22 May, 2008

The Birds, The Bees, The Babies !!!!

“Hey ! Really !!!!!” “Yours already had babies ?” “Wow !!” “No. Mine’s not had any babies – yet.” “I really really want mine to have babies too.”

This was what I heard Aparna saying on the phone a few weeks back to one of her friends. I was on my way out of the kitchen when I heard her speaking and telling one of her friends this - trust me – I almost stumbled over my own feet. The earth did stop spinning for a wee moment – atleast inside my head, it did !!! What on earth was going on ? Why were a couple of eight and nine year olds discussing, of all the things, babies ?!!!

“What in the name of God is happening ?” I thought to myself as I kind of rushed over to the ledge where she was perched, completely oblivious to the dizzying pace at which my mind was churning. A complete picture of innocence, she gave me an extremely quizzical look once she’d finished with her phone call. I must have made quite a picture right then – all kinds of wild scenarios and permutations and combinations flashing inside my head and my eyes as wide as saucers all ready to pop out of their sockets and go walking out. Truth be told, now looking back on that moment, I must have looked as though I was high on something.

“What were you talking about sweetie ?” I asked her, with my heart steadily making its way towards my mouth with every passing second.

“About what, when ?” she responded.

Oh !! In case I’ve forgotten to mention, some of Mr.Exasperations absolutely exasperating qualities are rubbing off on the elder sibling – big time !!! And this is one of them – answering a question with a question !!!

“Something I heard on the phone just now. Did someone’s pet have a baby ?” I asked her.

“Oh !! The babies ?” she asked.

“Hmmm. Yeah – what just transpired on the phone just now” I said.

“That’s the same thing I told you about yesterday Mum. Remember I told you that many of the Year 6s in my school are bringing in some small transparent ball-like things to school. And these have to be kept in water otherwise they die” she said.

“Yep. That you did. But where do babies come into the picture from ?” I asked

“See Mum. I’ll tell you all about it.” she said

Ah ! The times we live in !! thought Mommy, as she settled herself next to her eight year old daughter, who was about to impart knowledge about how something was apparently having “babies”.

“See Mum – there are these round jelly like things. They come in many different colors.”

“See Mum – now this is what some of the Year 6s told us. They said that if we put two of the jellies of the same color together in the same box of water and leave them for some time – and after a while they have a baby.”

“They – meaning little round balls of jelly – have a baby ?” queried Mommy.

“I’ve seen it happen. I know how babies happen.” said a very animated Aparna.

“Seen what happen Appu ?” asked Mommy, trying not to let the alarm register on her face. I’m about sure that my heart must have been beating like a locomotive engine right then.

“I’ve seen them have babies” said Appu.

“Ahem ..... you mean those little jelly balls, Appu ?” asked Mommy

“Yeah Mum – those two big jelly balls get stuck together and after a while a small jelly ball of the same color is made”. “You see Mum – that’s because one of the jelly balls is pregnant and then it has a baby.”

Good Lord !!! Exactly how much do these kids know ? wondered Mommy.

“The Human Body” – a book which had been resting on the kids’ bookshelf was quickly summoned to the rescue and bit by bit I did explain to Appu that living beings have babies. And fortunately for me, there were a couple of pages which explained the whole process right from how cell division begins and how it takes nine months for the baby to grow inside mommy. And the illustrations did make the explaining that bit easier.

It is not that one should not talk to ones kids about the human anatomy. Yes – this is definitely a part of life and growing up.

But the dicey part is – how much of information to give out ?

It is an understood fact that sex education is not a one time thing. It is not a single time discussion that one has with one’s kids and then says “hmm that’s all I have to say. The rest is up to you.”
No. That’s not the way it works.

It is an ongoing process and at each stage of their development – physically, mentally and emotionally – the way sex education needs to be approached would be different. The context would differ and so would the content of information handed out to them.

At an age of eight or nine, one definitely cannot paint the whole picture on the canvas. To them, it would probably seem like the whole world is going mad. And to top that, there’s always the “eeeeewwwwww” factor to contend with. For just about anything and everything, the reaction is “eeeeewww. that’s gross”. Imagine how extended that “eeeewww” factor would be with a rather detailed kind of sex education at this age. Simply put, they’d be so totally freaked out !!!

This “jelly baby” turned out to be a false alarm – further discussion revealed that this was nothing but a rumor which the elder Year 6s in school had started spreading. The school immediately took action by sending out a letter to all parents informing that “jelly babies” had been banned from school with immediate effect.

But it did set me thinking.

Are kids growing up at a much faster pace in the world of today ?

How much did we know about babies and related stuff at 8-9 years of age.

Considering the limited amount of knowledge or virtually no knowledge of the subject that we had when we were 8-9 years old, these kids are way way ahead.

And in that instant, my mind just raced down memory lane and I could recollect with distinct clarity when I’d asked my mom “Where do babies come from ?” and her reply, as I guess was the reply most moms would have put forth to sneak out of the situation, was, “You’ll know when you grow up”. And this had just created more question marks inside of my head.

