If you have read or read a review of my first book A Bird and the Dragon: Their Love Story: A Memoir you have already realized that my second husband, Sy and I got the wonderful challenge of raising five pre-teen and teenaged girls—some were his and some were mine. And if you have read the book, you came across the point where I describe an incident in which Cora, the oldest girl, asked for some information at the dinner table about an issue with her menstrual cycle, while her father nearly vacated the scene by sliding down in his chair. So yes, the topic of sex did have to be addressed with that many girls.
I think it is easier for a person to talk about sex when that person’s first sexual encounters came off without any lasting trauma: that would be me, as you will see below. In last week’s blog about the dogs I mentioned that my father worked at the Industrial School for Juvenile Delinquent boys in Shakerton, Massachusetts. He was the landscape instructor and was in charge of teaching a group of boys how to garden and maintain the grounds of the school. He was called a Master and each Master had the privilege of pulling one of his best-behaved boys out of the group to go and work mornings in the home for the Master’s wife. These boys were called all-morning boys. We always had one and they usually felt this was a superior job and it often came with goodies to eat and take back to the cottages for the other boys.
I believe I also mentioned in two blogs back that my bedroom was an over-large closet on the second floor directly off the family bathroom. Most of the buildings at the school were Shaker buildings, (seen in the newspaper picture below), which the State took over when the Shaker sect in Shirley, (Shakerton) Massachusetts
dwindled down to just one community in Harvard, Massachusetts. (My childhood home was located down the hill toward the top and right of the picture above.) So in the Shaker style my bedroom was really a storage closet. It was just the right size for me and I felt safe there. One day when I was playing in my room the all-morning boy came into my room—not that unusual because they did a lot of the housework, dusting and mopping. He kind of stood between me and the doorway. As I got up off my bed to leave the room he pulled down his zipper and pulled out his gift for me with the comment, “You can play with him if you want.” As a seven year old, I took one look and said, “He’s ugly! No I don’t want to play with him!!” and flounced out of the room. Personal dignity or honesty saved me.
Later when I was about ten or eleven, the State of Massachusetts decided that they needed a larger road to run between the western part of Massachusetts and Bunker City. To my delight they started to build Route 2 through the woods and the back end of the school about a mile away from my house. By now I was allowed to roam and so after school I would walk down to the work site and watch the giant earth movers move the rocks and soil around into what would be the base for the new highway. Over time I struck up a conversation with one of the foremen and we chatted off and on about his work and my school. I liked Nick and I loved his red convertible. This particular day I rode my bicycle down to visit with Nick and I found he was in his car and about to drive out of the work site. I ran my bicycle over to the side of his car to ask where he was going. He told me and then he asked me if I wanted to take a ride with him. I hesitated for a moment and in that instant he grabbed the handlebar of my bicycle. Instinct kick in and I yelled, “No I don’t want to go for a ride with you!” and I wrenched the handle bars back under my control and pushed off from where I was standing in one colossal move. You can believe I rode with every ounce of strength I had to get back to my house before he could catch me. In retrospect I realize that he let me go because it was too public a place, but I didn’t know that at the time. As I careened into my back yard, I dropped my bike and raced for the dining room and the love seat that was there. I curled up as small as I could and began to cry. My mother must have heard me because in a short while she came and sat beside me on the love seat. Her hand on my back caused the horrible story to come tumbling out. She didn’t say much except, “I think you have learned a big lesson. And now you understand why your father and I didn’t want you to go there to visit. You are never to go back there again!!” I assured her that I would never go back.
In both of these incidents it was that inner voice that some girls are blessed with that protected me from greater harm and some horrible first sexual experiences.
When I was a very little girl my mother talked to me about where babies grow before they are born and gave me pictures to look at and assured me that I could always ask her any questions about the topic. We didn’t have sexual education in the schools at that time so I really didn’t know that I didn’t have all the information, yet. By the time I was in high school and sixteen Tino entered my life. You will read all about Tino in my third book Hunt the Beloved: to Find a Heart. (The intended cover of the book is below) Tino came from ‘the
other side of the tracks’, according to my mother, because he was a swarthy American-Italian Catholic boy. And, as you can imagine, in time the sexual passion began to rise between us. At that point I realized that my mother had left something out of my sex education and so I asked Tino to tell me. I will leave it for you to find out by reading the book as to how he went about teaching me, but I think it will touch your heart.
So now we come to the issue of educating our own girls. I did take all the girls for an initial introduction to the subject as we girls sat around that maple dining room table. But the younger two were not ready for a deeper discussion. So at times I’d talk to one or the other of the older girls and I didn’t do too much educating with the twins because I figured that older girls would instruct the younger girls and there was no need to make a big issue out of the subject. But just in case any of them missed information they needed I purchased Our Bodies, Our Selves a book that was popular back in the eighties for being written by women for women and in a voice level that most girls could understand. I put the book in our living room library and told the girls it was there for them to use any time they wanted and if there was something they didn’t understand they could bring the book to me and we’d go through it together.
Several months later I was dusting the books in the bookcase and I noticed Our Bodies, Our Selves seemed to be missing. At supper that evening I asked, “Does anyone know where our sex book has gone?” I think it was Elizabeth who said,“Yeah, Katie’s mother won’t tell her anything about sex so I told her she could take the book and keep it for a while.” After I regrouped I said, “Honey, that was so thoughtful of you but maybe Katie’s mother doesn’t want her to know and she certainly doesn’t want the mother across the street to be giving Katie instructions. So I think it would be good if you asked for the book back.”
(When I said the mother across the street I was referring to the house across the street from our home pictured above, which I talk about in The Bird and the Dragon, as the Ugly Green House. All the major sex education started in this house.
About two weeks later I noticed the book was back in its sacred spot and I never heard anything from Katie’s mother—thank goodness!
I believe some of you who read this blog have small children, but never fear you will have your turn. If you do have children in this age bracket, how did you go about giving instruction?