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First, in the late ‘70s, when I was about 7 years old, my mother presented me with a picture book called How Babies Are Made. One section of the book showed paper cut-outs of cocker spaniels  frolicking in a field of dandelions. Suddenly, one dog was on top of the other dog, and then both dogs looked traumatized. The final section of the book showed a white man in bed, lying on top of a white woman who had her eyes closed, and they both just looked like they were sleeping.



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In Parts I & II of This Post:

I’d been asked by the school nurse to give my fifth grade boys the puberty talk. A couple problems, though: First, I’d never given anyone the puberty talk. Next, the nurse had asked that I refrain from discussing too much about sex while giving the talk.

Yeah right, I thought. That would be like trying to discuss the Theory of Relativity without ever mentioning E = MC 2.

Still, I felt I owed it to my students to do whatever I could to help usher them into manhood.

And so came the day when I showed them the puberty video. Some were amused. Most, however, were stunned to silence.


Part III – The Final Installment – The Q & A Session:

After I’d shown the video and asked if anyone had any questions no one responded.

The room was so quiet you could hear the buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights.

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“It’s all right,” I said. “Really. It’s just part of growing up. Like I said, I’ve gone through this myself.”

One boy raised his hand.

“Hector,” I said. “What’s up?”

His lips moved to speak, but no words came out. Finally, he managed to ask: “So I still don’t really get it. What causes an erection?”

Good question, I thought.

I could get all scientific and discuss how the nervous system sends nerve impulses that increase blood flow to the penis. And how the blood fills the spongy chambers, causing them to expand and become rigid.

Or I could simply give them an answer they could relate to.

Something I could relate to also.

“Well,” I said, “I guess the simplest way to explain it would be to say that it happens when you get really excited. Like when you see Shakira or something.”

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That one caused the boys to loosen up and laugh a bit.

Me, too. I laughed and loosened up also.

“But the thing you have to be careful about,” I said, “is sometimes when you’re getting your first erections you gotta realize they can happen at the oddest times. Like maybe when you’re walking down the school hallway, or sitting in class doing your work.”

That one caused a few boys to go deer-in-the-headlights to the Nth Degree.

“But don’t worry,” I said “Generally, you’re the only one to notice. Plus, if you’re lucky, maybe it’ll happen when you’re sitting at your desk, or when you’re carrying a big stack of books in your arms. That way no one will notice at all. Here,” I said, “like this.”

I reached for a nearby stack of reading books, held them in front of my groin area.

“There you go,” I said. “Instant erection protection.”

The boys liked that one. Even the ones that had gone deer-in-the-headlights. They all nodded and smiled in approval.

A boy raised his hand. “Mr. F. Do you get erections?”

It felt odd being asked that. I was so used to them asking questions pertaining to math, science, and reading. Maybe the odd political question here and there.

“Sure,” I said. “Pretty much all guys do.”

That one intrigued the students to no end. More hands shot into the air.

“Yes, Eduardo,” I said, pointing to one of the tallest, heftiest boys in the class. “What’s up, my man?”

“What about midgets?” he asked.

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“What about them?” I said.

“Do they get erections, too?”

Was this kid busting on me, I wondered. Or was he just channeling David Lynch?

Very soon I realized he was serious.

“Sure,” I said. “Midgets are just like us. I mean they might be a little smaller and all, but sure, yeah, they get erections.”

Seemingly satisfied with my response, Eduardo smiled and said: “Thanks.”

That was followed by a few questions regarding perspiration, acne, and wet dreams.

Then came another question.

“What happens if I wake up in the morning and there’s blood in my bed?”

My first thought: Did this kid see The Godfather one too many times?

You know, that scene where the movie producer wakes to find the horse’s head in his bed.

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My next thought: Was this kid picking up on the same David Lynch voices that the midget kid had channeled earlier?

A student sitting next to the curious boy said: “Duuuuuuuuuude. That’s a period. You belong in the librarywith the girls.

A group of boys began chanting: “Go to the library. Go to the library.”

Jorge, the boy who’d asked the question, wilted in his seat.

This was exactly what I didn’t want to have happen.

I didn’t want Jorge to incur puberty damage, and suddenly sprout breasts and get a period instead of growing bigger testicles and a penis.

I waved my hands in the air. “Quiet down you guys. Actually, my man Jorge raises a very good point.”

The boy brightened. Sat a little taller in his seat.

“He’s talking about menstruation,” I said.

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“This is important because when you’re older and have girlfriends you’ll need to know that once a month they’ll get their periods. During this time you’ll need to be extra nice to them and take special care of them because they don’t feel so well and can sometimes get cranky.”

The boys looked at each other, not quite knowing how to respond.

“Now you don’t want your girlfriends feeling bad, do you?” I said.

Some boys nodded, others shrugged.

“That’s why you need to know about menstruation,” I said. “Thanks, Jorge.”

The boy brightened even more. His face had become a hundred watts of pure pride.

“Now then,” I said. “Any more questions?”

A boy raised his hand. “Can a girl get pregnant if you stick your penis in her mouth?”

Whoa, I thought.

This was definitely one of those questions that had veered way too far into that area of sexual explicitness the nurse had warned me about.

Still, I did my best to tastefully respond.

I explained a little about sexual reproduction. And how the boys should wait until they were much older to engage in sex. And once they decided to do so, they should do everything possible to protect themselves and their partners from disease and pregnancy.

Once I’d completed what I’d hoped to be the one and only portion of the sex talk, another hand shot into the air. And another. And another.

“Since girls don’t have penises,” one boy asked, “how do they get excited?”

“What about sucking on girls’ titties,” another boy asked, “can you get a disease that way?”

“What about when your penis is inside a girl,” still another boy asked, “how does that make your penis shoot sperm?”

