Through the Fence 3-29-10
Explaining “Los hechos de vida” or “the facts of life” must be done carefully with adolescent children. As parents, we try to get there first with accurate information before they pick up false ideas and half truths from their peers in the locker room and on the school bus. Knowing how much information should be dispensed and when is tricky for most parents. Should technical terminology be used, or are cute euphemisms safer? Do you wait until they ask questions, or do you take a proactive approach and start giving out small manageable factoids at an early age? Do you only answer what they ask, or should you take the low road, and refer them to the other parent? I guess all parents think they will be ready when their child asks, “Where do babies come from,” but many of us are taken off guard and fumble for the right answer.
An awkward moment came unexpectedly for my pastor and his young daughter on a long car trip from West Texas to their new home in the central part of the state. His oldest daughter, Sarah, one of four girls, was about 10-years-old at the time. She and her father were about 3 hours into their 8-hour journey, when she started asking some probing questions. They had just eaten some calf fries or mountain oysters for lunch. Sarah wanted to know where they got that name, and what exactly those little fried thingies were anyway. Her father told her in a matter of fact way, that young bull calves were castrated. “Why?” she asked. He told her that it helped them grow big and strong and made for better beef when the steers were big enough to be slaughtered.
He was feeling pretty smug when she accepted his answer at face value. But preachers – according to him – never know when to shut up! “Yes,” he continued, “but not all bull calves are cut. Some of them are left intact.” Being a bright and curious child, of course, Sarah wanted to know why. All of a sudden, he was treading on shaky ground. He thought that perhaps the rest of this lesson would be better left to her mother. Unfortunately for him, she was in her car driving behind them and was oblivious to his parental predicament.
“Well,” he started slowly, his mind searching for the right words, “it’s like this, Honey: the bulls help the cows have calves.”
Miraculously, that lame answer satisfied his daughter, and the conversation turned to more manageable issues. They arrived at their destination without further mention of the facts of life. But just a few days later, when Sarah and her father were driving around in her grandfather’s pasture, they noticed a mama cow in labor. They went over to observe. They turned off the truck and got out quietly. The cow had walked far away from the others. They watched as she stood for a while, panting and straining. Then, she lay down. And as Sarah and her dad watched in amazement, a pair of black slippery hoofs and a little head emerged, followed quickly by the rest of the calf’s body. The mother cow was not too concerned about their presence, but they wisely kept their distance as she began licking her baby off and coaxing him to his feet.
All of a sudden, Sarah, turned toward her daddy, and placed her hands on her hips. “Daddy, you didn’t tell me the truth!” she said defiantly. Asking what on earth she meant, she went on to explain. “You told me that the bulls helped the cows have calves, and we’ve been watching this cow for a long time, and that bull is nowhere to be seen!” Her father was speechless.
She had a point. The next time he had to broach this delicate subject with one of his girls, he would be more direct. Better yet, maybe their mother would handle the job next time.