I’ve written a bunch in recent days about “the talk.” When most people imagine “the talk,” I think we picture one or two parents awkwardly subjecting a pre-teen or teen to ham-handed and unwelcome parental admonitions and explanations about sex.
This is not, at all, what I have in mind.
In my house, to my mind, “the talk” isn’t one conversation. It’s not even lots of conversations. Rather, it’s short-hand for the messages and values I hope to communicate and, to some extent, transmit. It began in the earliest days of my son’s life, and will continue for the rest of mine, I expect. Some of it is verbal, some is non-verbal. It’s what I say, what I do, how I react, what I watch, what I read. It permeates everything, all our communication.
There’s a scene in “Meatballs” in which Bill Murray woos (assaults) another counselor, Roxanne, played by Kate Lynch, saying, “Let’s wrestle!” The scene is drawn as comedy, a combination of “hapless boy nearly seduces reluctant girl” and physical slapstick – slippery girl repeatedly evades aggressive boy. (It gets ugly at about 1:00 into the video clip below.)
The scene is complicated. Watching it with a pre-teen is more so.*
What I mean by “the talk” is encapsulated in moments like this, in which the easiest thing to do is to laugh awkwardly and to hope the whole thing is just over his head, but the right thing to do is to press pause and to force just a bit of a conversation. To ask his reaction, to offer mine. To say, “that was complicated for me to watch, because on the one hand, it seemed kind of funny, but on the other, I felt like the girl was kind of scared, and it confused me that the Bill Murray character, whom I generally like, was making her feel so bad. And, I felt bad laughing at, among other things, the girl’s fear.”
The talk, for me, isn’t so much what I say or do, as the goal of what I say and do. I don’t imagine I can, or even should, determine my son’s values, but I can be self-conscious about demonstrating mine, not just telling, but showing.
“The talk,” then, is a misnomer, a misleadingly simple way of describing something vastly complex. Henceforth, let it be known that when I say “the talk,” this all is what I mean.
* There’s in some ways a more complicated example of this in “Groundhog Day,” in which much of the movie concerns the Bill Murray character’s attempts to “trick” the Andie MacDowell character into wanting to have sex with him. It’s cringe-inducing to watch now, with a kid sitting next to me, even while being hysterical and capturing a sort of truth known to every man and woman. I had a much harder time talking about this one. (Which points to another truth: like parenting in general, it probably isn’t possible to do “the talk” well. My aim is to do it “well enough.”)