Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Peanut Relations Lead to Peanut Babies

When I was in the seventh grade, I lived in Atwater, California and I was required to take a quarter-long class called Teen Skills.   We learned about peer pressure I think, and drugs, and being awkward.  I remember specifically a story about a boy who tripped over his own damn feet in the middle of the quad and leaped up, raring to fight whoever tripped him, only to find out that puberty done it.  At the time I remember looking around my class as the teacher assured us that our horrible, life-ruining awkwardness would pass, and thinking, "We're not that awkward."

But this isn't about how I was blissfully unaware of our boy/girl height ratio, our pimples, our gangly limbs, despite my teacher's telling reassurances. This is about peanut babies, and I how I really didn't get that.

We had a project in which we had to choose one or two peanuts, draw some faces on them, and call them our children for a period of a week or so. This, I suppose, was meant to teach us how hard it is to have tiny edible children that do pretty much nothing, and thus deter us from the sexual activity that I didn't know we were having.

I had done this project once before, in the second grade, with a potato. I left it on the swing set in my backyard overnight once and was horrified when my mom informed me that if it was a real baby it would have died.  I do not know why this was a lesson I needed to learn in 2nd grade, except that it was Kentucky and I went to a Catholic school.

Regardless of the life lessons I may or may not have taken away from my time in Kentucky, we were doled out our peanut babies  and told it was our responsibility to keep them alive(?) and happy for the period of the project.  I named mine Sherloch and Zaidee and put them in a shoebox with most of the furniture from my dollhouse, and my friend Becky put hers in a Barbie convertible with a rubber dog.  Then Becky, envious of my sweet household arrangement, kidnapped my peanut babies and we spent the rest of the next period (Science? Literature? I clearly learned nothing in middle school) passing ransom notes back and forth and driving her Barbie car up and down the bars of our desks.

I said this isn't about awkwardness, and it isn't about the failure of the California school system to properly teach sex ed; it's about the fact that when I was in seventh grade, I was a child.   My barbies may have been awfully sexually active, but I was gripped in terror (and a little bit disgust) at the thought of kissing a boy.

I played house, I ran around outside, I ate my weight in donuts and pizza and never gained a pound.  I was still growing.  I had baby teeth. I was a kid.  I did not have sex.

I didn't think about sex as a thing that my friends or I should (or could) do; I didn't wonder about it, I didn't want it.  It didn't occur to me that people my age might be having it. But lo and behold, many years later, I learned that they did.  Kids I knew were having consensual sex with other kids I knew, gangly limbs, sparse pubic hair, mosquito-bite boobs and all, in the seventh and eighth grade.  Maybe I lived a charmed life, in which I was never pressured and didn't have close friends who were sexually active that young, but I still don't understand it.  Sex complicates things far more than necessary at any age, but at an age in which people are only just beginning to begin to learn about themselves, their beliefs, their feelings, their egos, and their bodies, I can't imagine the emotional consequences.  Also, OMG AWKWARD CITY.

I don't understand it, I doubt I will ever understand it, and that terrifies me in the event that my future child or student or Little Brother/Sister will decide to become sexually active as a pre- or early teenager.   I, having no experience and little empathy for this, would most likely freak out and do none of the things they tell you to do in order to be the kind of parent or parental figure your child feels comfortable approaching for help in situations just as this.

Children should be allowed, by their parents, by the media, by each other, to be children, and being an awkward, geeky, underdeveloped late bloomer saved me in that way.  I was impervious to the world because I lived in my own, and I didn't care (actually was a little proud, if I'm remembering right) that I was unpopular and had no dates to dances.   All children don't have that nerd shield, however, and I don't know how to deal with that.  It makes me a little sad, a lot confused, and very worried for kids everywhere.

Sex should just not be on the table if you are a child, physically or emotionally.  It should not be on the table if you are not ready, regardless of how old you are or the state of your virginity.  Teenage sex is so glorified in a way, in media and pop culture, sung about and acted out by people in their twenties.  But the reality of the situation, and the fragile, volatile state of pre-pubescent ids and egos, is so much more important to know, and teenagers don't have the presence of mind to think about it. I know, I was one. You were (are?), too.

The most important thing I learned from peanut babies was that I still had time to play; adult activities could wait. And they did. And I don't regret it, even a little bit.


Jackie said...

This is why having a boy scares me so much. I too went through my teens with little regards to sex. For awhile I use to think it was a generation thing. "Oh kids these days are just so much more sexual! then I was" But after having a conversation about it with my MIL I realize its more of a girl thing. Girls just don't care or worry about it. And if they do its really only because of boys and also having low self-esteem. They'll do things they aren't really interested in actually doing because they think boys will like them more or they'll be "cooler". Where as boys on the other hand think about sex constantly the moment their voice starts to crack.
Yes, we can tell the media to cool it with the hyper sexual stuff and we as parents can stop putting pressure on our kids to grow up faster but how do you slow down a young boys puberty so that girls and boys reach that moment of maturity at the same time?
Teaching my daughter to respect herself and take her time in making decisions about sex totally doesn't scare me at all. But catching my young son masturbating scares the shit out of me. How do I tell him to slow down and enjoy being a kid and not worry so much about sex when his body is telling him the complete opposite?

Dennis said...

Do you think that sex is a complicated adult activity because it in itself is complicated, or because we are taught, directly and through observing/living in society, that it is a complicated adult activity?

Do you think that if, for example, two normal, well adjusted ten year old children had sex (and no adults found out and made a big deal about it) it would be as complicated as if two 25 year old adults had sex?

Basically this line of questioning boils down to, do you think sex is complicated because of the emphasis we place on it, or because of the biology of the act?

(Those questions really have no underlying theme, I'm just curious. I'm not implying that ten year olds should have sex. Please don't arrest me FBI if you are reading this.)

B.Graham said...

Jackie, you make a great point! I never thought about how my experience was completely colored by my gender.

I'm also at a loss as to how to help my future son ease into puberty without becoming a maniac... but I suppose that's what dads are for ;)

B.Graham said...

@Dennis - I actually think both your points are true. There is a LOT of social (and religious) pressure on sex, and whether or not a person is having it and who they are having it with is something by which he or she is judged, and judged deeply.

But sex is also complicated simply because it is an act of trust: trust that your partner is right for you, trust that your partner will not hurt you, trust that your partner won't laugh at your saddlebags. And even if you don't believe any of that hippie trust crap, some of the physical consequences of sex in the form of pregnancy and/or STDs are things that ten year olds are just not equipped to handle, mentally, emotionally or physically.

B.Graham said...

(PS really, FBI, he's a good guy. I know him!)