When you woke up this morning I’m betting you said to yourself, “You know what I need? I need a bunch of random funny stories about somebody else’s kids’ private parts.” No? You wanted more sleep? Perhaps a raise? Sorry folks, this is all I’ve got.
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Our nickname for male genitalia came about one day in Vivi’s infancy. Until she got sturdy on her feet, my husband and I took baths with her, finding it easier on our aging backs to hop in than to lean over the tub for fifteen minutes. Just after she learned to say “dat?” and point at objects to make inquiries, Vivi created the bath game I oh-so-creatively dubbed “nipple, nipple, belly button.” She’d point at my right nipple, say “dat?,” hear me reply “nipple,” point to my left nipple, say “dat?,” hear me reply “nipple,” point to my belly button, say “dat?,” hear me reply “belly button,” and start over. One day when it was my husband’s turn in the bath, she pointed to his penis, and asked, “dat?” He quickly filled me in by shouting this information across our apartment with the intensity normally reserved for significant world news like tsunamis and similarly devastating Roger Federer injuries. I replied, “tell her what it is” and then sidled over to the door to eavesdrop. He very calmly explained: “Vivienne, you know how you have your lady parts and your bum? Well, Daddy has gentleman parts and a bum.” Too freaking cute.
And also sensible. Now calm down Kate Muzzey, former sex crime prosecutor extraordinaire, we use the terms “vagina” and “penis” with sufficient frequency for the kids to know what the words mean and not feel shame in using them. But for the first two years of parenthood we mostly said “lady parts” out of both squeamishness and amusement. And if we’re going to use “lady parts” for Vivi then we’d darn well better use “gentleman parts” for Stu. I may not feel the need to call a vagina by name every time I see her, but I’ll be damned if I let her receive unequal treatment. There’s also the brilliance that “lady parts” and “gentleman parts” share with “junk.” At least half the time, when Vivi talks about her “lady parts” she’s really referring to her labia or clitoris. Same thing goes for when the little man runs around the living room pulling on his own scrotum. I don’t want to get into those distinctions just yet, but I suffer from a pathological (and possibly genetic) commitment to accuracy. Like “junk,” “gentleman parts” is essentially defined in the negative to mean everything down there that isn’t bum. Problem solved.
This line of thought makes me wonder about the practicality of our friends’ system, however. They have three girls who refer to their “front bottom” and “back bottom.” Does that mean they’ll need to add a modifier when they encounter a penis? Like “front hose bottom” as opposed to “front flat bottom”? (I jest, they’re growing into brilliant young women who will learn the proper term, “trouser snake,” in due course.)
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Until recently I wasn’t sure whether Vivi had caught on to the whole wiping-as-hygiene thing. Since she first started potty-training at three, we’d say, “wipe from front to back, and then drop.” But, honestly, she would sing-song, “I wipe fwom fwont to back an den dwop” while vigorously rubbing one little clump of toilet paper back and forth all around her nether regions. Then a few months ago, she had an epiphany that birthed what is quite possibly the best analogy I’ve ever heard. Like most toddler genius, it will sound like complete nonsense without a little backstory. Two dogs lived at Grandma’s house: Zoey and Hunter. Zoey is perky and fun and not at all dangerous. Hunter, may he rest in peace, was old and so grumpy and confused that we told the kids to give him a wide berth lest they be bitten. When Vivi asked why she has to wipe from front to back, I said, “Because your bummy has germs that will hurt your lady parts, but your lady-part germs won’t hurt your bum.” She sat there (on the toilet, mind you) for several minutes nodding her head slowly, then said: “So, Mommy, my vagina is like Zoey, and my bummy is like Hunter.” Now bouncing and pointing, “Zoey. Hunter. Zoey. Hunter.” Nothing like a little canine comparison to prevent urinary tract infections for life.
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It didn’t take care of all anatomical confusion, however. Just a month ago, Vivi approached me – after Stuey had fallen asleep for nap but before “quiet time” had officially started – to say that she needed “something with pockets to put coins in like Daddy.” Since all the kids’ clothes are kept in the bedroom where Stuey slept, I proffered an apron from their pretend kitchen. “No, Mommy, Daddy wears clothes, not an apron.” (I’d get all up in feminist arms at this juncture except for the fact that I never wear an apron either.) Luckily (some would say presciently) I’d left a mound of clean laundry on the couch to be folded. After pawing through the pile I found one item of clothing with pockets: Stuey’s shorts. I handed them to her and then stalked off to finally set her quiet timer. But, as I turned the corner into my room, I once again stopped to listen (I apparently eavesdrop with the regularity of a Hilary Mantel character). As Vivi put the shorts on, she mumbled to herself, “Gosh, I hope these don’t turn me into a boy with a penis.” Hilarious words for sure, but the kicker was her tone, like it was a calculated risk: maybe these will turn me into a boy (with a penis), but I do really need something with pockets right now.
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And just when I thought Stuey had a handle on things – reciting (like his sister did at this age, though she chose to do so around the Christmas dinner table, pointing at each member of the family as she went), “Uncle Henry penis, Uncle Macy penis, Stephanie-nie vagina, Uncle Curt penis, Auntie vagina, Uncle Nick penis” – he asked me this morning, “Where is Grandma’s penis?” The lawyer in me promptly jumped to attention. Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence! But then I reinterpreted the question as an existential one and found myself at a loss. I mean, really, where is Grandma’s penis?