We were halfway up the mountain. Nick was in 5th grade and generally hiked with his father, but on this day he decided to hang out with me instead of running to the top with his mountain goat dad. There was no escaping. Poor kid; he had no idea what he was in for.
“So what are you learning in sex education?” I asked, figuring I might as well use this side-by-side opportunity to ensure that my son was squared away in the birds and bees department. I had read somewhere that the best chance of communicating effectively with the male species is to do it in conjunction with an activity that does not require any face-to-face interaction—like driving, watching television, or a physical activity such as we were doing. Since parents had to sign waivers allowing their children to participate in the school’s sex ed program, I knew that the girls had had their classes, and the boys had recently completed theirs.
“I don’t know,” he answered. I could tell he was troubled. Nick has always been a thoughtful and inquisitive son, and from the time he was quite young, could convince anyone he met that he knew the answer to every question that had ever been asked by anyone, ever. After my husband and I had told him in 3rd grade (while we were driving someplace) that there was no such thing as an ant lion—it was something we had certainly never heard of—and he later proved us wrong, any future time we might challenge his knowledge he would simply smile and say, “Ant lion,” and we would rush to our computers to learn something new. So I knew that he was flummoxed.
“Has your teacher said anything to the class that’s not really clear to you?” I asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as I could. We had a ways to go before reaching the summit, and I didn’t want to appear too anxious to engage in a conversation that would provoke him to run off in search of his father. I also wanted to ensure that there was no question in his mind about what could happen someday with a girl if he found himself in a “let’s play doctor . . . I’ll teach you using my knowledge of Braille anatomy” situation and didn’t possess the right information.
“Kind of,” he mumbled, sounding embarrassed already.
We both caught sight of my husband Mike up ahead; he had already summited and was running back down to check on us.
“I’m pretty sure I can explain whatever was confusing,” I offered.
“Well, he was saying something like how we might wet the bed some night, but he called it something I didn’t get.” He was very embarrassed, but clearly needed to understand why something he hadn’t done since he was in diapers might happen again.
“How are you guys doing,” Mike asked when he finally reached us, keeping up a slower jog while we continued to trudge up the hill.
“Great!” I said. “Nick was telling me about his sex ed class and how they told the boys they might wet their bed some night,” I explained, then turned back to Nick. “I think what he was talking about was something called a wet dream,” I told him, glad that Mike was there and could explain the phenomenon better than I could.
“No, that’s not what he called it,” Nick protested. “He called it something complicated.”
“Nocturnal ejaculation,” Mike said as off-handedly as he might have asked, “What’s for dinner?”
“That’s it!” Nick said, perking up, and before I could protest, Mike began his acceleration away from us to summit once more, leaving me with the rest of the lesson.
“See you guys at the top!” Mike said, smiling at me over his shoulder.
“Chicken!” I yelled. But even though Nick could have left me at that moment, sprinting away from the awkwardness, he wanted answers more.
By the time we reached the summit, he learned more than any of his classmates would learn from the technical jargon presented in class, and since I had a captive and curious audience, I also took advantage of the opportunity to tell him the truth about the all those magical, mythical people, fairies, and animals attached to the countless holidays we celebrate each year.
Discussion on the downside of the mountain was far less serious—Nick’s brain had a bunch to process—and Mike had joined us for the descent. I felt confident that I had provided adequate information in a way that was both informative and minimized embarrassment.
“And don’t tell your brother about the Santa stuff yet, okay?” I requested. I had another two years before I might have to teach those lessons again.
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Hey, what do we want for dinner tonight?” Mike asked while we loaded back into our truck at the end of our journey.
“Chicken!” I said with a bit more emphasis than was necessary. There could be no other choice!
That fine day Nick learned far more than he had bargained for, but I also learned a few things. I learned that school lessons don’t always “sink in,” so I would have to remain vigilant with follow-ups. I learned that not all fathers are comfortable discussing delicate topics with their sons. Most importantly, however, I learned that my oldest son was brave enough not to run away from me when he had the chance, and that he would always choose knowledge over ignorance–a trait that will serve him well in his current pursuit of a medical degree (and no, not in Braille anatomy)!