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And THAT'S why we quit calling it a penis

This post...wherein I explain to you the pitfalls of teaching your children the technically correct names for body parts, and wherein all the people who cautioned me to use euphemisms get to laugh their asses off and blow raspberries at me whilst saying, "I told you so!"

In my last post I mentioned how my husband and I began parenting with intentions of doing it All Right as we knew it. This included not being shy about naming body parts. And teaching our daughter to be comfortable with her body as was by modeling being comfortable with our own bodies. There'd be no complaining about body shape, size or features. Instead we'd love and embrace who we were.


Go ahead, snicker. I know you once thought it sounded pretty good in theory too, didn't you.

I secretly laughed and not at all secretly teased friends who could barely say "wipe your *blush* *drop to whisper* lu lu," to their girls and who gave their sons' penises names reminiscent of Pee Wee Herman, which I found lots more skeevy than the actual word itself.

"It's just a body part," my husband and I said, "Nothing at all wrong with calling it what it is. One should be no more concerned about calling a vagina a vagina or a penis a penis than calling an elbow an elbow."

More experienced parents---read: those with children who had hit the verbal stage and beyond---shook their heads and rolled their eyes at our naivete. We pooh poohed them and stuck to our optimistic theory.

I blame Eve Ensler and the great "own your body parts" movement of the 90s.

So this is what happened as a result of our modernity, and is why we have resorted to those self-same euphemisms we once scoffed at:

We had just moved and were hearing tons of advice about places we just had to go. Nearby was this diner that everyone raved about. I'm a big fan of diners, and had a huge milkshake craving. So, one evening after an exhausting run to Ikea (another traumatizing post for another day) we decided to take Patience---then two and a half and quite the prolific talker---and our tired selves out to eat.

The diner was an open space with tables situated in the center, and booths along the edges. Our table abutted a half wall, and directly next to us was a couple clearly on a date.

"First or second," I hazarded a guess to my husband, "They're trying to figure out why each is still single, what's wrong with the other person, but they aren't touching hands or making too much eye contact yet," I whispered. He and I turned our eyes and ears to the couple.

Patience followed our rude, staring gazes.

The three of us sat silently, shamelessly eavesdropping. My husband and I occasionally waggled our eyebrows at one another over something said, but otherwise we were the uninvited guests at their date.

Now and again, we'd have to tell Patience to sit, no standing, or move the sugar container further from her reach.

Eventually, she got bored, and we were too tired to adequately entertain her, plus the food was taking so long we joked that they must have had to run out to milk to cows to make the shakes.

As she is wont to do, Patience took matters into her own hands and decided to entertain herself.

In a rare show of friendliness, she began waving at the couple on the date. They smiled and waved back.

She smiled, and encouraged, added to her performance. She squeaked, "Hello! Hello! Hi hi!"

They smiled, and waved again.

"We're here to eat!" she told them.

They laughed and said they were there for the same reason.

My husband and I smiled, but also ducked our heads and shrugged, saying, "Sorry, hope it's not a bother...?"

They assured us it was not.

Our food arrived, and Patience was momentarily diverted. The couple resumed their talking, stopping here and there for a bite or sip of a drink.

After a few minutes, Patience pushed her food away and announced, "All done!"

I handed her the little Elmo train toy she usually liked to play with, but she chunked it to the floor. I felt little twitches of warning and, sotto voce, told my husband, "Eat fast!"

Patience decided to resume her smile and wave game at the couple next to us. I could tell they no longer thought it was quite as cute. I tried to engage her in our table with bites of food, drinks of shake, little rhymes, and so forth, totally unsuccessfully.

Child is relentless when her eye is fixed on a task.

The couple was now ignoring her, so she decided to redouble her efforts.

"Mister," she called to the man, "Mister!" he turned to look at her. "Did you know..." she said coyly, "Did you are a BOY?!?!"

This got a laugh and nod.

She smiled and nodded in satisfied success. She banged her fork on the table to impress him further.

"Loud!" she cried.

"Yes, loud," he agreed. Her smile grew bigger. Then she became very serious, her eyes narrowed, and she pursed her lips.

"You are a boy. This have a PENIS!" she told him.

He looked startled and at an utter loss for words. My husband and I gasped, speechless, trying to decide the best way to address this.

The man's date let out a slight chuckle and quickly covered her mouth, but it was too late. My precious, cherub-faced daughter's eyes fixed on her new target.

"You!" she said loudly, "You are a girl!"

We all waited, breath held, my husband and I gestured madly at one another. He started to rise from his chair...

My daughter's mouth opened.

My husband started around the table towards her.

My daughter took a deep breath.

I reached my hands towards her, a plea.

She said, pointing a finger to the lady, voice ringing loud and clear through our side of the restuarant, "NO PENIS FOR YOU!"

Silence draped over all of the nearby tables.

The waiter froze in handing food to the table on the other side.

Someone snorted. Someone guffawed. Someone giggled.

And then, the entire restaurant exploded laughing, including us, even though, a little bit, we were absolutely horrifically embarassed and internally covering our faces with our hands.

And that, my friends, is why we quit calling it a penis.

What do we call it now?

Why, boys have boy bits, and girls have girl bits, but most importantly, they are Privates and Not Mentioned in Public.

* For those who wondered, the dating couple laughed the hardest and told us, "Thanks for breaking the ice." It was their first date, and going rather awkwardly. Afterwards, they smoothed out. I hope they got married because OMG what a story for the reception!

Image source: Roland in Vancouver

All text and images exclusive copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert.

