Her Bad Mother

Friday, April 7, 2006

Head and shoulders, knees and...?

I have a question. It might not seem so at first glance, but it's a serious question.

Some time before WonderBaby arrived to take over our lives - indeed, some time before an ovulation predictor kit heralded the moment of her creation - I participated, during a stay with my sister and her family, in the bathtime of my youngest nephew and niece. At some point during the bath, my nephew, then about four years old, announced that it was time to wash his penis. To which I said, gaily, something to the effect of "OK, pee-pee washing time!"

At this, the sweet young fellow responded, "No. Penis." O-kay. Penis it is. My sister, who was hovering nearby, explained: "We encourage them to use proper names for parts of their body."

I thought that this made good sense. We take pains to ensure that children learn the proper names for everything else - why not teach them the proper names of these parts of their bodies? All part of a thorough education! The Pedantic Bore in me vowed to do the very same thing with my future children: penises would be penises, and vaginas would be vaginas.

Fast-forward 18 months. The nightly bathtime ritual is WonderBaby's favorite part of the day. She splashes about in the water and plays with the bubbles and has a grand old time and then we scrub away at her various parts (which collect a surprising amount of grime given her limited mobility). During the bath there is much singing (splish-splash I was takin' a bath) and chatting, and when the scrub-down takes place the singing and chatting turns to scrub-down commentary: now we wash your hair... now we floss your neck... now we scrub behind your ears... now we wash your bum... now we clean your...?

The first time that we did the scrub commentary I stopped cold here. How to refer to her nether regions? I could not - could not - bring myself to say vagina. Or pubic area, or whatever would have been most accurate. So I just said 'parts.' Now we clean your parts.

As she got bigger and more interested in the bathtime (and diapertime) songs and commentary, the term 'parts' began to seem too vague, if not entirely misleading. Her arm is a part, too, as is her head, and her nose, etc. Wasn't the point of the commentary to distinguish between parts? I had to start calling it something.

But I still couldn't bring myself to say 'vagina' in refering to my daughter's nether regions. It's just too Eve Ensler. I'm not up for having Vagina Dialogues with my baby girl. In fact, I suspect that I will not be up for uttering or hearing the word 'vagina' in conversation with my daughter until we're at the 'Are You There God, It's Me Margaret' stage of her development. Part of this has to do with my own prissiness - 'vagina,' for me, is just too naked and clinical a term for casual usage. Some things really just demand euphemism under certain conversational circumstances: this, for me, is one of them.

(What's my own euphemism, the one used to refer to myself? Not telling. Unless, maybe, you tell me yours...)

I do believe that women should celebrate their bodies. I want my daughter to celebrate her body. I want her know what her vagina is properly called, obviously, and I don't want her to be squeamish about calling it whatever she wants to call it. I don't want to mess her up with my issues, such as they are. (For the record, I don't think - and Eve Ensler and most Women's Studies majors would probably disagree with me here - that my ambivalence about the word 'vagina' and its more vulgar synonyms being used in casual conversation represents a serious issue, beyond whatever issues my general prissiness represents. I could be wrong. But this post isn't about that.) But then I remind myself that I play fast and loose with many proper names in my conversations with and performances for my child - cat is usually kitty, toes are tootsies, blanket is blankie, stuffed doll is two-headed whore of death, and everything else is 'dude' - so what's the problem, really?

End of the day, I think that I'm really just weirded out by the idea of hearing the word 'vagina' being gaily uttered in what will no doubt be my baby girl's high-pitched girly voice, when she acquires that voice. Or maybe it's more that I'm weirded out by the prospect of hearing the word 'vagina' in my high-pitched girly voice, the one that is used for bathtime songs and the like: la la la now we wash your vagi-i-i-i-na! your vagina-a-a-a la la la!

La la la la tooty sounds better.

So. Am I a tripped-out weirdo with vagina issues? Is all of this just evidence of my oppression by the Penis-Wielding Vagina-Fearing Man? Or is this just a normal mommy thing?

