Not long ago we had Breakfast-For-Dinner-Night at our house. We like those nights. It's fun for all of us to eat breakfast food at night. It's also kind of convenient when, like this particular night, our schedules stack up and we need dinner quickly.
In no time at all pancakes and sausage were on the table and the boys were eating happily. I cooked eggs for everybody except Eli, our five-year-old, so his dinner was over quickly. He asked to be excused and, as usual, he played quietly in the kitchen while the rest of us finished.
He was crawling around on the floor near his mom's chair with a toy. He turned away for a moment and our dog, Bella, took the opportunity to move in to her customary begging position. When Eli turned back he was looking straight at Bella's backside.
"Ewwwwwwww," he said. "Dog butt!!"
We all laughed a little. I didn't even really turn to look. I could see him out of my peripheral vision. I wasn't unsympathetic but . . . Breakfast-For-Dinner-Night.
"It stinks!" he yelled.
I looked at my wife. I gave her my "Seriously?" look. She responded with her "Yep" look.
I was a bit disappointed that I was going to have to explain to Eli, even at five years old, that the extraordinary facet of his situation was not so much the odor of the dog's backside as his nose's proximity to said backside. "Stop smelling the dog's butt" was not a phrase I wanted to add to my List of Phrases I Never Thought I Would Have to Utter as a Parent. I took a bite and thought about how I should phrase it. I turned my head and he was squinting at Bella's butt.
"I see it," he said.
I hesitated slightly. No good could come of this
My wife took the bait. "What can you see, sweetheart?"
I laughed politely, but I was confused. Did he mean like "all the way to China?" How did that translate, even at the 5 year old level to the dog's backside.
"China?" Charlie, our 10-year-old, got involved. "How can you see all the way to China in a dog's butt?" Charlie doesn't possess my tendency to overthink. My wife took the prudent and very maternal route of removing Bella and her butt from Eli's sight.
"Not China," Eli told his brother. "Ba China. Ba China. I see Bella's ba china."
Ba china? Ba china? Bella's ba china? Huh? I heard a gaspy, laugh choke noise come from my wife.
"Ba china?" I asked hesitantly. I was going to regret this. "What are you talking about, son?"
"Ba china, Daddy," Eli replied cheerfully. "Boys have a pee pee and girls have a ba china."
Oh God. The fog was clearing. I looked at my wife. Her eyes were watering. "Vagina" she whispered.
I choked on my latest bite of pancake. "Vagina?" I did not whisper. "Vagina?" I am a man. I fix things. It's what I do. We had a problem and I intended to take care of it. I used my executive power and made a hard and fast household rule and added to that list I was talking about earlier. "Eli do not look at the dog's vagina."
On my left Charlie disintegrated into a level of hysterics that can only be achieved by somebody witnessing an event that they have absolutely no responsibility for. Breakfast-For-Dinner-Night was officially over.
"He looked at Bella's vagina. He looked at Bella's vagina," Charlie snort laughed. He leaned over and repeated it like a crazed Gregorian monk.
"You're not helping at all," I said. There was no real authority in my voice.
I looked at Eli. He didn't seem to understand what all the commotion was about. "Bella has a china cause she's a girl."
My wife kept her composure but this was like a bucket of gasoline on Charlie's hysterics fire. He shook uncontrollably and was kind of laugh-squawking.
With Bella away from prying eyes, my wife turned to Eli and pulled him to her. "Honey, you mean vagina," she said gently. "And that isn't a word we use very much, ok?"
"That's what I said mommy," Eli replied. "China."
Charlie grunted like somebody poked him. He gasped and broke into fresh spasms of laughter.
"Not China, Eli," I said. "Vagina." I said it slowly. "Va-gi-na." He looked at me with mixture of sympathy and concern.
"Va-gi-na. Va-gi-na." So this is where I am as a parent. I thought about it. All my years of parenting have led me to the point where I am enunciating the clinical terms for female genitalia to my 5-year-old. I thought about the delicious irony of teaching a child the proper pronunciation of a word that I didn't want him to say.
"Va-gi-na." I looked forward to our next meeting with his teacher. I could already feel the judgment. I struggled to find time to work with him on math and reading but here I am helping him sound this out.
His mommy hugged him close. "We don't use that word very much."
"We do when we talk about a ba china," Eli countered.
Charlie was still a quivering mass of laugh, but I got my composure back. Eli was right we do use the word around the house. Mostly we are using it in a sentence instructing the boys not to use it. Both boys have expressed curiosity about their bodies and, naturally female bodies. We tell them because we are progressive parents, then we tell them not to use the words. We are scared to death that our children will say the word "vagina" in a place that will cause us to be embarrassed or open us up to judgments from other parents.
The boys are frequently talking about their pee pees. They do this because . . . well they are boys. If you don't have one, you will never understand. The point is that we are not concerned when the boys say pee pee or penis but we, ok I, lost my mind when Eli said ba china. In Eli's case he knew that boys and girls have different private parts because he asked questions. He was curious. He knows that Bella is a girl and he applied what he knows. If that is an issue then it is an issue with me, not with him.
It's not about a word, it's about context and appropriateness. This particular situation was an excellent opportunity to teach Eli about both. With his mom taking the lead, we did just that.
Breakfast-for-Dinner-Night will never be the same.