In some homes it's the season of the Baby Jesus, or the menorah; for still others, the season of new Apple products. But in my heart, it's the season of female genitalia. I realize it's not a household trend. I know this because when I cruise the cookie cutter isles of Williams-Sonoma or the Broadway Panhandler, I don't see those shapes reflected as valued by other holiday consumers.
For the past five years, one of my favorite holiday memories has been one I privately celebrate as a spontaneous expression of love, intimacy and gift giving. The closeness that made that memory possible in the first place has deepened over the years, and allowed a more sophisticated bond to flourish, one that both my daughter and I cherish.
When my daughter was in first grade we were immersed in our special girl time, her evening bath, chatting about whatever was on her mind. She'd been singing the holiday songs they were learning in school, and washing away. At some point in the bathing she asked me a question about a body part south of her equator, and I seized it as an opportunity to resume the ongoing anatomy lesson we'd begun years before with "This Little Piggy Went to Market" and "Where's Your Nose?"
She already knew one by name, but I asked her if she wanted to learn the names for the rest of those body parts, and she said yes. I taught her that when you refer to them all together, they're called female genitalia, then we went through and named each of them individually: Vagina, Outer Labia, Inner Labia and Clitoris.
I told her that they were very special.
When we were done, she resumed her singing, transitioning right into "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." She started with the prelude, repeatedly stumbling over the reindeer names, messing up and stopping with "Wait! Wait! Wait!" then starting all over again. I tried to remember the names, but was useless. We were singing over each other in a morass of lyric errors, "You know Dancer and Prancer, and Comet and Cupid...is Cupid right? Hmmm hmm hmm hmm blah blah Donder and Blitzen. Donner? Donder?" This went on for about five minutes, until my daughter grinned and asked, "Mama? Wouldn't it be funny if all of Santa's reindeer had the names of female genitalia?!"
A new version of a classic ensued, and a new window of curiosity opened.
I make about 10 mistakes a day as a mother. Small, and occasionally large failings of her, and myself. But there's a list in my heart of the things I feel it's my responsibility to give her whether I give them smoothly and graciously, or by only managing to do my best in that moment, even when I wish I could do better.
One of these things is teaching her to value herself in her sexuality. Not in a grandiose way, but in a way in which she feels grounded in who she is. And it will be easier for her to feel grounded in those qualities she knows have my blessing -- things she knows I want for her in order for her to have a full and happy life. One of the ways I can do this is to get in there early when these qualities come up, and set a tone of openness around them.
What's been confirmed for me, again and again, not only by my clients of both genders, but by other women in my world, is this: If girls are raised to feel guilt or shame in their sexuality, whether it's taught expressly or through silent undertones, it becomes a weight that drowns their vitality throughout their lives.
Here is my unconventional holiday card, not yet available through Hallmark, for mothers and daughters:
Begin teaching your daughter about her body from a very early age without drawing moral distinctions between body parts. Her eyes will be her eyes her entire life, and so will her genitals. They're both a part of who she is, and she should be supported by you in assimilating both of their qualities into her sense of herself. When her body parts have always been in her consciousness, meaning that as far back as she can remember she's always known that her vagina is her vagina, just as she's always known her nose is her nose, she'll have a foundation on which to build as she becomes ready for more and more complex information to support her growing understanding of who she is as a female. She'll need this to thrive on her own, and she'll need it within her relationships, when her experience will take her far beyond anatomy, and into the complications and poetry of erotic expression.
Comfort in, and appreciation of her body. The gift I hope keeps on giving.