There are times when raising a boy is like wrangling with an alien. No matter how much I try to humanise him, he remains obdurately Boy. One afternoon last week he dealt me a double whammy.
It is starting to rain when we get home from school so I enlist his help to bring in the washing. As we start unpegging the washing, the following conversation takes place:
Boy: I'm not touching anyone's underwear.
Me: It's clean. And anyway, what about me? I have to touch everyone's underwear.
Boy: Well, I'm definitely not touching your bras.
Boy: Actually, no, you know what, I am going to touch your bras! And then when I am older, I can boast to my friends that I have touched a woman's bra. Because it's every boy's dream, right?
At which point he starts racing around the washing line looking for bras. I say nothing but think it's quite sweet that he still thinks it's the bra that's the thing, not what goes into the bra. Later that afternoon, we are watching TV and an ad for Pampers comes on. As the young mother is shown leaning over her baby, changing it's nappy, the Boy exclaims:
'Yuck, I hate this ad!'
'Why?' I ask, 'it's just a baby's bottom.'
'No, it's that woman's boobies. They are way too big! It's disgusting!'
I have no response. I am literally slack jawed with speechlessness. On seeing my expression, the boy says:
'What? I'm a nine year-old-boy!'
As if that explains everything.
Where did I go wrong?
I've tried to bring up my kids to be relaxed about their bodies, and the human body in general. My mother was taught by the nuns at her boarding school that she should never be completely naked, unless she was in the bath. There was an elaborate system for getting dressed and undressed that kept the optimal amount of flesh covered at all times. I don't know if my mother stuck to this regime religiously (pardon the pun), but she was certainly very modest, and very fond of wearing layers of undergarments. Slips and half-slips, camisoles and petticoats were all part of her moral armour. She would even wear a vest under a sundress.
She could never bring herself to talk to about sex. My sister had to tell me about 'the facts of life'. My mother was educated, confident, out-going. She hated the repression her upbringing had left her with, but she couldn't break the cycle.
So, naturally, I don't want my kids to have any of those hangups. I've tried to engender a nonchalant attitude to the human body. Up until recently I thought I'd been reasonably successful. But I'm beginning to realise that are two things I just can't fight: he's Nine and he's a Boy.