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5th grade at our house always makes for interesting conversation. It’s in the 5th grade that students first get the talk. “5th grade science” has a reputation in these parts—it’s when my kids first learn about sex. When I say “learn” I mean its the first time someone in the know refers to body parts by their scientific names. I’m not dumb—I know they hear about it earlier from some kid with older siblings or Cinemax. So last weekend while hiking with my son—who happens to be in the 5th grade—I asked, “So what do you know about sex?” I know he knows some things; he’s been on the farm enough to know there’s something going on with the animals. One night while watching PBS my older kids started discussing how the turtles were mating. My wife and I looked at each other, wondering how much they knew and when they knew it.
My sex talk, meaning the one my father gave me, was short and to the point. My dad sat down next to me and asked, “Do you know, or do I have to tell you?” “I know,” I replied. “Good,” he said as he went back out to the garage. Looking back I’m not sure I really knew. Sure, I knew which part went where but that mostly came from fabricated locker room stories. So I decided I was going to do it “right”. I was going to have the conversation and be the greatest dad in the universe.
“So what do you know about sex?” was the question. “Enough,” was the reply as my son sheepishly slowed down so he was walking behind me. “What’s enough? Do you know what everything is called?” I asked. Regardless of his answer I proceeded to tell him. A look of terror came over his face. “This is going to ruin our walk,” he said. It wasn’t talking about sex that ruined the walk, it was talking about sex with me. But I didn’t let up… I kept going. He walked silently behind me as I described the process, at one point even making weird hand gestures—a poor excuse at an illustration. When I was done we walked on in awkward silence. Then he asked a question about growing up, getting older, and the changes that happen. I tried to let him know its ok to grow up, that being a kid is great but so is being an adult. I tried to let him know that its ok if he starts to feel differently about the girl sitting a couple rows ahead of him, and its ok if he doesn’t. We ended by talking about what it means to love and respect others, and how sex is a beautiful thing that needs to be part of a loving relationship. He didn’t say much.
On the last part of our walk three deer came bursting out of the tree line ten feet in front of us. “Whoa… cool!” he yelled as he watched them hop away. “That was a doe and her fawns. You can tell because they were smaller,” he said excitedly. Five minutes later a whole herd of deer shot out of the trees–there had to be at least 20 deer running as fast as they could across the road and campsites. My son couldn’t contain his excitement, chasing after them to the edge of the prairie grass. Suddenly, a straggler came bursting out chasing after the heard, running right past us. After standing there for a short time taking it all in we got in the car and started the twenty minute drive home. “That was an awesome hike,” he said as be buckled himself in. “I’m glad we saw that doe and her fawns up close.” Yup – it was a great hike. Next time I’ll just keep my mouth shut and let the deer do the talking.