In late December 1998, I had just been released from my 5th grade classroom for Winter Break. It had been a spectacular day, filled with candy canes and holiday cookies, an art project involving the creation of a cotton-ball snowman, and lots of Christmas cheer. Additionally, I finally got to bring home much of the work we had completed over the past month – a poem, a colored map of the United States, an illustrated short story about the Titanic – and I was excited to show my parents everything I had done. So excited, in fact, that I barely paid any attention to the white permission slip that was included with all my work.
That night at dinner, my sister and I took turns recounting our days at school, as usual. After the food was cleared away, I went to get my folder to show to my parents and I spread my 5th grade creativity across the table. The first thing to slide out was the permission slip, which my mom picked up and read.
Obviously, I won’t pretend to remember exactly what the form said, but I imagine it started with Dear Parent/Guardian and then went on to explain that all students in the 5th grade class would be doing a week of sex education classes starting in January and that parental consent was needed in order for me to participate. My mom looked up, glanced at my father and passed him the permission slip, as I continued to point out the artistic merits of my snowman.
“Sooo,” my mom started, but she was interrupted by my father.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said, and then they both turned their attention back to my schoolwork and helped me decide what was refrigerator-worthy and what wasn’t.
Later that night, my dad was in the office playing solitaire on the computer and my mom was in her bedroom reading, having already put my sister to bed. I was about to head into my own bedroom, when I passed the office and my dad called me in, telling me to sit down.
“So, next month you are going to be doing sex ed at school. You knew that, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Mrs. Highfill told us. That’s what the permission slip is for?”
“Right. Well, your mom and I thought we should probably talk to you about it first, before you have to discuss it in class.” It being sex, naturally.
“So, what do you already know about sex?”
“Uhhh,” I stammered, already getting very uncomfortable. “I know you have to be naked, right? And you, um, hug or something?” My dad was smiling as I wracked my brain trying to remember the details of every sex scene I had witnessed on television, before my mom could change the channel. If he felt awkward too, he was doing a great job of hiding it.
“Well, sort of…” he began.
This might be where one would expect my father to continue with: “Well, Wes, when a man loves a woman very much and they decide that they’re ready and they want to have a baby, he holds her very close and plants a seed into her egg, and that egg eventually turns into a baby.” I mean, I was ten years old after all. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to explain it to ten year olds? My father, however, was a disciple of the “bullshit-free” parenting method and instead opted to merely say: “Sex is when a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina.”
Plain, simple, and straight to the point. Like ripping off a band-aid. It took a second for this information to register, but the confused expression on my face was quickly replaced by one of pure revulsion.
“That. Is. DISGUSTING!” I exclaimed, secretly vowing then and there that I would never participate in such an activity. “Really!?”
My dad was laughing now. “Really,” he said. “I know it seems gross, but it’s different when you’re older. Much older.” Little did he know that his Madonna-loving, magic-wand-twirling, athletically disinclined son would indeed continue to be turned-off by that definition of sex for the rest his life. Not really knowing what else to say, I made a move to get up and leave.
“Wait, Wes, just one more thing,” he said, and I sat down again. “I think if you’re old enough to know about sex, you’re old enough to know that Santa Claus isn’t real either. I mean, c’mon.”
My face fell and tears welled up in my eyes. It was too much, too much new information to handle all at once. Sex was revolting and Santa wasn’t real? My childhood was over. Sure, I had heard whispers on the playground that Santa didn’t exist, that he was just your parents (the rumors of this grand Christmas hoax stretched all the way back to second grade, when Billy Hochman brought his Menorah in for show and tell and told us about something called Hanukah) but as a child who believed firmly in imagination, magic, and make-believe, I still held on to that tiny shred of hope. And now here it was – independent confirmation from a reliable source telling me that Santa was a lie.
Embarrassed to be seen as ignorant twice, I simply said, “I knew that” and walked out of the office and into my bedroom. I gathered my thoughts and tried to stop my tears. I put on my pajamas and was just about to crawl into bed when I remembered I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet, so I headed to my parents room and into their master bathroom. By now, my dad was seated next to my mother and it was clear that he had just finished recounting our conversation to her. I finished brushing my teeth, said goodnight, and was just about to leave again when my mom asked me to wait.
“So, your dad just told me about your talk. Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, dejectedly, my eyes most-likely still red.
“You still seem upset. What is it, the sex thing or Santa Claus?”
“I dunno.” I mumbled.
“You don’t know?”
“Um, Santa, I guess.” My voice now barely above a whisper, still burdened with embarrassment.
“That’s what I thought,” my mom said, a knowing expression across her face. I was nearly out the door again when my dad spoke out one last time.
“And I think it goes without saying that if Santa isn’t real, the Toothfairy isn’t either!”
My mom elbowed him. “Hey, give the kid a break!”
“What? I’m just saying!”
At this point my brain had absorbed all of the novelty it could handle. I was done. I turned around and shrugged. “I figured as much” I sighed, as I walked out of the room and headed to bed.