Try that same tack on a child today – “you’ll know when you grow up”. You think they’re going to buy that ? Nah !!!!!!!!! Not a chance. And again, which parent would want to take a chance by beating about the bush. I don’t suspect too many would. They’d rather tell their child about the birds and the bees themselves rather than kindle their curiosity further by giving them vague or no answers.
Simply put, it is much better that the child gets the basic idea from the parents, because as of today, they have exposure to so many different kinds of media and there’s no knowing what kind of information they’re going to gather or glean and from where and exactly how graphic that information is going to be.

And as far as the birds and the bees go, preteens are fairly notorious in the amount of misinformation that they manage to spread or give out. Just that they don’t know the whole story but with a bunch of juniors listening to them with rapt attention, they do sense that they could well be looked upon as the ones that “know it all”. Dicey !!

Take for example this information that the Year 6s were spreading about the jelly babies. I honestly don’t know how clear they themselves are about this whole business of babies being made but the Year 5s to some extent and the Year 4s to a great extent, had fallen hook line and sinker for the explanation given by the Year 6s. Fortunately, there are no children younger than the Year 4s on this campus else it would have been quite a riot. Imagine the Year 6s passing on half baked info to the Year 5s and Year 4s and they, in turn, diluting the information further and adding their own spice to it and passing it on to the much younger Year 3s and Year 2s .... by the time the information filters down to the very young and gullible Year 1s – it would probably turn into something like “you eat seeds and the seeds grow inside your tummy and you have a baby”. Knowing kids of today, a very curious bunch that they are, the little ones would probably start eating the seeds and throwing away the apples !!!!!!

Sure, there are things like Net Nanny and what have you – but there are also many other sites which piggyback onto rather innocuous children based sites. And it is rather common for children – even as young as 6 year olds to come home with the name of a webpage written on a piece of paper. Where do they get it from ? In most cases, it is from a friend in class who has an elder sibling. And with the younger sibling looking up to what they consider their “tech savvy” elder sibling and the elder sibling having very little or many a times absolutely no idea of the dangers that lurk in this vast and ever expanding cyber space, one does have a potentially unpredictable and at times, risky, situation on hand.

What I do is always always check out the site first and the first few times Aparna accesses any such site on the internet, I make it a point to peek in occasionally.

All the same, I find her using the internet quite a lot this year – mainly for her project work (some of which can be done online on the school website) as also for research work – to get information on their current Units of Inquiry. So the internet has indeed become a source that the children frequently use for their work. This cannot be avoided. Which calls for a greater amount of monitoring – because many a times these kids also need to collect images and graphics, relating to their research topics. And when one uses Google Images or Yahoo Images, there’s no saying what image is going to pop up !!

Phew !! Parenting sure is tough, is it not ?
I once remember reading a quote which goes
"Motherhood : If it was going to be easy, it never would have started with something called labor."
Be it motherhood, be it fatherhood, be it parenthood - fact remains that in parenting, parents are always walking a tightrope. A balance always needs to be struck. Be it in matters like the above or be it discipline or be it giving kids a certain amount of freedom and vesting in them your faith – just about the entire concept of parenting – is pretty much a very fine line that needs to be tread on very carefully and with much thought.

There !! The title of a book just popped into my head :

“The Intricacies of Parenting – The Fine Line That We Tread”.

Now all that remains is for me to write a book about it !!!!!!!

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5 voice(s) said so:

Poppins said...

Interesting Gauri! I loved reading about this. My initial thought was for pets as well. Did you ever see this jelly thing? Could you put up a pic? I'm maha curious.

DotThoughts said...

wow. I am curious like poppin. what ARE these things? I remember when I was 8-9.. Babies were no wher within my radar. So what was Aparna's reaction to the "how babies were made" session?

dipali said...

This was lovely, Gauri.
When I was around ten our downstairs neighbour had a baby. In those days almost all moms used to be fat, so one never noticed this lady's belly. She also wore her sari pallu over the right shoulder, so her front was loosely covered. I asked my mom, who coolly told me that God sent the baby to her, and that was that.
It was only when I changed schools, in class seven, that I received some garbled knowledge of menses and sex. We tried to be far more upfront with our kids.

Swati said...

NIce post ..have been thinking about this topic now and then. BTW ..what was Appu really talking about ??

Gauri said...

Poppin : Nope. Dont have any pics. Actually these things are so translucent that you would not realise there is one of them in the water. Almost invisible. Which is why many kids at school ended up swallowing them !!

Dottie : They were nowhere on my radar either - at that age. It was not exactly a "how babies were made" session Dottie. Like I said, no point painting the whole picture now. It was info on a "need to know" basis :)

Dipali : Oh ! Tell me about it. The tales that our parents have spun. At times, I honestly feel they should have written a fiction novel - they'd have done rather well :)

Swati : These are some crystal like things which expand when put in water. Apparently it was the craze during the latest Trade Fair in China too. It is mainly used for money plants - instead of soil it is these crystalline jelly balls or whatever it is they are called.