When I asked my 5-year-old son, Clyde, how his day at kindergarten had gone, I didn’t expect to get a full blow by blow account–complete with sound effects–but that is exactly what I got. This meant that, when he got to the part about somehow landing “wrong” on a piece of playground equipment, he recreated the scene by staggering around the kitchen, clutching his relevant parts and shouting: “Oh my nuts! Oh my balls! Oh my nuts and balls!”
And yet again I was reminded that boys and girls are different. When Clementine was Clyde’s age I was always very determined that she learn the correct words for all her body parts. She did not have a “coochi”, a “hoo-ha” or even a “down there”–she had a vagina. Also, she would not one day be growing a baby in her “tummy” (not unless she was involved in some bizarre cross-gender/cross-species relationship with a seahorse); she would be growing one in her uterus. And those things up top? Not “chi-chis” or “num-nums” but breasts and nipples.
With Clyde, however, it’s a whole different story. Although in the beginning I tried using the word “penis” in our bath time discussions, it wasn’t long before I had to give it up: immediately upon saying the “p” word Monty Python’s “Penis Song” begins to play in a continuous loop in my brain, one that takes me days to fully remove. And so “pecker” was born.
As for “nuts” and “balls”, I’m not ready to take the blame for that one (until recently I never found the need to discuss those particular parts with Clyde at all, let alone name them), but I’ll admit that if I had been the one to introduce the subject, those would likely have been the words I would have chosen. What can I say? Even though Monty Python has no songs celebrating “testicles” or “scrotum” (that I know of), I seriously doubt I could ever be induced to say those words to Clyde (or anyone else) while keeping a straight face.
Why is it that when it comes to male genitalia, the proper name is the one that makes you giggle, while the slang word is the one that sounds correct? This makes it almost impossible for me to have a serious discussion with Clyde about his body parts; with Clementine it was so much easier: the slang names for female genitalia sound either so patronizing or so insulting that you don’t want to use them. With boy parts, however, using any words other than slang just makes you sound fruity.
This would explain why it took me so long, then, to recognize the basic problem with Clyde’s lament of “Oh my nuts and balls”: at first it just sounded like a slangier version of what I’ve heard all my life, sort of like the “Cheese and Rice!” a Baptist says when he hits his thumb with a hammer. I didn’t fully realize that it signaled a real misunderstanding of his own anatomy until it became the subject of yet another bath time discussion, one where I tried to explain that it was either ‘nuts’ or ‘balls’–he had to pick one. “But there’s two,” he replied, perplexed. When I told him it didn’t matter–he could only call them one thing at a time, the ensuing “Why?” was just as confused. After a long pause I had to admit that I had no idea.
Whoever said that male anatomy is easier to understand because it’s all out in the open obviously never had to deal with a very logical (and wet) 5-year-old. Again: I never had this problem with Clementine–and probably never will; with any luck, by the time she’s old enough to want to know the difference between a cervix and a uterus she’ll be too embarrassed to ask her mother.