To top
7 Apr

Head and shoulders, knees and…?

I have a question. It might not seem so at first glance, but it’s a serious question.

Some time before WonderBaby arrived to take over our lives – indeed, some time before an ovulation predictor kit heralded the moment of her creation – I participated, during a stay with my sister and her family, in the bathtime of my youngest nephew and niece. At some point during the bath, my nephew, then about four years old, announced that it was time to wash his penis. To which I said, gaily, something to the effect of “OK, pee-pee washing time!”

At this, the sweet young fellow responded, “No. Penis.” O-kay. Penis it is. My sister, who was hovering nearby, explained: “We encourage them to use proper names for parts of their body.”

I thought that this made good sense. We take pains to ensure that children learn the proper names for everything else – why not teach them the proper names of these parts of their bodies? All part of a thorough education! The Pedantic Bore in me vowed to do the very same thing with my future children: penises would be penises, and vaginas would be vaginas.

Fast-forward 18 months. The nightly bathtime ritual is WonderBaby’s favorite part of the day. She splashes about in the water and plays with the bubbles and has a grand old time and then we scrub away at her various parts (which collect a surprising amount of grime given her limited mobility). During the bath there is much singing (splish-splash I was takin’ a bath) and chatting, and when the scrub-down takes place the singing and chatting turns to scrub-down commentary: now we wash your hair… now we floss your neck… now we scrub behind your ears… now we wash your bum… now we clean your…?

The first time that we did the scrub commentary I stopped cold here. How to refer to her nether regions? I could not – could not – bring myself to say vagina. Or pubic area, or whatever would have been most accurate. So I just said ‘parts.’ Now we clean your parts.

As she got bigger and more interested in the bathtime (and diapertime) songs and commentary, the term ‘parts’ began to seem too vague, if not entirely misleading. Her arm is a part, too, as is her head, and her nose, etc. Wasn’t the point of the commentary to distinguish between parts? I had to start calling it something.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to say ‘vagina’ in refering to my daughter’s nether regions. It’s just too Eve Ensler. I’m not up for having Vagina Dialogues with my baby girl. In fact, I suspect that I will not be up for uttering or hearing the word ‘vagina’ in conversation with my daughter until we’re at the ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret’ stage of her development. Part of this has to do with my own prissiness – ‘vagina,’ for me, is just too naked and clinical a term for casual usage. Some things really just demand euphemism under certain conversational circumstances: this, for me, is one of them.

(What’s my own euphemism, the one used to refer to myself? Not telling. Unless, maybe, you tell me yours…)

I do believe that women should celebrate their bodies. I want my daughter to celebrate her body. I want her know what her vagina is properly called, obviously, and I don’t want her to be squeamish about calling it whatever she wants to call it. I don’t want to mess her up with my issues, such as they are. (For the record, I don’t think – and Eve Ensler and most Women’s Studies majors would probably disagree with me here – that my ambivalence about the word ‘vagina’ and its more vulgar synonyms being used in casual conversation represents a serious issue, beyond whatever issues my general prissiness represents. I could be wrong. But this post isn’t about that.) But then I remind myself that I play fast and loose with many proper names in my conversations with and performances for my child – cat is usually kitty, toes are tootsies, blanket is blankie, stuffed doll is two-headed whore of death, and everything else is ‘dude’ – so what’s the problem, really?

End of the day, I think that I’m really just weirded out by the idea of hearing the word ‘vagina’ being gaily uttered in what will no doubt be my baby girl’s high-pitched girly voice, when she acquires that voice. Or maybe it’s more that I’m weirded out by the prospect of hearing the word ‘vagina’ in my high-pitched girly voice, the one that is used for bathtime songs and the like: la la la now we wash your vagi-i-i-i-na! your vagina-a-a-a la la la!

La la la la tooty sounds better.

So. Am I a tripped-out weirdo with vagina issues? Is all of this just evidence of my oppression by the Penis-Wielding Vagina-Fearing Man? Or is this just a normal mommy thing?

And – what I really want to know – what do you call it?