Birds, Bees and Frogs
In the early sixties, an open dialogue between teenagers and parents was about as common as a chitchat between David Duke and Malcolm X.
In our home, this dialogue gap was widened still further. Mom and Dad were sneaky, and if they weren’t comfortable talking about a particular subject, they had a few tricks that they used over and over again to avoid having to explain things to the kids.
The most common tactic was to just not talk about it, and hope that it would go away. Naturally this only worked while we kids were very young. They eventually gave in to our relentless requests and our right to know.
Plan B was simply to change - not the subject, but the language itself. I am referring to a combination of Dad’s Slovak background and Mom’s Polish heritage, which produced a unique blend that only those two could fully understand. We had a rough time straining to learn the hot news that they tried to keep from us. But….
This plan too, backfired because it didn’t take us long to figure out what was going on. The only foreign words mentioned were those that shouldn’t have been said in the first place. That’s all the Slovak or Polish we heard, and some of the phrases stuck with us due to repetition.
Today the only words we siblings understand from those two Old World areas are those that Mom and Dad thought to be dirty, taboo or having some kind of sexual meaning attached.
Once when I came home from elementary school, I hit Mom with some questions about reproduction. I wanted to know where babies came from. Apparently, she was prepared for this question well in advance and knew that the two previous plans would not work to satisfy the curiosity of an eleven year-old.
So, she went back to the bedroom and brought out a blue booklet (most likely given to her by one of her friends that used it earlier) and told me to read it. I did, and frankly I was upset.
Part I of the booklet explained the process of reproduction on the intellectual level of a three year-old. Using the birds, bees, flowers, love and marriage to get the point across, the booklet left me feeling short-changed. How was I going to understand the jokes I was hearing at school about sex? I had pretended to understand them long enough, and I told Mom so.
Never at a loss for another plan, and never intending to actually TALK to me, she instructed me to read part II of the booklet, and to talk to Dad if there was still some information that I didn’t understand.
Dad? I would have been better off in contacting Dr. Ruth. The second part of the booklet used Latin words and phrases that seemed to always end in –us or -ous. Written on a doctorate level, I had no idea what they were trying to say.
Getting nowhere with Mom, I learned what I needed to know on the playground at school. I had to pretend I understood the jokes for a long time though. A few years went by and…
I was fourteen years old in 1966 and my older sister was a freshman at Shippensburg State College. We had Mom and Dad and their tactics figured out years earlier. Not so, for my younger sister and brother though – they were about ten and eight at the time.
My mom answered the phone one evening in the kitchen. My sister was calling from college and I immediately knew from Mom’s voice that there was something going on.
“Oh my God! No!” she said. “You have got to be kidding me!”
With one hand holding the phone and the other covering its mouthpiece, she tried not to yell, but couldn’t help it. “Chuck, there’s a lesbian living in Dianne’s dorm and on her same floor!”
Of course, Dad wasn’t the alarm-sounding type and just sat in the living room watching television. (Hoping Plan A would get him through this one.)
But the two younger kids both came a running. They were full throttle, like a bull elk that winds a doe in heat. They knew that Mom had just learned something beyond belief.
“Mom, Mom, what is a lesbian?” they begged.
Mom didn’t hear them, or paid no attention. She was still in shock, and was getting mad at Dad because he hadn’t budged off the couch.
“Chuck, don’t you care that a lesbian is living so close to Dianne at school?”
Meanwhile the two kids were as excited as at any Christmas. “Mom, Mom! What is a lesbian?”
“Tell us, tell us!” They were relentless and worried too. “Is it something really bad?” my sister demanded, as they jumped up and down on what was perceived as invisible pogo sticks.
Now, there I was, age 14 and very worldly. And I wanted to wait this out and see how Mom and Dad were going to handle this one. It was way too late to avoid the topic, and I doubt either of them could come up with a synonym of “lesbian” in Slovak or Polish. I didn’t think Mom had a blue booklet on the subject either, so I just sat there and waited.
To borrow a line from Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but you have to remember, this was 1966 and neither Mom or Dad were the liberal type. So…
Imagine my surprise, when mom answered the two younger kids with, “I think it’s some kind of poisonous frog.” And…
The kids bought it. Dad never moved. And I sat there in awe.
I have learned a little since those days in the mid sixties. I now know where babies come from and I could comprehend part II from that old blue booklet if I ever decide to read it. Appreciating most jokes is easier now too. I also discovered that society’s attitudes have changed immensely and that open dialogue is priceless.
But my most invaluable lessons are – I learned there is nothing wrong with any kind or species of frogs and to never try to speak to anyone in Slovak or Polish.