And - what I really want to know - what do you call it?


Blogger Unknown said...

Ok- don't laugh- I call my own a "hooo ha" and when Leah is getting a diaper change or a bath, we call it a "beep beep." I was calling it a "peep peep" but she pronounces it beep beep so that's what it is. LOL.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm embarrassed to say that I actually call it her vagina. And I HATE that word. But, given the choices, it's what we are going with.

Mine - has no name - *sigh* but I'm thinking of calling her Gloria. Something FABULOUS.

You could always go with Labia Majora. Sounds like a wonderful Italian island... heh.

1:16 PM  
Blogger motherbumper said...

I have been flummoxed by the exact same issue as to what to say when I am washing the little lady (who is six months old today! - sorry - shameless plug... but I digress). I have a wee bit of prissiness still lingering from a childhood of parochial schooling. So I'm stalling the inevitable by saying "now I'm going to wash your lovely lady folds" sung to the tune of My Humps. I unfortunately spent alot of time post birth watching Much Music at 3am while nursing and rocking Bumper. That's my excuse for borrowing from the BEPeas and I'm sticking to it (for now.)

1:22 PM  
Blogger The City Gal said...

Well, I think this is an important issue. Not just when you are talking to babies, but also when you are talking to your partner.

I realized this with my first real boyfriend. I know my anatomy very well, but somehow when you are having a romantic talk in bed, it sounds weird (i.e. cold and serious) to use the correct terms.

Same thing applies to baby talk. When you think about baby talk, you think about sweet songs, butterflies, teddy bears, cute toes and knees and not "anatomy class".

Do you tell your baby "now I am going to wash your spinal cord"? or my baby has cute "abdomenal region". No, you say belly. You try to be cute (or romantic, in the other case).

It depends how much an anatomy lesson is important to you, to your baby and your relationship.

2:17 PM  
Blogger The City Gal said...

Funny Story:

I was 3 years old and my mom was pregnant with my twin brothers. My dad's friend had a boy exactly my age who was my playmate. One time, in my room, he suddenly took off his pants! I immediately knew there was something wrong when I saw he had something "hanging" that I didn't have. As I was convinced that I was a normal kid, I told him that there was something wrong with him! I think I kinda told him that he should cut it off!!!

(my friend is now 27 years old, and lives with his wife in Waterloo)

2:48 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I have a boy and we call it a penis. He knows that girls have vaginas. I don't have alot of conversations about mine so I haven't really called it lately.

The reason I don't call his penis a peepee or something cute is not because I want to be "correct" but because I have read and been told by a practioner in the field that using anatomically correct intead of "funny" terms is a molestation-proofing strategy.

Whoa. Stay with me.

The idea is that if they understand that it isn't a silly part that has a funny name and they can correctly identify it then it is less likely someone can talk them into a funny game with their funny-named part and also that they'll be able to articulate themselves better when you are explaining how to handle those situations.

Very long winded, badly written, run-on sentence way to say:if I ever have a girl, no matter how clinical it will sound, I'll call it a vagina.

(note my step son was sexually assaulted as a boy by the father of one of his school friends and we spent alot of time with professionals helping him through it and learning as much as we can to help others including our youngest son - this was one of the things we learned).

3:02 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

That's a very good point, Sunshine Scribe. I'd wondered about that in my many ruminations about what to call the parts. But I also wondered whether abuse-proofing one's child might not accomodate 'nicknames' for parts. Something to think about, for sure.

Mother Bumper - Happy B-day to the Bumper Baby!

3:14 PM  
Blogger chichimama said...

Vagina and penis in our house. You get used to it after a while....

3:14 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

As a (former) Catholic I was raised to believe that men and women are without sexual organs... None, nada... Mommy and Daddy rubbed up against each other in bed and out popped a baby! Those things you see in the shower - they're just extra bits. So on this topic I'm a bit, um, stunted. I've tried to say "vagina" when changing my daughter's diaper, but it gets stuck in my throat and I end up sounding like a cat with a fur ball.

