The Birds and the Bees

Books and sex-ed at school don’t take the place of the parents’ role, or cover every situation.

March 23, 2015 | | Back Issues | Community | Departments | Headwaters Nest | In Every Issue | Spring 2015

I was eating a slice from Airport Pizza on a Tuesday night before a community meeting with some women from work – when the topic of the “birds and the bees” came up. Or, to drop the euphemism, how were we managing to talk to our kids about sex and reproduction. Our discussion and laughter ricocheted off the walls of the town hall atrium as we chowed down and spilled our experiences, from good to bad.

One mom is readying her daughter for high school, so she recently bought her books to start the conversation. “Isn’t it a little late?” I asked her. “Oh, no,” she replied, covering her eyes. She had been avoiding the talk as long as possible, and intended to keep it that way!

The Ministry of Education sets curricula and standards for all publicly funded schools in Ontario, including the subject of sexual health and orientation in the elementary school grades. The current review of that subject in Ontario has produced the predictable controversy, but I’m just pleased that “sex ed” is taking place in a safer, more inclusive and friendlier environment than when I went through the system. Still, books and sex-ed at school don’t take the place of the parents’ role, or cover every situation.

Indeed, another woman in our chat recalled a family member who had missed much of what was said in her sex ed class because of an undiagnosed hearing disability. She literally had not heard the information. When her normal reproductive cycle began, she was shocked and traumatized, thinking she was hemorrhaging and going to die.

As for me, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know about the birds and the bees. Let me explain: I grew up on a farm. My parents kept horses (and a menagerie of other animals) throughout my childhood. “Breeding season” was just a part of life. Trust me, when you see horses doing their thing up close, the mystery disappears quickly.

The happy birth of a foal happened almost a full year later, with my mom listening by monitor, or sleeping in the barn, in anticipation of a mare going into labour. Sometimes the foal would quietly appear overnight while everyone was asleep – its momma nickering in the morning to announce her baby. At other times we were there to assist her with the birth. Either way, there was no surprise for me about how this soft, spindly-legged creature came to be.

Slow down the car a little and have a good look the next time you are driving by the farmer’s field. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

Slow down the car a little and have a good look the next time you are driving by the farmer’s field. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

My girlfriend Renée told me that because she has two kids, one born biologically to her and her husband and one adopted, full and transparent disclosure was key in the story of the development of her family. Making a baby biologically is significant and wonderful, but it does not define how her family four-pack was brought together to share their journey of life.

For me and my son, it has been a mash-up of experiences and learning that has told the story of how we came to be, and how we came to be together. Knowing his cousins Cole and Jace from hours after birth helped us to tell the story of conception, labour and delivery. Adrian asked about things early on, and I didn’t skip a beat. While the questions make some (especially men?) feel pale and faint, I much preferred to get it over with up front. I pulled the proverbial bandage off quickly, hoping to avoid painful discussions, backtracking and language corrections later on.

If anything, what I worry about is the proliferation in the other ways our kids are now learning about the facts of life. Not just from mom and dad, not just from the animal kingdom, and not just from school. Of course, some information has always come via word of mouth from other kids at school. But what concerns me most these days is the online activities that can steer our kids in the wrong direction.

In a 2014 survey of boys in grades 7 to 11 across Canada, 40 per cent admitted to looking online for porn, and the ones who did said they did so frequently. It’s hard not to suppose that those images and videos are exerting a strong influence on their burgeoning understanding of sexual relationships.

While girls’ participation was much lower, they were looking online as well. And “sexting,” the act of sending images of a nude or sexy nature, is also happening with alarming frequency. I am readying myself to have a conversation with Adrian about the “reality” of what is online, and to talk about feelings of intimacy and safety. (When the time is right. Deep breath.)

In the meantime, growing up in the hills, Adrian has had the benefit of drive-by field sightings that make us blush or laugh or want to cover our eyes. Somehow, even though I know it makes him a bit squeamish, there is something to be said for old-fashioned nature doing what nature loves to do. It’s part of the “birds and the bees” education, so maybe slow down the car a little and have a good look the next time you are driving by the farmer’s field.

Orangeville Earth Day Tree Planting and Let’s Make Orangeville Shine

Join in on Saturday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to take part in a little earthy goodness in your own town. Meet at Rotary Park to register, and then take part in a cleanup across Orangeville, or the tree planting set to take place behind the Best Western hotel. It’s a free event, with no experience needed. If you have a shovel, please bring it. Light refreshments and a free barbeque will be offered after the tree planting. creditvalleyca.ca

Walk the Art 2015: Place

PAMA’s Art Gallery and Education Services and the Peel District School Board welcome you to view the work of young emerging artists from our communities, May 9 to 24. Walk the Art 2015: Place is an exhibition of student artwork that explores and uncovers the place of Peel Region, the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and town of Caledon, and the interactions of the people who live here. There’s a special closing reception on May 21, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. What an honour for emerging artists to exhibit in this one-of-a-kind space. Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA) is located at 9 Wellington Street East, Brampton. pama.peelregion.ca

Summer Isn’t Here Until … Caledon Day!

I promise you that Caledon Day is one of the best summer events around! Live performances, Kid Zone, car show, vendors, beer garden, and the most fantastic fireworks finale. The fun takes place from 2 to 10 p.m., and it’s all free. As we mention in “Must Do” this issue, the Pan Am Torch Relay will come into the Caledon Town Hall Campus on June 13, making it the biggest Caledon Day yet! A great tip is to take your bike along the trail instead of vying for parking. Last year, free valet bike parking was all the rage. 6215 Old Church Road, Caledon East. caledon.ca

Time for a Checkup … for Teddy!

The annual Teddy Bear Clinic at Headwaters Health Care Centre is always a hit. On May 2, kids can take their favourite “stuffy” to the clinic for a checkup with one of our local docs, enjoy a barbeque, pony rides, games, and the tooth fairy express. This is a lovely event that introduces kids to the health care system in a friendly way. Free parking. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. $2. The hospital is located at the corner of Highways 9 and 10. headwatershealth.ca

Get Current on the Curriculum

As I was writing this column, Ontario’s new Health and Physical Education curriculum was just 
about to be released. I encourage all parents to go online and get up to date on the curriculum in full. edu.gov.on.ca

Our hills are never more alive than they are in the spring – daylight stretches, branches bud, and flowers and greenery unfurl fingers and toes. This season I sign off with a quote from William Wordsworth that indeed seems fitting: “Let Nature 
be your teacher.” — Bethany

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Orangeville.

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