Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Disturbingly informative

This past summer I took Sophie on a road trip to my hometown, Philadelphia. While there, she got to see where her mom and uncle grew up, learned to play pool, enjoyed a cheese-steak hoagie, took a train into Center City, and cruised South Street.

She had a choice of museums and chose the Mutter, much to my astonishment. Forget the walk-through artifical heart at the Franklin Institute. This kid went for the hard core. Even med students enter the Mutter with awe and trepidation. It's not for the fainthearted. Housed within a quite respectable 19th century brownstone, the museum is a forensic treasure of polished skulls, preserved tissue, deformed skeletons, and myriad medical oddities all made even more surreal by the grand marble staircase, rich wooden paneling, chandeliers, and other genteel trappings of the past. Kind of the Age of Innocence meets Goosebumps. Sophie loved it!

She then picked a small plush "microbe" from the Gift Shop. (Yes, I was amazed that there was a gift shop. How does one choose a gift after viewing preserved body parts and ancient medical tools of dissection?) Her "germ" was the organism responsible for acne. It seemed appropriate since she's on the cusp of tweendom anyhow. Her pink cuddly was aptly named "Pimple".

Next, we take a tourist trolley to Independence Mall and walk to South Street, the mecca of all things hip and fadworthy. Wow, did I just make up a word? After browsing all the bling in the various trendy shops, I treat her to a pair of feather earrings. We then top off the experience with ice-cream sundaes as we watch and listen to the many strange sights and diverse languages of Philly's melting pot, certainly a far cry from rural Massachusetts.

On the walk back to the train, Sophie keeps reading the shop signs and comes to a sudden halt, pointing across the street to "The Condom Factory". Cough.

"You really don't want to go in there, Sophie."

"Why not?"

Cough again.

"Because it's ... for grown-ups. Did mommy ever tell you about ... condoms?"

Pause. Widened eyes.

"Ohhhh. It's that kind of store." The kid is savvy. Knows much more than I did at her age.

We keep walking and come to another store window which looks like Victoria's Secret lingerie until I see the sign above. Crap! The Erogenous Zone.

Sophie stops again, puzzled. "Erogenous" is not a word she has seen on Word Girl.

"Well, Soph, it's kind of a grown-up word for feeling good but it's not a store for kids either."

She looks at me. Puts two and two together. I smile and suggest that The Erogenous Zone should actually be next to The Condom Factory in the previous block.

And we keep walking.

Months later, we are lying side-by-side in my bed during one of her regular sleepovers. She has always loved to read. We are long past bedtime stories. Each of us has our favorite authors now and one of our pleasures is reading ourselves to sleep. She has also become a sci-fi enthusiast, sharing my love of all things Stargate. A typical sleepover usually includes a DVD marathon of Stargate SG1 and Atlantis. And then to bed with our book selections. This particular night, Sophie is browsing through my collection of Stargate books and reading quotes from the show's episodes.

I'm deeply absorbed in my Kindle until Sophie interrupts.

"Babci, what's a eunuch?"

Holy Hannah, I'm back on South Street!

I turn to her, not quite believing what she's asked.

She points to a Jack O'Neill witticism: "Eunuchs! As in snippitty doo-dahs?"

Oh joy. Another learning opportunity.

Considering my daughter, Jenn, has done such a fine job so far of sex education, I hopefully ask: "Hasn't mom talked to you about ... eunuchs and ... boy parts?"

Well, the kid is clueless - not about the boy parts, but the status of a eunuch.

Double crap!

Thus begins the grandmother's rather clinical explanation of just what can happen to some unfortunate lads and men with regards to "snippitty doo-dah".

Sophie asks all the right questions and I try to give all the right answers. Heck! This is a far cry from handing out the Time Life "underwear" books I gave my own two kids on the cusp of adolescence. I am having a bonafide, face-to-face discussion of male appendages with my ten-year-old granddaughter. Who woulda thunk?

Of course, once I step into the deep water, it gets even deeper. I find myself trying to explain the Middle Ages and boy choirs and just why those boys never lost their angelic soprano voices and youthful faces.

Sophie is enthralled. I am appalled. Our eyes meet and we giggle and cannot fall asleep. Snip, snip.

Tears running down our faces, we try to put the eunuch information out of our minds but it is hopeless. More muffled laughter.

Sophie stares at me, enlightened, as she squeals:

"Justin Bieber!"