While visiting my daughter, I asked, “Have you begun teaching Jean Marie the facts of life yet?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mom. She’s only seven.”
“Today children are older much younger,” I replied. “Besides, this one is precocious beyond her years. You cannot start giving her information too soon.”
Based on the look my daughter shot at me as she rolled her eyes, I decided to take on the educational project myself. One of my granddaughter’s favorite things is to have tea with her Grandma in real china cups with sugar cubes and real cream and with special little tea cookies I make just for her. I poured the tea and we creamed and sugared and put cookies on our saucers. “So, Jean Marie, let’s talk about our bodies.”
“Okay, Gram. What do you need to know?”
This set me back on my heels. It was not an auspicious beginning.
“Actually, Grandma, I’ve been thinking a lot about my body. Like, what keeps the skin on our arms and legs? If we didn’t have the skin, would our arms and legs and bellies and backs just go flinging off into space? So what makes the skin stay in place? It’s awfully thin, you know. And who puts the blood inside us. And how do they get it there. And what if I cut myself and I bleeded it all out? We gotta think about these things, Grandma. And what really happens to our food. Oh, I know what people say, Grandma, but really! I want the real answers, not the make-believe ones. I am a big girl now and I can handle it.”
“Well,” I stalled. This session was not going well at all and was much different from what I had in mind.
“Grandma, why do you hear your heart beat only at night when you can’t sleep and you don’t ever hear it during the daytime?”
Finally, a question I can respond to. “When you can’t sleep at night, Jean Marie, are you worried about the monsters under your bed?”
“Don’t be such a silly, Gram,” she giggled. “There are no bed monsters. Are there monsters under your bed, Grandma?” She found this inordinately funny.
“Never mind,” I said. “Have another cookie.”
“No thanks. Mom is making my favorite lasagna for dinner. Mmmmm.” Jean Marie snuggled into my lap and put her hands on my face. “Grandma, why do you have that long white hair on your chin? Would you like me to help you pull it out? Do you have that little silver puller thing? How did that white hair get there and what makes it so long? It really looks funny, Grandma.”
My effort at education was an abject failure. I needed to retrench. I’ll try again next week. Or maybe next year. Or maybe just leave it to my daughter, who is a family counselor. It’s not my fault she waited too late.
“Grandma, I don’t want to hurt your feelings or nothing,” Jean Marie scrunched up her face and looked me over critically, “but you probably should quit wearing your bikini. Besides, bikinis are sooooo out of fashion. Let’s go shopping together and I can help you find yourself a cute one piece. I’ll help you pick it out.”
“Jean Marie,’ I said, making one last attempt, “next time would you like to talk about boys.”
“Sure, Grandma, anything you need to know, you can ask me. And I promise not to tell Mom.”