Leah is twelve years old and we have not talked about sex. Or drugs. Or smoking. Or drinking.
According to every popular parenting blog, or philosophy, or opinion, I am doing it wrong. I am failing my kid. Some would say I am downright irresponsible.
Maybe. But, I don’t really care.
See, somewhere along the way I decided that I’d rather she be innocent for as long as humanly possible, than bombarded by all the horrificness of this world that will inevitably bruise her soul. I decided that education in these areas needed to look less like the media and cultural messages, and more like our own values – even if our values are a shrinking island.
Leah will learn about alcohol the way that I did – at the dinner table, or at our home bar. She will learn what makes wine wonderful, that there is history and heritage and science involved. That liquor is made in specific ways to draw out specific flavors. That oak matters. That the bubbles in champagne tie to celebration – and chemistry. That spring batches and fall batches taste differently for a reason. She will learn by tasting – even if her taste buds are not quite ready for all of it just yet.
Because when you educate by elevating, the cheapness of “drunk” becomes more distasteful. And when you are exposed to it early and often, it is no longer novel. Is this a bulletproof theory that will keep her from over-indulging somewhere along the way? Nope. But I’d rather she have respect for what she is going to drink, because ultimately I think that will couple with respect for herself. Will she know what the consequences are for abusing alcohol? Yep. Very clearly. Will she see her friends step into some terrible choices? Yes. The goal is that she recognizes those choices are not for her.
But my approach is over now and we’re going to have the sex talk now because now it’s time to have that talk – and because we were sort of forced into it based on a “Family Education Program” at our temple this past Sunday we were all a bit unprepared for. We’re going to start this discussion because when the questionnaire was handed out and completed by parents and tweens alike, and the question, “At what age is someone responsible enough to have sex?” I was the only person who verbalized, “When you can independently and responsibly raise a child – because that is a reality, and it has nothing to do with age.” (Others may have thought it.)
We will talk about abortion, and I will watch her face twist as she comes to the realization that means terminating a baby. I will ask her to remember that always. She will hear that it is her body, but it is not only her choice because women do not get pregnant all on their own. You chose to invite a man into your body, therefore you are in it together and that man matters as much as you do. Men matter – and choose one wisely.
She will hear sex is or can be wonderful, mind-blowing, intense, expressive, stress-reducing, silly, and any number of adjectives you can come up with to try to capture it, but, above all else, it comes with great commitment, accountability and responsibility. The same goes for her body – take care of it.
We will get to drugs and smoking, and we will also talk about rape, and safety at parties. And after I’m done shattering her innocence I will reach for a very stiff drink and I will cry for her, and all the other 12 year-olds who can’t be 12 any longer. And later, we will talk about homosexuality, family, tolerance, and the all the amazing people involved with adoption here in this country and worldwide. Because she should hear about hope.
But at the end of the day, the theme is love and responsibility – for herself, to her spouse, to her family, to her world. There are those that will shirk responsibility in all of these areas – but she will not be one of those people.
I’ve done all this wrong on purpose in the hopes I’m doing it right.
Please, G-d, let me be doing it right.