Thanks to my work in population and development, with some focus on reproductive health, I’ve seen how dangerous it can be when young people grow up with misconceptions, when they are taught falsehoods, when they internalize harmful stereotypes and folk beliefs. Far too many young people get sexually assaulted, unintentionally pregnant, or worse, and these have a lot to do with the things they learned about sex, gender, health, and so on.
We always try to be honest and upfront when explaining things to Lucas. We tell him he and Daddy each have a penis, and Mommy has a vagina. We tell him about allergies and illnesses. We tell him boys and girls can be anything they want to be, dress any way they want, and that boys can wear pink if that’s what they like. We explain about medicine and vaccines, x-rays and vitamins, thermometers and stethoscopes.
I even told him about his birth story. We told him how he was supposed to come out through Mommy’s vagina, but he didn’t want to, so the doctor had to draw a line on my tummy, and brought him out there. I can’t count the number of times he’s asked to look at my CS scar.
If he gets hurt, or somebody gets sick, we try to explain to him what’s happening, and how to manage it. I explained to him that Daddy and Loola (my mom) have diabetes, which is why they cannot eat a lot of chocolate or sweet things. We explained to him why Daddy needs to check his blood with a glucometer. The glucometer really stressed him out though, and so we’ve had to hide it from him.
When he and I would get allergies in the colder months, we would have to take turns using the nebulizer. He got so used to the implements, the sound of the motor, and the procedure of emptying the nebule into the cylinder that sometimes he wants to nebulize for fun!
I like to think that it’s this honesty, and the frequent explanations about his health, that make it easy to give him medicine when he’s sick. Most of the time we tell him that he has to take medicine so he can feel better, so he can play again. Most of the time he’ll take his medicine without a struggle. When he has a rash or a bug bite, sometimes he’ll apply the ointment or the lotion himself. If I remember correctly, it’s only suspension medication that he hates, and I really can’t blame him.
We’ve tried to be honest about this pandemic too. We told him that many people are sick, which is why we need to stay home. If we go out, we have to wear masks and face shields. We cannot hug people or go near them, because we might get sick too. If we go out, we all have to shower as soon as we get home.
Sometimes he asks if we can go here or there, visit this person or that, and sadly I have to tell him no. “Is it because there’s still sickness?” he asks.
Obviously there are things he won’t understand, but we hope that by being honest and upfront, being direct and laying things out as they are, we’re teaching him to be aware of how his body works, and to be conscious about what he needs to do to take care of himself.