January 27, 2008
Picture the Scene:
It’s that time of year when the fifth graders at my elementary school get the puberty talk.
The thing is, the school doesn’t have a regular health teacher.
That left the nurse to talk to the girls.
The fifth grade boys were another story.
Prior to this year, a senior teacher had always given the talk. Since he had his own children, he was extremely comfortable discussing puberty with alternately wise cracking, painfully shy fifth grade boys.
But that teacher had recently retired.
Which left me to give the puberty talk.
The only problem: Unlike Paulie the Penis, I’ve never given anyone the puberty talk.
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” I asked the school nurse.
The diminutive woman, with her sweet and innocent, toy-like smile said: “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”
I wasn’t so sure about that.
I was convinced I’d say something wrong.
Something that would make those boys spontaneously sprout breasts and get periods, instead of growing bigger testicles and penises.
Truth be told, my puberty was a disaster.
In middle school choir, I got canned from playing Tony in West Side Story because my voice began cracking so much.
My face became a war zone of acne.
Anything and everything would give me erections.
Even when my seventh grade earth science teacher would utter the word “Symbiosis.”
I’d get an erection.
And when it came to pubic hair, forget about it.
My genital area was a barren field.
In the middle school locker room, I was constantly comparing that barren field to other boys whose pubic hair growth seemed more like jungles compared to mine.
Still, traumas and all, I felt I owed it to my fifth grade boys to give them the clearest and most concise talk possible, regarding what they’d be experiencing, mentally and physically, over the next few years.
“All right,” I told the school nurse. “I’ll do it.”
“Good,” she said. “I knew I could count on you.”
She handed me a video and a shopping bag filled with packets for the boys.
Each one contained a pamphlet entitled Always Changing: Puberty and Stuff along with a stick of Old Spice Aqua Reef scented deodorant.
“One thing, though,” said the nurse.
“What’s that?” I said.
Suddenly, worry lines appeared around the edges of her toy-like smile.
She leaned in close and said:
“Try to stay away from the sex talk. Leave that for when they go to middle school. Try to keep things strictly related to puberty—you know perspiration and…”
She paused, leaned in even closer and added: “Erections.”
It was strange to hear this sweet little toy of a woman utter the ‘E’ word in the hall of an elementary school where cute little kids sporting Spiderman and Dora the Explorer backpacks were scurrying about.
What was even stranger, though, was the idea of having a puberty talk where I could discuss erections, but not sex.
That would be like trying to discuss Scientology without ever mentioning Tom Cruise.
“All right,” I told the nurse. “I’ll do my best.”
“Well good luck,” she said. “Now I have to get back to work.”
She left me standing in the hallway, that video in one hand, and a shopping bag chockfull of Puberty door prizes in the other.
I glanced down the hall. Facing me at the end of it was a bulletin board featuring a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. along with the words: I Have a Dream.
I had my own dream, all right.
I dreamt that my students and I could make it through the puberty talk with our sanity and all our original body parts in tact.
Coming Soon: Part II – The Puberty Video.