Last night I was ushering Lucy through the steps needed to get ready for bed. Yes, I was ushering her – if someone isn’t standing there telling her “ok, now go put on your pajamas, now brush your teeth, etc” she’ll get distracted and end up on the floor with a book or creating some elaborate scenario involving half a dozen stuffed animals. Frankly, even with me in the room guiding her every move it can still take awhile because there will inevitably be pit stops to bounce on the bed or adjust one of the thousand knick-knacks on her dresser or bookshelf or play with the cats. Where was I, oh yeah, getting ready for bed and she announces that a kid told her something “inappropriate” about her body. Me: pause, swallow, pause “really, what did she tell you”.
Lucy said she couldn’t tell me. As I have a thousand times before, I told Lucy how important it is for her to be able to talk to me about anything. I had to promise that I wouldn’t get mad, that I wouldn’t tell anyone else (course I had my fingers crossed behind my back). Still she hesitated. She kept assuring me that it wasn’t someone I knew. I kept telling her it was fine for her to not tell me who it was, but that just in case this kid maybe needed help I needed her to tell me. Then I started asking questions. I asked if the kid had said she touched her private parts, “NO!” I asked if someone else had touched her body, “NO!” I asked if she’d kissed a boy “Ewww, NO!” followed by lots of giggles. I can’t even remember the other paths our conversation took us before she finally divulged the big secret to me about 5 minutes later. Someone had told her “how much they weigh!” And yes, I had to stifle a giggle when she finally blurted it out.
I wasn’t really too worried about what the inappropriate thing was, but I was relieved that it wasn’t really anything to be concerned about. I’m not sure where she got the idea that telling someone what you weigh is inappropriate, but I took the opportunity to explain that some people don’t want others to know what they weigh and that’s ok, but that if someone wants to share that information that’s ok too.
The exchange has me thinking about two things. First, how do you ensure that your child will come to you with information that is potentially sensitive or embarrassing or scary? Second, I wonder how to balance the need to tell her about things that are scary and complicated so that she will recognize a dangerous situation and know to tell someone about it with the desire to protect her from some of life’s unpleasant realities and not unduly frighten a 7 ½ year old.
We’ve had the typical talks about bodies being private and touching, etc. But I seriously doubt that most children really understand the implications of such actions. And frankly people can be very subtle in their actions and words (both sexually and otherwise) leaving even adults unsure of their intentions. So, without divulging too much information how do you know you’ve shared enough with your child so that they are armed with enough information to recognize a dangerous situation for what it is?
And even if they do recognize something inappropriate or dangerous, how can you be sure that they’ll tell you about it. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I have said to Lucy that she can tell me anything, that I won’t get mad or laugh at her, that I can’t help her or celebrate with her if I don’t know what’s happening to her. But still my 7 ½ year old, who still wants me to snuggle with her every night at bedtime, who still sits on my lap, and is liberal with bestowing kisses and hugs, was nervous to tell me that someone told her what they weighed. I thought I was doing the right things and saying the right things to make sure that as she grows she’ll know that she can come to me with anything, but I worry that even done perfectly some kids just won’t and maybe she’s one of them.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that parenting is such a great joy, but it’s also full of little landmines. Just when you think the area is cleared, another one pops up. I guess really all I can do is pay attention and keep doing whatever I can to make sure she knows I’m here for her.