Yes, I'm still on hiatus. This felt important enough to share.
Many of us who write kid lit have children. I am one of those people. In fact, I wanted to have a clan of kids, but I ended up with only one. I was pregnant three different times, gave birth only once. After losing a second baby and trying a stint of hormone supplements and still not seeing any results, I decided my body was telling me it's time to move on to a new phase of my life. The one where I only have one child and I appreciate that one miracle child is more than some people will ever have.
The older my son gets, the more I realize all the things I need to be for him, most of which are things that my parents weren't for me. My younger sister had her first child seven months ago. She and I have always talked about things in our childhood that were supremely f*cked up (it's a form of sister therapy, I guess), but since she had her own kid, many of those talks have translated into how we are going to make sure we do better for our kids.
And the main thing? Is just talking to them. Letting our kids know that they can ask us anything and not get in trouble for simply asking about a possibly touchy subject. Letting our kids know that, even if we don't have all the answers, we'll do our darnedest to help them find what they're looking for.
My parents were not the worst parents on record, not even close. I would say their viewpoint and behavior was average for their generation. But as a kid, you don't really think about that in the moment. Most of my memories revolving around my own education of the world were... lonely. And scared. I was afraid to talk to my parents. I was afraid to ask questions. I got the bulk of my information from my siblings, friends, teachers, television, and later, the Internet.
And I got myself into trouble because of it. And even then, I didn't approach my parents. I hid everything from them, including the pain and fear, until it crippled me.
I don't want that for my son. Yes, he's going to talk to other people about things and that's okay. But I want him to feel like he can ask me questions, too.
I want him to have an open door.
The very first time he asked me about the differences in anatomy between a boy and a girl, he was in Kindergarten. I answered every question he asked until he was satisfied and/or tired of the topic. Since then, we've had several discussions on similar topics.
He's eight years old now. For the first time ever, a few weeks ago, he asked me what "gay" means. Because we already had a foundation of frank conversations behind us, I was able to explain homosexuality in way he understood. Then I asked him, very plainly, where he heard that word.
I may have said it. His dad may have said it. He may have heard it on TV. He may have heard a fellow student or neighborhood kid say it. If I don't know why he's asking me a question, it's almost as bad as him not asking me at all.
I am not with my child 24/7. He has peers, and I don't know what kind of households those peers are coming from. So it's my responsibility to make sure he knows that sometimes people say things in a derogatory way and that's not okay, even if it's just a joke. This is true for religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, appearance, everything. It is not okay to joke about someone being Jewish, or having a well-padded behind, or about boys kissing boys.
My son is also allowed to "play" on the Internet without constant supervision. He isn't in private, but I don't hang over his shoulder, either. This inevitably exposes him to things that are the sole reason many parents don't allow their kids on the Internet at all.
But withholding something completely is never the right answer, at least in my opinion. When you take something away, the child doesn't really grasp why you feel it's wrong, and their curiosity is piqued even more now.
We can't put our kids in a bubble until they graduate high school and then expect them to be able to function in the world. We just can't. From the time they're able to walk and talk, their entire childhood is training for adulthood. Everything we do and say is meant to prepare them to make their own decisions. How can they make their own decisions if we decide everything for them?
It's very easy to say this and nod your head, but when it's your kid, it's the hardest thing in the world. Even so, I'm glad that my son has been exposed to things like foul language and violence and the occasional lewd comment or innuendo in a movie that we didn't see coming. When these things happen, they are teaching experiences.
There is nothing in life that we learn to navigate without trial and error. Nothing.
If my son is watching a video on YouTube and someone drops an F-bomb, he immediately stops the video without having to be told.
If something outrageously violent shows up on a TV show or movie he's watching, he immediately changes it or advances it to the next scene, without having to be told.
If he hears about something at school that he doesn't understand, he asks about it as soon as he gets home. I swear, it's almost daily now. Mom, what's this word mean? Mom, why is it wrong to do such-and-such? Etc, etc.
These are things I couldn't have realistically expected of him if I didn't allow him to be exposed and let him think it over himself and make mistakes. It's not our job to constantly tell our kids no no no. It's our job to teach them how to decide for themselves. Because the older they get, the less time they spend with us. You have to start as early as possible.
My son is also obsessed with boobs. So a lot of our discussions have been about how to be respectful to girls and women. (And yes, I call them boobs. I don't find that word offensive. Breasts sounds too clinical.)
The poor boy had a minor freakout when he realized he's starting to get some fuzz in certain areas. He really hates body hair, so he asked me if he could shave it. I've already caught him shaving his budding mustache before--I wouldn't put it past him to shave something else, and that could be dangerous. After a long talk it became clear that he just doesn't want to be different from the other boys at school. He doesn't want to be made fun of for physically maturing before they do.
He's eight. Am I being too open with him about things? Am I stealing his innocence? I don't think so. I remember what it was like to be that age, and it was natural to question everything. If he doesn't get the information now, he'll make poor decisions later.
I did not have this open door with my parents, and my teen years suffered for it.
Our kids are going to grow up no matter what we do. So... what are we doing?
And this is why I hate book censorship so much, especially when it comes to sex in YA. But that's another post for another day.