Being a health care provider has certain benefits in our society, and one such perk I received recently was an invitation to teach a couple dozen fourth- and fifth-grade boys about all the mysteries and wonders of puberty.
Because, you know, I’m like an expert or something.
But really, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the personal pleasure of experiencing “the change,” and all I remember is that at the time even the name of the process was embarrassing. Plus, it all seemed to last a really long time. Like until I was 32.
In fact, by the time I stopped growing hair in new places, I had already started losing hair from the old places. It’s like the long years of puberty caused the hair on my head to lose its grip and slide lower down on my body, grabbing on for dear life to random places that were neither attractive nor easy to shave.
So the things I remember about puberty aren’t exactly the things most on the minds of a gaggle of 9- and 10-year-old boys. I approached both the subject and the school building with more than modest trepidation, worried mostly that I would end up saying something that would get me in trouble with some rogue parent.
As an intro to the subject, the health department had provided me with a couple short DVDs, one for the fourth-graders that limited itself to boys-only subject matter, and a slightly more sophisticated one for the fifth-graders, who are a little older, a little more hormonal, and therefore ready to learn the wonders of the “M” word.
No, not that “M” word. The other “M” word.
Teaching these classes wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. I’m a pretty forthright guy, and I have the experience and training to explain just about anything with a straight face.
For example, I once had an elderly woman present to my office with the complaint that something unusual had come out of her nose when she’d sneezed. She had the foresight to actually bring in her hanky, carefully unfolding it so that I could examine what she felt certain must be a piece of a brain tumor.
“I don’t believe you have anything to worry about, Mrs. Jones,” I said, after examining it closely. “It is only a bit of ... dehydrated nasal secretions.”
“Don’t use all those fancy words. Tell me in plain English so I can understand.”
“It’s just a booger, Mrs. Jones,” I said, with all the gravity I could muster. “And not even a very big one.”
After showing the short DVD, I opened the floor to questions. It didn’t take long to cover all they wanted to know about menstruation (“Gross!”), and there were surprisingly few questions about such hot topics as nocturnal emissions (“Gross!”) and the inevitable development of body odor (“Gross!”). But there was definitely a lot of interest in whether or not people could get stuck together during sex, and exactly which orifice babies were born through.
The boys were all surprisingly eager with their questions, and only a little embarrassed. For those too embarrassed to ask something out loud, I gave them small squares of paper on which they could write their queries. I was astounded at the depth and breadth of their interest, and at the ingenious spelling variations and anatomical misconceptions.
What’s a Dill-Dow?
When I first sat down to write this, I was thinking of regaling you with anecdotes from this interesting experience of unabashedly satisfying the immodest curiosity of a bunch of pre-pubescent boys. But then it occurred to me that very little of what we discussed that morning at the elementary school could be explained in words suitable for a family newspaper.
These were all healthy young boys with completely normal levels of age-appropriate interest and curiosity, and the eagerness with which they flung their questions at me made me wonder if they had ever had the opportunity to ask these questions before.
And so I wonder, outside of the two hours I spent answering their questions about “Chinese sex dolls” and “What does a verjina look like?”, when and where else will they get their curiosity satisfied?
I suppose these kids can do what I did as I went through the change, and either ask anyone other than an adult or just laugh overly loud at all the jokes I didn’t really understand. But I suppose there are more opportunities these days for a curious young mind. Just about every boy has access to a computer, and lord knows you can find just about anything on the Internet ...
Craig Danner is a novelist and physician assistant living in Hood River with his wife and two teenage sons.