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Newport Beach

Volume 5, Issue 78  |  September 29, 2020


You Must Remember This: Parenting

By NANCY GARDNER

We’re all so into sharing now that it’s hard to remember a period like the 50s when things were a lot more buttoned up. This seems particularly true in terms of communication, at least in my family. My parents were like the CIA. Information was provided on a need-to-know basis, and apparently, I didn’t need to know much. As an example, when I was 5, I was sent to stay with my Aunt Marion and Uncle Hodge who lived on Lido Isle. Lido Isle seemed magical, its own little world. Their house was on one of the greenbelts, so there was all that grass to play on, something sorely lacking on Balboa Island where we lived, and there were other nice things about the visit, like a chocolate bar in my school lunch each day, an extra chapter of my Oz book at night – both of which I assured them was the norm. Still, by the end of the week I was ready to go home, even if it meant no more chocolate bars. Little did I realize the disaster that awaited. I no sooner walked in the house when – surprise! There was this...thing in the room.  It was, my parents explained cheerfully, my little sister. Sister? I don’t need no stinking sister. I demanded that this sister thing be taken back to wherever she came from. No such luck. I was stuck with her, and eventually, after a number of pinches administered to the sister surreptitiously, I adjusted. Still, a head’s up would have been nice.

A few years passed, and there was a second incident. This one was not merely lack of communication from the agency. This was the company deliberately sending out misinformation. I was told we were going on a picnic.  Yippee skippee! We drove off, but instead of going to some lovely picnic grounds, we pulled up at St. Joseph’s where I was turned over to the nurses, prepped and given ether. When I awoke, I had a very sore throat, due it was explained to me by the kindly nun offering me liquids, to the removal of my tonsils. Minutes later, my parents arrived to be greeted by a frigid silence. After various failed attempts to engage me, my father pleaded: What would it take to make me forgive them for their deception? Being a practical child, I was never one to stand on silly principles. Get me a new Oz book, I rasped, and all would be forgiven. Done and done.

With this kind of communication you can imagine my education about sex. I was probably 15 when my mother came to me, looking somewhat uncomfortable.

“Do you have any questions?”

“About what?”

“Anything.”

I thought. “Do I get a car when I get my driver’s license?”

“No. Any other questions?”

“No.”

“Well...just in case you were wondering, it’s like hoses and faucets, you know?”

Why she thought I was interested in irrigation I didn’t know, but I didn’t follow up, and that was about it. If ignorance is bliss, when it came to the birds and the bees, I was euphoric.

All of this determined me to be a much different kind of parent, and the times – post 60s – enhanced that determination. We were all about communication, openness, sharing. I had only one child, so there was no preparation for another sibling, but I prepared my daughter for everything else. Any doctor’s visit was presaged by minute descriptions of everything that would occur, any pain that might be experienced, any aches that might result. Looking back, I probably freaked her out a few times, but on the plus side, whatever happened was never as bad as I outlined. I outdid myself, though, when it came to sex ed. When she was four, I read glowing reviews of a Time Life book that explained it all, so I immediately got it. There were charming cartoon-like pictures of roosters and hens and other creatures, and we read the whole book in a day. Shortly thereafter, she was sitting on her father’s lap.

“We’re face-to-face, aren’t we?” she asked.

Yes, he agreed, they were face-to-face.

She gave a brisk nod. “We’re having intercourse.”

Somehow, he managed not to dump her on the floor in his shock, but there was a little husband-wife discussion about what was age-appropriate and what wasn’t, so I waited until she was a more age appropriate 13-year-old and tried again.

“We need to talk about–.”

“I know about it already.”

“You don’t even know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, I do. It’s sex, and I already know.”

“But–.”

“Mom, I know!”

“But do you know–?”

“MOM, I KNOW!”

But did she? How could I be sure? I could be failing in my role as parent/educator. What to do? And then I realized. Of course she knew. It had all been explained when she was four. 

~~~~~~~~

Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, longtime resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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