It’s early, I haven’t had my coffee yet and my back is complaining from a night in a 6 year-old’s bed. My granddaughter graciously gave up her bed so I could sleep in her room. As I walk to the kitchen, she’s at the breakfast table writing something on a scrap of construction paper. Vjna. I don’t immediately know what’s she written.
“Is this how you spell vagina?”, she asks. I grab a crayon and another sheet of paper and write it out, speaking aloud as I write V-A-G-I-N-A. Mom is in the kitchen; I didn’t think to ask her before launching off in this instructional moment. NanaWawa to Granddaughter. ”Vagina”, I say, “That’s how you spell it.”
She proceeds to write the word neatly, two times. She’s giggling and proud of herself for mastering this new word. I’m pretty tickled. But I sense some discomfort radiating out of the kitchen. My granddaughter then begins saying Vagina, vagina, vagina…. she’s smiling and dancing around on her chair. Then she jumps down and begins to dance, clutching her crotch and giggling. She’s baiting us, daring us to stop her. We’ve gone from an enlightening moment to ‘Potty mouth’. She’s intent on making mom uncomfortable (and succeeding) and being silly. I try to ignore the sensational and in a neutral voice agree that she has a vagina.
What made her think of the word vagina? I wish I had asked. The moment passed quickly and deteriorated as mother-child struggled for control. My work done, I walked out of the room. I visualize the conversation to follow, between my daughter-in-law and my son.
I’m more open about sexuality than my adult sons and I know they view my willingness to discuss sex with discomfort. It’s more about seeing their mother as Woman than sexual prudery. We raised them with a pretty open attitude about sex. They knew I would answer any questions they dared to ask. As adults they no longer need or want to talk sex with their “old” mother. My daughter-in-law’s thoughts? I imagine I make her uncomfortable as well.
Do I look at this incident from the interfering grandparent angle or the wise old crone passing down wisdom? Mentoring, encouraging and nurturing the feminine spirit of these young girls? I believe my role, our role, is to provide knowledge and information in a way that moms and dads don’t. Or won’t. It’s not my intention to circumvent or disregard parenting. As a grandmother my role is to support my sons and shore up their parenting decisions.
But, as a woman, I want to educate my granddaughters, in an age-appropriate way, about their own sexuality. I want to empower them to take control of their bodies. I like the saying used by the MS Society, “Knowledge is Power”. When young women understand their bodies and are comfortable with their sexuality they are better equipped to make good choices regarding sex. They won’t succumb to societal pressures or struggle with the popular beliefs about sex and body image. If we aren’t giving them all the information they need we hamper their abilities to take control of their relationships, sexual health and emotional wellbeing. So, if my granddaughter needs to do the Vagina Dance and learn to name her sexual organs, my job is to help her feel comfortable doing so.
How do you feel about your role in educating your grandchildren?