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Mad said…
Tee hee. I wrote a post back in September about my efforts to name the girl bits. The list of synonyms is impressive. We settled on vulva and now Miss M is obsessed with diaper rash cream that she requests all the time as "VULVA CWEEM, VULVA CWEEM." Oh my.
Kate said…

I can hear the Penis Nazi now...;-)
Girlplustwo said…
i love it. we use proper verbage too, but it still kills me when M will ask if i have a penis while we are in a store.
IzzyMom said…
OMG...thanks for the laugh. Seriously, I laughed out loud — very very out loud — at "NO PENIS FOR YOU"
kim said…
"No penis for you"---Hysterical!

We use the correct words. I tried to get my daughter to switch to V-jay-jay, after she's told me and everyone that her "Vagina itches", but she refuses to change.
Gwen said…
OMG, too funny! Like you, my hub and I had all sorts of grand plans for parenting, many of which have been sacrificed at the altar of the McDonald's happy meal. But we're sticking with the correct terms for girl and boy bits; it's too late now, and we've never had the "No Penis for you!" experience, although I kind of hope we do soon. Because that's good stuff!
Julie Pippert said…
Gwen, I think I love you LOL. "...all sorts of grand plans for parenting, many of which have been sacrificed at the altar of the McDonald's happy meal.."

I want to cry some days when I think of all the sacrified plans. Sometimes I think we might have compromised a wee bit too much.

Other times, eh, letting go is good for the soul LOL.

I'm so glad, all, to have provided a laugh.

I haven't done a "look at ME, Mommy of the Year! my kids are so freaking entertaining" story in a while.

I had such a run of "my crazy kids" stories there for bit (you have to understand just how very much fodder my kids provide that I try to not bore everyone with every day) that I tried to back away.

Then I was retelling this *all true* story over Christmas and it got laughs and everyone had some "OMG me too!" to add that I thought, all right, this isn't just funny to us.

Kim, LOL v-jay-jay...not a go eh?

Kids are funny sometimes.
Amanda said…
My daughter's first experience with a penis (that looks so wrong) was seeing Daddy get out of the shower and screaming, "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy got another nose." It is now something we are studiously ignoring until mom and dad grow some balls.
Amanda said…
My daughter's first experience with a penis (that looks so wrong) was seeing Daddy get out of the shower and screaming, "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy got another nose." It is now something we are studiously ignoring until mom and dad grow some balls.
Amanda said…
My daughter's first experience with a penis (that looks so wrong) was seeing Daddy get out of the shower and screaming, "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy got another nose." It is now something we are studiously ignoring until mom and dad grow some balls.
Amanda said…
My daughter's first experience with a penis (that looks so wrong) was seeing Daddy get out of the shower and screaming, "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy got another nose." It is now something we are studiously ignoring until mom and dad grow some balls.
Amanda said…
Holy repeating hell, it said my password was wrong, not "every time you resend I am posting your stupid post again to make it the equivalent of all caps Cialis spam to a woman". Red faced apologies.
Julie Pippert said…
Amanda, LOL, no worries. Commenting has gone to the dirt since Blogger beta. I had to disable the weird letter codes to make commenting possible, and can't tell you how many times I've lost comments due to bbeta vs. nonbeta login issues. UGH!

Anyway...hilarious story!

We were Very Honest and when our daughter noticed anatomical differences, we explained. Hmm, just now realized that very well was likely the contributing factor to this entire story LOL!
Gwen said…
The most frightening thing about children with anatomically correct vocabularies is what they say when you're not around. My youngest daughter's best friend is her boy cousin and they spend a lot of time watching each other pee (they're three, so it's extra fascinating). We're also not a modest, Mom and Dad must only be clothed in front of the children kind of family. So, my daughter enjoys telling her aunt that *her* daddy has a *very big penis.* Oy! As long as she doesn't say that to the neighbors .....

Also? size is all relative to a three year old .........
Bea said…
I read a lot of blogs, so I try to exercise some discretion about the funny stories that get passed on to hubby. This one just made the cut, and he's still snickering.
Gidge Uriza said…
Oh my god I just shot coke out my nose.
Unknown said…
Very, very funny story Julie... and I see my Soup Nazi reference was already made by Kate!

We taught my son the correct boy terms but let him figure out the girl stuff later on. My daughter, well, I was always hesitant to teach her correct terms because I knew she'd be fascinated and want to bandy them about in inappropriate places. Sure enough, after learning the correct terms a year ago, she chose to scream them in the racquetball courts on her way to gymnastics. Nothing like a ricocheting, echoing "Vulva!" or "Penis!"

Hey, Happy New Year to you and yours!
Julie Marsh said…
"No penis for you!" Sound just like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, with a twist.
Bek said…
Awesome!!! The wording is what makes it extra awesome...

We use the real names in our house but we told the kids that when we are out in public to refer to it as their "business" (the same for both genders). I cannot tell you how many embarassing situations this has avoided, including but not limited to: "mom, can I touch his business?" "mom, tell Cubby to quit putting his business all over me" etc, you get the idea.....

Although, we were at the movie Happy Feet the other day and there is a scene with an elephant seal. When it was talking and it's nose was swinging all around, my 6 year old daughter shouted out "Mom, why does that thing have a penis on it's face?"
Suzi said…
I'm loving it.

"No penis for you!" and "Why does that elephant have a penis on its face!"

I have two boys and though we did use the anatomically correct names they never said them in public. Perhaps that is because we told them it was private. Perhaps because they never realized it would be an easy way to embarass us.

BUT public is not at home. And they yelled out about their penis when my folks were over. My parents tried to get me to change what they called it.

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