The other day, my twelve year old daughter asked me what a prostitute was.
Regaining my composure suitably (in time), I tried to answer her question as best as I could. When she said "Oh I see," and walked away with a toss of her curly head, I realised that my palms were sweaty and my heart was beating very fast. She hadn't noticed, of course!
In a country where we get all tongue-tied and shy talking about the thing that must not be talked about, you might find my behaviour very odd indeed.
But then again, I'm not what you might call a "normal" parent.
Walk into my home any evening and you might find me and my tween propped up in bed watching the latest episode of The Secret Life of an American Teenager and having a heated discussion on how having babies when you are in high school is not a great idea. "That is so not cool dude," the twelve year old would be saying, mouth twisted derisively while I would reprimand her for the millionth time with "I am NOT a dude!"
Hardly something a model Indian parent would do, right?
I have always believed that the best thing any parent (Indian or otherwise) can possibly do for his or her child is to keep the lines of communication open. I've seen my mother doing it (with hilarious consequences) and now it's my turn. Talk, talk, talk. About everything under the sun. Good, bad and the ugly.
In an age where kids can get (mis)information from almost anywhere, I'd prefer that she got the right information from me. At home. Or at school from her teachers.
I don't want to shy away from talking about the birds and the bees and risk my daughter finding out when it's too late. I want to be able to put the information out there and help her make the right choices. Watching The Big Bang Theory on the telly may not necessarily be the best way to help her learn but I am not looking for an award for parenting. One-size-fits-all does not work here.
Sex is not a bad word. At least, not in our home. Although, it wasn't always like this.
I still remember my daughter storming into my bedroom when she was five, accusation writ large on her baby face. "Mama, why did you tell me that babies come from a mama's tummy? That the doctor had taken me out from your tummy?" Oh, the look of disdain on her face. I also remember breaking out in cold sweat, fingers paralysed on my keyboard, dreading what she would say next.
As it turned out, a little boy in her class who had an older brother had "helpfully" volunteered with the information about natural childbirth. The process of sex education had begun. Though not quite in the manner I had expected!
Since then, the questions haven't stopped. In fact, I encourage them. Throw them at me, I say. On a good day, I'll answer everything. On a bad day, I'll bark at her and tell her to ask me later. And she always does. There's no escaping that child.
Tween: "Why do they have Sex on my ID card mama? It's a bad word isn't it?"
Me: "Sex isn't a bad word, it indicates (on your ID card) whether you are a boy or a girl."
Tween (rolling her eyes provocatively): "Of course Sex is a bad word!"
Me (slightly exasperated): "What do you think Sex means?"
Tween (coyly): "You know, kissing and stuff."
Me (really exasperated): "Ok smartass, then what should your ID card say instead of Sex?"
Tween: "Easy! Gender."
I think it's always a good idea to talk to your children. Now is as good a time as any. They may end up teaching you a thing or two.
I know mine did!