I remember as a teenager hearing small children use terms like wee-wee and pee-pee to describe their genitals. I would roll my eyes and think, “That’s ridiculous. My kids are going to use the correct words for their anatomy.”
Over the years I never wavered in my conviction. And when my daughter was born one month and one day after my son’s first birthday, I stood firm. As my babies grew into curious toddlers, I began to implement my policy of using the terms “penis” and “vagina” instead of cutesy euphemisms.
My son immediately grasped the concept and knew he had a penis. My daughter also understood that her brother had a penis. Unfortunately, she was convinced she had one as well.
Over the next several months she made numerous references to her penis; the more public the place, the louder her reference.
I began to question my methods. Had a done something to make having a penis seem more exciting, more fun, more interesting? It had to be my fault. Let’s face it: my daughter was two-years-old and on a fast track to a therapist’s chaise where she would undoubtedly blame me—they always blame the mother.
My husband tried to help me instill in our daughter the correct terminology. But she consistently dug in her two-year-old heels and emphatically defended her right to have a penis.
I took it as a sign she would become a successful attorney someday. I’m not sure what my husband thought about her future, but suffice it to say he didn’t share my optimism. I think he had visions of her giving a high school graduation speech peppered with references to her penis.
Weeks passed…and, oddly, so did her obsession with announcing the antics of her penis to people in public. Her daycare stopped mentioning it to us. We breathed a sigh of relief and assumed this particular toddler tale was over.
But things are never what they seem
One evening my husband took her to the grocery store. In the check out line, he held her perched on his hip. She began to slide down, as squiggling little girls will do, and he hoisted her back up. She promptly yelled, “Stop it, Daddy! You’re hurting my penis!”
Now, according to his rendition of the story, everyone in the place turned to stare at them, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, as the planet ceased to spin on its axis and they were all frozen in a state of suspended animation.
I lovingly refer to the months that followed as my husband’s penis-censoring-psycho phase.
Our daughter still refused to say vagina, but at least she stopped saying penis—well, OK, she just didn’t say it so often.
Then, one night, she impressed me by announcing that she knew the entire hokey-pokey. She performed it splendidly, from “put your right hand in” to “take your whole self out”. Understand that “your” was pronounced, “you’s” at that point, but it was impressive nonetheless.
When Daddy arrived home she couldn’t wait to show him her new trick. He dutifully sat on the couch and she pranced in front of him, repeating her earlier performance to an equal degree of perfection, with one minor change. She added a new verse for him. I watched and listened as her sweet, enchanting little voice sang:
“You put you’s buhjina in, you take you’s buhjina out…”
My husband choked on his tongue.
“We do NOT use THAT body part when we sing the hokey-pokey!” he sputtered.
I could honestly see his heart beating through his shirt as he waved his arms in the air like an NFL referee calling the goal “no good.”
I, on the other hand, brimmed with motherly pride.
“YES!” I thought to myself. “She’s finally got it!”
M.W. Cornelison swears her daughter wasn't scarred by the experience, but she's not so sure about her husband... She and her family live just outside of Austin where she helps her husband run their business and plies the kids with pizza whenever possible to steal away more writing time.