Right now we refer to it as a woohoo. A friend of mine (also former Catholic) calls her daughter's vagina her "front bum". But if others can refer to their daughter's girlie parts as a "vagina" then, damnit, so can I!

... when she's 20.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Moxie said...

I have boys, so they call their own parts penis and testicles (the baby doesn't say the words yet, but he definitely understands "penis" already. I taught my older son that girls and ladies have vulvas. I didn't use vagina, because the vagina is the muscle canal, and I wanted him to have a word for the pubic mound and labia and all of it, not just the vagina. So vulva it is.

3:20 PM  
Blogger MrsFortune said...

Oh boy. The day I found out I was having a boy, I was most relieved that my husband will have to handle the sex talk and all that whatnot. So I'm with ya, I'm squeamish about the whole thing. But after reading SS' comments, I think I might have to rethink the whole thing.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Even though my daughter is older, we haven't even considered this subject yet. I think we'll probably call it her vagina or vulva. I use the word vagina or vaginal folds when referring to my own parts.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Jezer said...

Around here, it's all balls and business for now.

4:49 PM  
Blogger my3sons said...

We teach them the technical names so that they know it but still keep using the cutesie ones day to day. Penis is peepee, stomach is belly, head is coconut. Not so many vaginas over here so can't help you with that one...

6:30 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

You know I too, though I believe they should know the real words and so on and was brought up very liberally, stall when faced with actually saying it out loud. I am working up to it. It hasn't been an issue so far, but I think we should start refering to it properly soon instead of just not really mentioning it among the washing of her bum. Like moxie, though, I have a bit of a question mark about calling it vagina because it's not really - the internal part is. So I was thinking maybe vulva too. does that sounds weird, though? Especially since we now drive a volvo? hee hee.

7:32 PM  
Blogger ms blue said...

My daughters named her left hand Uma and her right hand Boobie but her peepee is called a Vagina.

My husband cringes everytime he hears me say the V word. He says that he doesn't want her running around the playground shouting penis and vagina. So far she only says "Wheeeee" down the slide.

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am using the V word with our daughter. In part because if by unspeakable chance someone abuses her in the future she has the correct words to tell us what happened. It is morbid I know, but there are cases that have been lost because the child could not use the words to describe the events that happened to them. Just my thoughts.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Kristi said...

I vowed early on to label the parts with their proper names. With my son, it is easier and more comfortable to say penis without blushing. But with my daughter, vagina seems so exposing for some reason. Like just by saying it, I am laying it out for all the world to see. I have my own prissiness issues, but little by little, they are eroding and I hope by the time my kids are old enough for "the talk", I am able to overcome it with seriousness and ease.

6:28 PM  
Blogger scarbie doll said...

I'm with you. I'm an educated woman, so I know you're supposed to use proper terms, but I can't say penis without cringing. And neither can my husband for that matter. He still calls his own his "dinky" and insists that Nate's be called a dinky or dink too. My parents used cutsie names with us too and it didn't affect my view of my choochie at all ;)

Penis and Vagina are weird words. Period.

2:13 PM  
Blogger tracey clark said...

Kay, I was calling any of the below the belt anatomy "crotch" when my daughter was young. Then one day when she was 3 we were at a Discovery Store with a little boy from her preschool class and his mom. He picked up this strange rubber ball/toy and said giggling, "This feels like a penis!" and my daughter blurted out (really loud) "What's a penis?" I about died! SO, along came daughter #2 and I MADE myself call the parts what they are but still fall back on crotch as a kind of catch all, if you will. A few months ago my youngest looked at me (down there) and said, "What's THAT crotch?" and I said, "It's my vagina" and she looked at it for a minute and said, "I don't like vaginas!" and walked out. Hmmm.
I guess there's really no winning.

12:31 AM  

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