Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The "P" Word

I used to cringe when saying the "P" word. You know, "penis". I always felt uncomfortable, like I had no business uttering this word. That feeling definitely stemmed from my upbringing. I remember once when I was probably about 5, I have no idea what the context was, but I said the word in front of my Mother. Her anxious response was "Where did you hear that word?". She had to ask because she knew I didn't hear it from her. Certain words and topics were just never spoken or discussed in my house growing up. And, her line of questioning made me think maybe there was something wrong with that word.

Fast forward and I am now the sole female in a household of males. Having two boys, a husband, and a male dog, the word "penis" is used in everyday conversation at our house. For example, my 5 year old likes to refer to the opening in his boxers as his "penis pocket". Or, come to my house any evening at bath time and you will be sure to hear my kids comparing their penises in the bathtub. I decided to get over my hang up with this word and am now shocked sometimes how often I use the word "penis". But, I want to make sure my kids do not feel ashamed to talk about their bodies using the correct terms. Why should we make up a word for something when a word already exists?

According to my husband, my mother-in-law used to refer to it as a "dinger". Really? My 2 year old threw her for a loop when we had an entire car ride conversation about his new adventures in potty training. As you can imagine, the word penis came up more than a few times. She turned a shade redder with each indifferent reference he made. They are little boys and they see no reason why they wouldn't refer to that part of their body any differently than another. If their arm hurts, they would say their arm hurts. So, when we are at the beach and have been in the sand all day, anyone within earshot knows they have sand in their bathing suits and their penis hurts.

We do, of course, have a couple of rules regarding such words as certain topics might not be seen as "polite" in all situations. We don't encourage this as dinner table conversation and this is not a hot topic for the general public. Although, I did have another little boy on a play-date innocently point out to me that his Teddy Graham had a penis. I'm not sure I could see it. But, really, hearing a kid state the somewhat obvious is not horrifying. I just smiled and so did the other mother. If there was a split-second where his mother or I felt the slightest bit uncomfortable, we didn't let it show.

We really do learn by example. My husband and I have never once made our kids feel wrong for calling a penis a penis. And this word has just become a part of their regular vocabulary. This is a start. My hope is that our openness with them now will lead to productive open conversations down the road when we are no longer talking about just a penis.

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