Where the hell was this coming from, I wondered.

Rarely could I get these guys to answer questions regarding the Civil War or surface area, and here they were asking tons of questions straight out of Penthouse Forum.

“You know what, guys,” I said, “I’d really love to help you out, but the school nurse specifically told me I needed to keep this talk strictly related to puberty. So if you have any more questions like this you might need to ask an older brother, or your father, or an uncle. Okay?”

They nodded.

“Now then,” I said. “any other questions related to puberty?”

Not one hand raised into the air.

Evidently, they didn’t want to learn so much about hormones, pituitary glands, or sebum. They mainly wanted the XXX facts of life.

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“All right, then,” I said. “I guess that’s it.”

After I handed out their packets filled with deodorant and a puberty pamphlet, there was a knock at the door.

“Check it out,” one boy called out. “It’s the girls.”

I glanced over at the door.

Sure enough, their faces were pressed up against the glass. But instead of appearing slightly shell-shocked like the boys, they were all smiles and giggles.

“What should we do now?” one boy asked.

“I think you should let them in,” I said.

“Really?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not.”

“Can’t someone else do it,” he said.

I glanced around the room. “Who’d like to let the girls in?”

One boy, generally the shiest in the class raised his hand. “I’ll do it.”

Without hesitation, he bolted from his chair, and opened the door.

With that, the girls spilled into the class like giddy napalm.

Some boys stayed put in their seats. Others began making small talk with the newly enlightened girls. Still other boys stood in the corner playing with their deodorant.

Regardless of what those boys were doing, I realized that, from hereon in, their lives had changed.

Even when they’d be sitting in class, discussing photosynthesis or idioms, they’d really be wondering when they’d finally get their first erection.

And they’d be thinking about girls.

Maybe even wondering what nice things they might be able to do for their future girlfriend whenever she’d get her period.



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In Part I of This Post:

I’d been asked by the school nurse to give my fifth grade boys the puberty talk. A couple problems, though: First, I’d never given anyone the puberty talk. Next, the nurse had asked that I refrain from discussing too much about sex while giving the talk.

Yeah right, I thought. That would be like trying to discuss the Theory of Relativity without ever mentioning E = MC 2.

Still, I felt I owed it to my students to do whatever I could to help usher them into manhood.

So I agreed.

To give the puberty talk.


Part II – The Puberty Video:

Finally the day had arrived.

It was time to give my students the talk.

The puberty talk.

Once the girls had left for the library to have their talk with the school nurse I gathered the boys around the VCR.

“Alright you guys,” I said. “You’re gonna watch a video that’ll discuss the changes you and your body will go through over the next few years. When it’s done I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Alright?”

No response.

All the boys had that deer-in-the-headlights look in their eyes.

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This seemed a bit ironic.

When it came to discussing their favorite gross-out moments on South Park, or movie violence, or gang violence that frequently occurred in their inner-city community you couldn’t keep them quiet.

But when it came to learning about how they’d soon develop into young men, they had no idea how to respond.

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This fear of theirs.

It was the same fear I’d experienced at their age, when confronted by my parents and teachers continually bombarding me with pamphlets, instructional films, and lecture upon lecture concerning puberty.

This puberty thing.

Back when I was a kid, it seemed even bigger and scarier than The Big Bang.

And it was all happening right inside my body.

“Don’t worry,” I told my students. “Really. Maybe you’ve heard some of this before. Maybe not. But puberty is just a part of growing up. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”

A student raised his hand.

“Jose,” I said. “What’s up, my man?”

With those bewildered brown eyes fixed right on me, he asked: “Have you gone through puberty, Mr. F?”

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“Absolutely,” I said. “And look at me now. I don’t have three heads or six eyes or anything. Everything’ll be fine. Trust me. You guys just need to learn a few things to help you along the way.”

Jose and a few other boys breathed sighs of relief and flashed gentle nods.

Still others couldn’t shake that stunned look from their eyes.

“Don’t worry,” I repeated. “It’ll be all right. Trust me.” I started the video.

It went through the basics:

•    How the boys would sweat more, grow taller.
•    Their skin would become oilier, maybe causing pimples.
•    Hair would grow under their arms, on their legs, faces, and in the pubic area.
•    Their voices would crack.
•    Their penis and testicles would become bigger and sperm would begin to be produced.

The video featured these two clean-cut white kids, and an African American boy.

That was fine.

One problem though: all my students were streetwise Hispanics.

And while I wasn’t sure how well they could relate to the boys in the video, I sure could.

In particular, this one little white boy kept complaining about how, whenever in the gym locker room, he felt inadequate when comparing the size of his penis to the other boys.

“Whenever I look at those boys,” he whined, “I always wonder why they’re so much bigger than me. Will Ialways stay this size? Will my penis ever grow?”

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“Damn,” I thought. That insecure, ill-equipped little brat was me when I was his age.

With that shameful realization, my hands grew clammy. My face flush.

A few beads of sweat gathered on my brow.

It was like I was re-experiencing that earth-shattering Big Bang puberty all over again.

Right in front of my students.

B-BOOM!!

I glanced around the room, wondering whether or not any of my students had spotted my discomfort, thereby picking up on my deep, dark secret.

Coast clear.

They hadn’t noticed me at all. They were completely entranced by the video’s discussion of erections and wet dreams.

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Once the film was over, I surveyed the boys for their reactions.

A few sported wisecracking grins, but most still maintained that stunned look.

“Well,” I said, hoping for the best. “Anyone have any questions?”


Coming Soon: Part III – The Final Installment – The Q & A Session.



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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.”

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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.

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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.”

BAM

I’d get an erection.

And when it came to pubic hair, forget about it.

My genital area was a barren field.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.