When "Vagina" Becomes Your Child's Favorite Word

Family Matters on 09.07.12
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Photo: joneseidman1988/ Creative Commons

"Mom, my vagina is sweating," my six-year-old daughter, Maia, said loud enough to turn several heads in the checkout line at Trader Joe's.

"Remember that's a private word?" I asked, trying to appear unperturbed.

That's when she started chanting "vagina, vagina, vagina," and I had to threaten a time-out to get her to stop.

"That's not fair. You said it was just like saying foot, mom," accused my little master manipulator.

Of course I did say this. I was trying to explain that a vagina was just like any other part of a woman's body, and Maia shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed about saying the word. We talked about the fact that pee comes out of different places for women versus men, and I also explained that she actually came out of my vagina.

Maia had always told people that when she didn't fit in my stomach anymore, she came out of my butt.This is what it looked like to her, watching a birth video on television, and I didn't bother to correct her. But this summer when she tried to pee standing up like her ten-year-old brother, Chet, I realized I had to rectify the linguistic situation.

After our talk, Maia reported immediately to Chet's room to ask about his penis, which led to another conversation about privacy. As soon as Maia realized that saying penis and vagina made Chet's face turn red, she started chanting.

When my brother, Brad, was four, he realized that repeating curse words got him a lot of attention. Brad was a bit of a hellion. We'd be waiting to get the oil changed or in line at the grocery store, and he'd start dropping f-bombs. At first, my mother tried to play it cool. If we give him attention for it, he'll just keep doing it, she said. But the attention from the general public seemed to be enough to fuel his tirades.  So he got soap in his mouth.

The problem with Maia's chanting is that she is not cursing. The word she's saying is a part of the female anatomy, so maybe Chet and I should stop being so embarrassed.

Earlier this summer, Rep. Lisa Brown from Michigan was banned from speaking in the House of Representatives because she used the word "vagina" in a debate about abortion. Really? This is not a "bad" or "offensive" word. In fact, it's a medical term describing part of my body.

I can imagine the group of red-faced lawmakers in Michigan shifting in their seats, laughing uncomfortably and whispering to one another. Not unlike the scene my son described when his fifth grade class watched the video about the birds and the bees.

So here's what I propose: let's replace the fifth-grade health class video with a version of the Vagina Monologues for kids (toned down of course) and require all adult male law-makers to go and see the adult version. Maybe we could start a dialogue about words and our bodies that would feel less emabrassing and even a little empowering.

I've decided not to punish, yell or scowl at Maia's vagina rants unless she is being too loud or unruly in a public space. For now, I am taking a different approach. Yesterday, when she started chanting "vagina" in the check-out line, I started my own counter-chant of, "banana, banana." 

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