“What’s the Taj Mahal, Mum?” Miss Ten asked recently, as we strolled side by side through the local shopping centre.
“It’s a building in India,” I replied simply, relieved I wouldn’t have to do any major geographical research to answer her question.
“Oh, that’s weird,” she said, sounding genuinely puzzled.
“Why?” I asked, unknowingly wading into the unpleasant waters of Lake No Turning Back. “Where did you hear it?”
“I heard it on Austin Powers. Felicity was telling Austin about a page in the Taj Mahal they hadn’t tried yet,” she offered.
I felt a softening in my stomach. The words caught in my throat, much like a spread-eagled cat trying to avoid being dragged from a pet carrier on the vet’s examination table: “You don’t mean the Karma Sutra, do you?” I asked, my voice cracking like a boy on the brink of manhood.
“That’s it!” she cried triumphantly. “She said they hadn’t tried The Donkey yet.”
It seemed like only yesterday she was watching films associated with Shrek’s animated equine variety of ass; not the sort that made me want to cover my own with watered down half-truths. O how I longed for those days.
But I’d also been stumbling my way through the raising of this sharp-as-a-tack She-Child for long enough to know that in these situations, lies come back to bite me (if I dare may suggest, in the ass).
As was the case when she asked what ‘shagging’ was, and I spinelessly told her it was a kiss. We had to clear that one up when I heard her telling someone about a shag she’d witnessed up the back of her (primary) school disco.
So as tempting as it was to spin an elaborate tale of a less popular temple directly opposite the Taj Mahal (known as the Karma Sutra), or of a delicately spiced Indonesian meal best served with rice and a garnish of julienned cucumber, I turned to my ten year old daughter and looked her straight in the eye.
“It’s a book of sexual positions, Britt,” I announced, in a voice that could be heard above the bored drone of shoppers and the whinging of their children.
Considering only a year had passed since we’d had the unabridged version of the birds and the bees chat, I thought she handled this latest eye-opener pretty well.
I glanced sideways, and noticed her beautiful face flushing the same shade, I suspect, as mine. “Oh,” she said in her ‘I’m-shocked-but-I’m-gonna-play-it-cool’ voice. A moment later she looked thoughtful, like she may just ask for more information.
Deciding any specifics may be best left to another time in another shopping centre, I nipped things in the bud by taking her hand in mine and declaring: “Let’s go to Target, I need some new bed linen.”
She seemed truly thankful for the diversion, and for the first time that I can remember, the prospect of comparing thread count and fibre quality put a significant spring in her step.
However, I suspect the exchange that preceded our perusal of percales and pillow slips had edged my baby further from the delicious innocence of where her three year old sister exists, and closer towards something else.
What that is, I’m not really sure. We’re a long way yet from our destination, and every step feels like it’s the first time for me too. The learning curve of parenthood never seems any less steep just because you’re in the driver’s seat.
But I’ll continue to offer my novice hand to my daughters as each new road looms. And it will be my privilege if they continue to take it.
In the meantime, I’ll review Miss Ten’s DVD collection. Maybe I’ll suggest we give Shrek another run. A wise ass in the house will make for a welcome change.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem