My background is very provincial, so being reared in Catholic schools in the '50s and '60s I didn't know a doggone thing about the birds and the bees, particularly the female anatomy. In those days there wasn't a movie to explain where babies came from. We just thought the stork brought them. Let me tell you about the day that changed.
I was in the eighth grade and my buddies and I were playing stickball in the street. The Spalding that we were using had lost its bounce. That was unusual for a Spalding, since they were the best balls made. If I got the right pitch, I could hit one, two sewers (city blocks). We pooled our resources and raised the necessary 20 cents and as I walked into the candy store on the corner of 234th and White Plains Road to purchase a new one, I had no idea of the revelation to come.
Sitting at the counter slurping chocolate egg creams were four local toughs. They had been taunting me all week and instinctively I knew this encounter would be like the gunfight at the OK Corral. “Hey Joey Boy, wanna' see a picture of a naked lady?”
I gave 'em a cold stare and didn't reply. They knew my reputation and realized that I would fight them hard and would not go easy. I saw hesitancy in their eyes. When you grow up in the street, you learn to read the eyes.
It happened fast. After getting in a few good licks, I found myself pinned on the floor. One of the boys flips open a Playboy Magazine and proceeds to unfold the centerfold. “Take a look at dat, Joey Boy. Whadaya tink?” Needless to say, I felt like a Christian in the Coliseum facing the lions.
Hmm, I thought. “Let me have a look at dat,” I said. I've always had a curious nature. So now there were five kids sitting at the counter scrutinizing the playmate of the month. I had gone over to the dark side. Since none of us could make any sense out of the mystery, I took the Spalding, went outside, and continued to play stickball.
The following year, I made the transition to high school and continued my sex education under the tutelage of laureate Ronnie Puente, a classmate of mine. Ronnie was Tito Puente's nephew and played the congas in Tito's Latin band. That should tell you how advanced he was.
I don't know about you guys, but when it comes to teaching my little girls about the facts of life I am reluctant and do what I find most natural: avoid it. But not Kaitzer, for she's been having these mother-daughter talks since Sabine and Simone began asking questions. So naturally I thought we were covered.
I would not get off that easy because The Movie, the developmental movie, the one they show the fifth graders about changes in their body, was about to air and prior to the screening the parents were invited to preview the film. Not only did we view the one for the girls, Kaitzer insisted we see the one for the boys as well.
Kaitzer saw no problem in Sabine seeing The Movie. I, on the other hand, wanted to burn it. It was a silly film and not very well done, but during the preview Evy Hamm, our district nurse, brought a sense of calm with her professional and reassuring manner and made the experience more palatable. Where was she when I was a kid? I got stuck with Ronnie Puente!
Watching the film taught me that my girls' growing up is inevitable and instinctively I knew I would fight that reality hard. I would not go easy. Sometimes we just want our little girls to stay little girls.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor specializing in helping middle and high school students transition to college. He is a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him in care of the Valley Sun, P.O. Box 38, La Cañada, CA 91012.