Kristen Howerton's daughter asked for a definition of the word "sexy" a few days ago.
Kristen didn't handle it well. (Forgive me, Kristen, I adore you, but you really didn't.)
As she described it on her blog, Rage Against the Minivan (which I also adore):
I stuttered and hemmed and hawed and finally said something like, "Well, it could be like a girl who isn't wearing very much clothing." To which India responded, "Well Ryan always says he is sexy so that doesn't make ANY sense." So then I was all, "Um, well . . . it could mean a girl or a boy, but they look good and maybe you want to kiss them and OMG SOMEONE SAVE ME FROM THIS CONVERSATION." I'm not really sure what else I said. I might have blacked out and lost time.
Been there. Done that. Haven't you?
A friend tells me that the word that set her stammering was "cute." Doesn't seem like that one should be a trap, does it? Her daughter asked (adorably, I'm sure), "What do people mean when they say I'm cute?" and Mom started to answer, "It means you're pretty."
But, before the sentence was formed she realized that a) cute doesn't exactly mean pretty, and b) that definition went against all the work she'd done to teach the girl that beauty is internal. "Funny" perhaps? Or maybe "silly"? Those are in the dictionary under "cute." But did she want to say that strangers were laughing at her girl? "It means sweet and special in the way that babies or kittens are..."? Could a 4-year-old understand that? Was it wrong to compare this big girl to a baby? So she settled on "it means being with you makes them smile."
Speaking of kittens, that was Devon Corneal's word. As she wrote on HuffPost Parents yesterday, a new store has opened in her neighborhood, "The Pretty Kitty," which, she explains, would be "an awesome name for a pet store. Except it's not a pet store. Our new neighbor is 'The Pretty Kitty: Brazilian Waxing.'"
Her little boy is 3 and can't yet read, so Devon feels safe for the moment. But she is already "dreading trying to explain to my son 1) what Brazilian waxing is and 2) why some people refer to vaginas as 'kitties.'" She asks: "Am I being unreasonable to ask that businesses in suburban neighborhoods don't use double entendres to sell spa services? Am I insanely naïve? What's next? 'The Long Schlong Skateboard Shop'?"
My word also came from an outdoor sign, but mine was a Public Service Announcement billboard, not an actual ad. It ambushed me at bedtime one night when my very young son was in that delicious place between awake and asleep. "Mommy," he purred, "what is unprotected sex?"
"Do you know what sex is?"
"No," he said, because, as I said, he was very young.
"Sex is what a mommy and daddy do when they want to make a baby." His breathing slowed and I thought I could escape, but he rallied awake. "What makes it unprotected?"
I did the best I could. "Sometimes the mommy and daddy don't want to make a baby yet. They just want to practice. So they do things to protect the baby from being made too soon." (Because, ya know, there's no way that parents would have to be protected from a baby...) "That is protected sex. But when they want to make the baby, they don't do those things. That's unprotected."
Mercifully, he fell asleep. It wasn't until the next day that he wondered, "What kind of things do they DO to make the sex protected?" So, I told him.
I tried to sound nonchalant. Stammering only raises those (cute) little antennae. But there is nothing quite so stressful as aiming for mellow, as Kristen Howerton knows well.
"What is my problem?" she wrote. "I am a therapist. I'm supposed to be good at having these conversations! But somehow the concept of explaining sexiness to kindergartens turned me into a bumbling idiot."
Then, she says, because her kids had gotten the message that Mom was tongue-tied, her son "marched into my room ... wielding a tampon, demanding to know what they are."
"I told him that he was not allowed to ask anything else that day."
What were your words? What should Kristen, Devon and I have said?
Also on HuffPost Parents: