Last week we went to see the 7th & 8th grade production of Bye Bye Birdie at my son’s middle school. I am particularly fond of this piece because, back in the day, I was one of the “screaming girls” in my 8th grade’s production of the musical. I remember how much fun all my friends and I had singing the songs during rehearsals, and how exciting the performances were. I felt that my son would also enjoy the play because, although it is set in the late 1950s, the themes still ring true today – bewildered parents, their hormone driven teenagers, and the maniacal worship of teen idols (paging Justin Bieber – or is it One Direction now? Kids!). My son absolutely roared with laughter at one point when, during a frustrating encounter with his children, the Harry MacAfee character sputters, “I didn’t know what puberty was until I was almost past it!” I think he found that funny because there’s been so much puberty talk at school lately (it’s one of the units of study this semester) that he couldn’t imagine anyone actually missing it!
As I was helping my son study for a test on that subject one evening, I could tell by my husband’s bemused expression that, like Harry MacAfee, he didn’t quite know what to make of it all. Certainly our respective parents never quizzed us on the term for “the spurting out of semen from the penis” or the name of “the entire outside genital area of a female”. In my experience, “the period talk” consisted of receiving an informative book and a box of pads courtesy of Kimberly-Clark, and where babies came from (and how they got there in the first place) was not a topic parents discussed with their children. But there I sat, discussing testicles, vaginas, and nocturnal emissions with my son as though we were chatting about what he had for lunch in the cafeteria that afternoon, while my husband busied himself in the kitchen so as not to get involved disturb us. I knew he felt uncomfortable, but he would have to get over that, and fast.
I will say that talking about puberty and the changes that both boys’ and girls’ bodies undergo in such a matter-of-fact way has so normalized this conversation that I feel it has opened the door for a kind of closeness that I’m sure many of us didn’t experience with our folks when we were growing up. I want my son to know that he can talk to me about this or anything else that comes his way. I certainly welcome and feel very comfortable with this new chapter in our relationship. I remember reading about a Details magazine article where The Avengers star Chris Evans revealed that his mom was the first person he told when he lost his virginity. I wonder if I will be privy to that information. I mean, the kid just gave me a surprisingly accurate explanation of the process of menstruation and he’s figured out why mommy has a “stomachache” every month, so I guess anything is possible.
While I was making breakfast on the morning of the test, my son asked my husband to quiz him on the material one last time. I held my breath for a second to see if he was going to lob this one over to me or whether he would bite the bullet and jump on the puberty bandwagon. Without skipping a beat my husband said “Sure” and they sat down together for a final review. And with that we all entered a brave new world.
Oh, and the test? My son came home proudly waving it around yesterday. He got a 95.
Check out “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” from the 1963 film version of Bye Bye Birdie
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and Barnes & Noble