'How was the dance last night?" I asked my 14-year-old daughter at the dinner table. "Oh, it was OK," she replied, "except everyone was juking."
She aimed this last part of her answer at her 16-year-old brother, who also speaks High School. "What's juking?" asked our 12-year-old. Age 14 and age 16 exchanged in-the-know glances. "Well," I volunteered, "that's when the girl dances in front of the guy, wiggling her hips a lot, and he gets up right behind her and presses his privates into her."
The stunned silence that followed was extremely satisfactory to me, inasmuch as it's pretty hard to impress teenagers. "Mom!" sputtered age 14. "What?" I asked, echoing a question I've been impatiently asking for years: What's wrong with talking about sex?
While prevailing child-rearing practices all support talking early to one's offspring about sex in the abstract, most parents draw the line at discussing their own sexual experiences. "That's my own private business" is a reply I've heard suggested in the event that your children ask questions about your personal history. Some parents apparently hope that if they don't confess their own past foibles, their children won't be able to emulate them. My own limited survey of contemporary sexual practices, however, does not support a positive relationship between lack of discussion and lack of sexual activity.
I broached the subject early with my children, responding to a passing query about AIDS with a frank answer that kept going until the child actually walked away, looking for something more interesting to do. In the ensuing years, I've also volunteered anecdotes from my own past, haywire as it was. I figure my children need to know some true stories about someone they know to round out all the information they get at school. I mean, they also tell them at school to "Just say no to drugs," for Pete's sake. We've offered a few stories of our own to add perspective to that particular slogan, too.
But then, I'm in my mid-50s, which means that I have a different perspective than younger parents do. The last thing I worry about is that my children will emulate my history. In fact, to them, I apparently serve as a cautionary tale. I suspect that I'm not the only parent who grew up during the age of sexual liberation and inexpensive pharmaceuticals to find that my offspring back away in horror when I talk about my wild days. But times were different then. We hitchhiked, for instance. "Just say no to drugs" was only a glimmer in Nancy Reagan's eye.
As far as serving as an example to my children, positive or negative, I've resigned myself to the fact that they're constantly recording my conscious and unconscious signals, anyway. I've given up trying to control my image; it's just too difficult to keep editing myself. I still worry about my daughters soaking up my body-image issues, and I know I shouldn't roll through stop signs in front of my son. But they'll be influenced by my strengths and weaknesses anyway, it seems. I may as well have an honest relationship with them.
Last week, again at the dinner table, my family was discussing its Saturday night plans. Ages 12 and 14 were going to movies with friends. Age 16 planned to do his usual wandering around town with his buddies. "You mean you're all going to be out?" the aged parental units exclaimed. "Then maybe we'll stay home and make out."
Another stunned silence. Heh-heh-heh.
Kristin Gehring is the calendar editor for Wednesday Journal, the parent company of Chicago Parent, and is the mother of three kids.