“Eeeeew. Stop it! That's disgusting.”
Jen always objected to her parents’ public show of affection, even if it was only at the dinner table.
Nick, on the other hand, was an astute observer of the world around him. “Are you two tongue kissing?”
“Certainly not, young man!” declared Nick’s dad while their mum hastily retreated from the dining room.
Nick had an uncanny ability to catch us all off guard like that; his one-liners were impeccably timed, even as a nine-year-old.
It wasn’t the first time Nick’s comments caused the adults at the dinner table to choke on our food.
Years earlier, we were playing an alphabet game to help the kids improve their vocabulary. On this particular visit, they were up to the letter V.
“VB,” Nick responded without hesitation.
“Err, yes, can’t argue with that,” I reasoned.
We continued round the table, taking turns: Vampire. Voodoo. Vandalism. Vase.
Nick’s second contribution, involving a part of the female anatomy, caused a momentary awkward silence.
In these situations, it’s really difficult to keep a straight face; Nick (bless his cotton socks) was always a hard act to follow.
“Umm… okay, Jen, your turn’s next,” their mum said, moving the game along through stifled laughter.
It’s a boy thing
“Is Goldilocks kissing the wolf?”
“Are they having sex?”
“What exactly do you mean by sex?” I asked Nick and Aaron during their relentless interruptions to our bedtime story.
The two boys looked at each other conspiratorially.
“It’s kissing,” Nick offered.
“For a long time,” added Aaron.
Fortunately, that was the extent of their understanding of this topic; they just thought it was funny using the word sex. And the V word.
“I’m not telling you a bedtime story anymore if you’re going to be silly!”
They were barely 10 years old and we were all heading into unchartered territory; it was time to chat to Nick’s folks about how we were going to prepare ourselves for the inevitable teenage years.
Bourbon always helps.
Breaking the bonds
Much to my dismay, Jen refused to hold my hand in public since she was about 10.
There was an unwritten demarcation line that we couldn’t cross in case we (her parents and I) embarrassed her.
No, that’s not right; apparently, we definitely embarrassed her.
Jen went to extraordinary lengths to distance herself from our public behavior; she once crouched low behind the passenger seat of the car because her parents were singing and dancing along to the radio while stopped at traffic lights. People could see them.
The way we dressed, spoke or acted in public drew unnecessary attention to the fact that we were so not cool. Well, that’s a matter of perspective, really.
Thank goodness Nick, who was three years younger, remained affectionate past his 10th birthday and was happy to be seen in public with me.
Until one day, when I dropped him off at school he ran off to meet his friends in the playground.
“Hey,” I shouted after him, “Where’s my kiss goodbye?”
Yep, separation anxiety. I couldn’t cope with the fact that Jen and Nick had weaned themselves off me.
“Get over it,” said their mum. “We’re lucky if we get a kiss off them these days.”
But I’m the babysitter! I wasn’t ready for the kids to grow up so quickly; they were still my gorgeous little babies.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
As Jen and Nick approached double digits, I was on the lookout for suitable reading material to help me in my role as babysitter – the person you talk to when you don’t want to talk to your parents.
After reading the authoritative The Puberty Book (Wendy Darvill, Kelsey Powell) I passed it on as a Christmas present to the kids’ folks.
Their mum and I discussed strategies over a few more bourbons. As open-minded as we thought we were, we anticipated Jen and Nick’s teenage transformation with amused trepidation.
“God help us all,” their mum often said.
On seeing the book on the coffee table one day, Nick spotted the word pub (as in drinking establishment) on the front cover.
“What’s pub-irty?” he asked.
That one’s been a long-standing family joke. And we still haven't quite survived it.
How did you prepare your kids for pub-irty?
And how did you survive their teenage years?
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I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS