the tulips?

In this March 2011 article, writer Brendan Purves explains:

In his book, Mammalian Reproductive BiologyDr. Frank Bronson, a biologist from the University of Texas, agrees that spring fever in mammals is regulated by sunlight.

Bronson also says there are both direct and indirect photoperiodic cues that increase the amorous air this time of year.

Grossly simplified, the change in season brings more sunlight, better moods, and a better climate for romance in mammals, including humans.

Indirectly, the change in season means plants and insects will begin to flourish again, which has a positive effect up the food chain and creates a healthy environment suitable for procreation.

Just in the nick of time, really, because all around me I notice the crumbling and quaking of friends’ and acquaintances’ marriages. Maybe not to the point of divorce, but I have friends who heave sighs of resignation when they talk about their marriage, friends who have given up, accepting that they married someone who simply doesn’t do it for them anymore.

Maybe if we lived in Florida or Hawaii, sun rays would be enough to rev up the romance that’s missing in ho-hum marriages. But we live in Seattle. And as I look outside this morning, the sky is the color of concrete and sidewalks are wet with rain. Springtime may not come quickly enough, nor will it burn hot enough for the more wobbly relationships.

Recently however, my high school friend, Christine Carter, a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, shared a blog post where she mentioned a book with a fabulous title: Everybody Marries the Wrong Person by Christine Meinecke.

Then, just yesterday, I was at the grocery store and noticed the cover story on the current issue of Psychology Today: “Are You With the Right Mate?: What to do when you think it’s all a mistake (and you will!).

Both texts illustrate what I now see is the reality of marriage: that in spite of what we want to believe, there is no “one right person.” In fact, according to these two texts (which are both excellent), every potential mate is the one wrong person.

Huh! I wish I had known that.

And yet, I’m glad I didn’t.

First of all, I wouldn’t have believed it. Second, it would have made me sad. It also would have confused me. If no one is the right person for me, what should I expect from my potential mate?

If I am able to choose among the many wrong fish in the sea, is it less wrong to choose this guy (who probably isn’t much fun at dinner parties):

Or this guy (who would steal my lip gloss and then deny it):

(This, by the way, is a Rosy-Lipped Batfish)

I entered marriage believing Husbandio was right for me, a belief based on knowing five things: Husbandio was the kindest person I had ever met; we laughed a lot in each other’s presence; I felt more peaceful around him than I had ever felt in a relationship; he thought I was cute; he told me he was passionate about literature.

Yet after fifteen years of marriage, one could argue that we are the wrong people for one another: He is reserved and emotionally tidy. I am a “flooder” (thank you, John Gottman) and emotionally cluttered.

I need to talk and vent in order to process; he needs to stew in silence.

He loves sailing; I am learning to overcome my fear of deep water.

My crazy brain and thoughts and feelings move at the speed of cheetah, often to my detriment; he moves at sloth slowness, often to his benefit.

And get this: it turns out he doesn’t love literature! He only likes literature. Apparently that was part of that mating ritual where the male flashes whatever he thinks will be the most colorful part of himself right in the drab-colored female’s face. A man who loved literature? Hubba hubba! Sign me up!

In Everybody Marries the Wrong Person, Meinecke starts with this:

Everybody marries the wrong person. Yes, everybody. Not just reckless, unsuspecting people. Not just clueless teenage people. You married the wrong person and your spouse did, too.

I love that. It makes me consider what I want to show and teach Buddy and Sweetie about the reality of marriage. Because yes, while Husbandio and I are the wrong people for each other, we are also right in a lot of crucial ways.

Case in point: Last weekend, three girlfriends and I took the train from Seattle to Portland for a weekend getaway. I happened to spot a millinery (a hat maker) beside a cute boutique.

“I’ll be next door,” I told my girlfriends. “In that cute hat place.”

Well. I have never been in a millinery. Thus, I had no idea just how spendy a custom hat could be. I really didn’t. And that’s the problem when you fall in love with a hat (or a man), especially when the scent of springtime is in the air: you sometimes throw caution to the wind.

You know that song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?” It’s based on a Russian proverb: when the heart is on fire, smoke gets in your eyes.

And let me tell you, friends, those hats were smokin’! Fedoras and cloches and cute little caps. Toques and berets. The richest wool felts and softest straws. I loved them all. But this hat would be an investment, one I would own for the rest of my life and pass on to small-headed, deserving, female progeny. How to choose the hat I would love until the day I died?

My dear and patient girlfriends (much like bridesmaids without the ugly dresses) sat as I tried on my choices, pointing out their favorites, trying a few on themselves. But the moment Dayna, the milliner, arranged one particular hat on my head, I knew.

“Yes,” I said. “This is the one.”

Dayna, a lovely woman with a gorgeous feathered hat herself, explained, while taking measurements, that she would craft the hat in my color of choice, with the right amount of brim and poof and style. She would take a 50% deposit that day, then charge the remaining 50% when she shipped my hat two weeks later.

“Oh good,” I said. “No sales tax here in Oregon AND the charge will show up on the Visa in pieces. Installments. So maybe my husband won’t notice.”

I won’t mention how much I spent on this beauty, but it was more than double what I’d ever spent on a pair of shoes. Ack!

So I emailed Husbandio the evening of the purchase:  I think the train gets in around 9:30 tomorrow. We’ll take a cab to Amys and then I’ll drive home. I bought myself a beautiful, custom made “I got an agent” hat. Love you.

That night I dreamed about the hat. Never had I worn a hat that made me feel so me. So peaceful. So happy. After meeting this hat, all the other hats I owned (four wool, one furry angora, four ribbon, two fabric and two straw hats to place atop my promiscuous noggin) suddenly seemed like very bad decisions. This new hat? It was the one. And that knowledge gave me a peace that passed understanding.

Except Husbandio didn’t reply to my email regarding the custom hat. And that made me a little nervous.

When I got home late Sunday night, I walked in and gave Husbandio a hug.

“Where’s the hat?” he asked, still in my hug.

I hugged him a little tighter and whispered, “I told you. It’s custom. She has to make it, and then she’ll send it.” I paused, and hugging him tighter, I made my whisper even more whispery. “It was really expensive.”

“I know,” he whispered back. “I saw the charge on the Visa.”

“Oh. Well, yes,” I said, still whispering in his ear. “But that was only 50%. That was just the deposit.”

And without missing a beat, Husbandio started laughing, his deep rolling laugh that means he thinks something is genuinely funny.

Later that night, while I was falling asleep, hoping to dream about my hat again, I heard Husbandio whisper, “What are you going to name her?”

“Lucy,” I said. And I smiled in the dark because I have a husband who knows I like to name my hats.

OK, so maybe I married the wrong person. And maybe Husbandio married the wrong person. But if that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Either way, I happened to splurge on a custom hat when blossoms are budding, when we remember there is a sun and warmth just on the other side of those clouds, when we’re all feverish with springtime, when we remember the reasons we first fell, deeply and rightly, for our mates.