I remember in Napier when I was young – around ten – someone told me where babies came from. No doubt one of the older kids at the Catholic school I was attending.
OK, I was a fairly bright kid back then, though perhaps I was a slow learner. It was, to me, an astounding revelation, but one which seemed to make a great deal of sense. I was delighted to learn there was nothing supernatural about the process after all. I was becoming increasingly unsure at the time of the veracity of the supernatural stories the good Marist Brothers were teaching us.
Until then I had thought that children came about as a result of a blessing having been administered (as in “We were blessed with three children”). I had supposed that the reason people got married in church was so the blessing could be administered straight away. I had been somewhat confused also by overhearing my dad talking to a neighbour, who had asked if he was planning on having any more kids. Dad had said “No, we found out what was causing it”. I hoped that the neighbour was interested enough to ask what the secret was (the neighbour had 7 daughters). But I did not get to overhear because he did not ask. This comment had me quite confused at the time, because surely Dad understood about blessings? Maybe that was why he and mum did not go to church, though they made me go. So they would not be blessed again. However, in the light of this latest data, that remark made much more sense. Something else caused babies. Now I had a new theory about what that was, and it had been given me with all the certainty and credibility an older kid can have when impressing a younger.
I shared my new-found knowledge with my best friend at the time, a boy whose name I no longer recall. He lived a round the corner in Coverdale Street. His mum phoned mine. It seems that my mate’s mum did not know these startling facts, and had been really shocked to hear the news from her son. She was so upset she complained to my mum and as a result I received the wooden spoon award for “talking dirty”. Dirty? Really. I had no idea.
So it was with some trepidation, that a couple of years later, much better informed but still waiting for the definitive gen from the parents, that I asked mum if I could read a book on the subject from the high school library. To my relief, and no doubt hers, I was allowed to read Arthur Mee’s Talks to Boys which was basically a simple text that clarified very few, if any, of the basic facts while smothering the whole subject in insufferably pompous and patronising circumlocutory language.
I wondered for quite some time what could be the unsavoury practice perpetrated by some boys in dormitories, and in particular what evil part the common rubber band had in it. Of course I soon worked out what the practice was, and mastered it with a dedication that – had it been applied to study or sport – would have seen me world renown for something by the time I was twenty. Never did figure out what purpose a rubber band could fulfil, though.
Speaking of Arther Mee, we discovered Arthur Mee’s Talks to Girls at school and spent many a happy hour reading it patronisingly to each other. By then of course we thought we knew it all.
When I had my kids, I vowed I would always answer their questions truthfully, and no cabbage patch tales. Someone made it really easy for me by publishing a lovely little book titled Where Did I Come From? which took away all the mystery but not the wonder.
Later, another three books by the same author saved a lot of stress all round by giving straightforward, matter of fact and reassuring information for puberty, early adulthood and parenthood.
But there needs to be a fifth: What the Fek do I do Now?