My wife and I are composing this letter to ask you for help with our only child Joy, who is 12. According to Joy's teacher, Mrs. Hetterman, the boys in her sixth grade class have noticed, as have we, that her mammary glands are beginning to develop to the extent that they are causing her blouse or sweater or even her smock to push forward in a very visible manner causing the boys, in Mrs. Hetterman's words, to behave like popcorn in a microwave. Of course my wife and I understand that mammary glands are a natural part of every young girl's maturation process, and when I said those very words to Joy as part of my opening statement at our Sunday family meeting, Joy requested that we call them what the boys in her class call them, which is titties. As neither my wife nor I felt comfortable calling them that, we cut our weekly meeting short and played Boggle. Later that night both my wife and I didn't actually weep but we almost did, knowing that our little girl was growing up in a world where mammary glands were called titties by other children. Waldo, by next Sunday's meeting we want to be much better prepared, re: mammary glands. Can you offer some advice on how to handle this delicate and confusing topic? Thank -- you in advance,
-- Ray and Suzanne
Dear Ray and Suzanne,
Boy oh boy, have you ever opened up a fabulous can of worms, and have I ever got great news for the both of you. I do indeed have some advice. When in was in high school, I had a chemistry teacher who always erased the blackboard with his right hand. And whenever he did this, his left arm behaved like, say, an epileptic puppet or an electrocuted squirrel. And to this day I cannot explain why that lunatic left arm of his made me gag with helpless laughter every time. In the same way, to this day I cannot account for how I react to what the boys in your daughter's class are calling titties. What is there about them that sends so many of us into the microwave?
Ray and Suzanne, every moment in life is both prose and poetry. Prose is what you are thinking. Poetry is what you are feeling. The reason you're so confused at the moment -- and you are in great company by the way -- is because you're unsure if mammary glands, as you are calling them, are prose or poetry.
I'm with you. It's a tough one. For starters, nobody knows what to call them. As you prepare for next Sunday's meeting, Ray and Suzanne, I'm thinking you may want to find a substitute for mammary glands. Mammary glands, in my opinion, has an autopsy-ish ring to it that might set the wrong tone. Similarly, honoring your daughter's request to refer to them as titties runs the risk of conjuring up a snack food which may not be the best thing. I probably don't have to tell you to avoid that entire horrible Hooter clan, with their inbred cousins Rack and Boobs and Knockers and Boobies and Headlights and Frontporch and Mellons and so forth, a family hell-bent on removing all poetry from anything. On a positive note, I'm happy to know that the boys in your daughter's class did not call them tits. If you ask me, tits is the worst of the lot. Calling them tits is like calling Einstein Al. You may be tempted, for the sake of simple sweetness and innocence, to call them bosoms at your meeting, but for me, bosoms has always invoked that clown Bozo, a very fine clown but not an ideal reference point around which to wrap a delicate discussion. And so, in spite of the poultry connection, I'm recommending that you use the term breasts. Joy is developing breasts. Jesus at his mother's breasts just feels so much better to me than Jesus at his mother's hooters.
But the confusion goes way beyond what to call them. Why is it that when they're a certain size and a certain shape, I just have to sit down. I have friends who make it very clear that they like them big. I have other friends who make it very clear that they like them smaller than my friends who like them big.
Them? Them? What are we talking about here? Aren't we talking about, when it comes right down to it, mounds of flesh with nipples on them? Yes we are. I have nipples. When I look down at them, they seem so sad and useless that the confusion only mounts. What are they doing there? Why do they exist? Would I be less without them? Am I more with them? At least when they're on females they have a real purpose. They're food dispensers. They feed babies. So why do we humans make such a big fuss? Are bulls in every field going Fucking A Homer, how about them udders over there on Maybelline? I do not think so. Yet bulls in every bar are. Bulls on every sidewalk are. And I have to admit it: Me and my bull friends are too.
For this, Ray and Suzanne, on behalf of my gender, I feel helplessly apologetic for our behavior around breasts. Your sweet daughter, like every other woman on the planet, shall soon be saddled with false advertising. She shall be sent out into the world with a sandwich board that broadcasts, through no doing of her own, sex! Sex! Come'n get it! Sex!
No, that is not what she wants. That is not what she is asking for. And that must be so wearisome. And so what's to be done?
Ray and Suzanne, here's the good news I've been promising you: The reason we're so confused about this is because we are just another member in the kingdom of animals. We're smart enough to acknowledge our confusion but not smart enough to do anything about it. Some of us animals will plunge our faces into the carcass of an antelope. Others of us will devour our young. And still others of us will gaze upon our ideal of a human breast and behave like popcorn in a microwave. Or just have to sit down.
The prose of it? We are animals, miraculous works in progress.
The poetry of it? Mother. Child. Beauty. Sensuality. Arousal. Love. Passion. Power. Life.
My advice, Ray and Suzanne, is to call them breasts, and to talk in prose about them, and to talk in poetry about them. And in your talk I suggest you mention the loveliness of love, and the dangers of lust, the mysteries of life, and how much you adore this human called Joy who is growing up. Breasts or no breasts, that will be time well spent.
-- Waldo Mellon