I need to stop you before you start because if I don’t, I’m leading you into a landmine without warning. What you are about to read (or quietly click away from should you decide that is best) is written in response to a news story about two kindergartners caught “having sex” in a school bathroom. If that sentence alone was triggering for you, please be kind to yourself and don’t read any further.
What I share was difficult to write if I stop to take into consideration the years it took to get to the point where just writing it seemed normal. I’m sure it’s as difficult to read.
Just do me a favor, will ya? If we meet at a conference or speaking engagement and you want to thank me for the words you see, please know that my 6-year-old travels with me. We can talk and hug and sing Kumbaya, but just make sure it’s just me first, okay?
I’m five. At last I think I am. A little boy I know is my hide-and-seek partner and we run off for one of our usual hiding spots. Our families are close, but it’s the kind of closeness that makes grown-ups realize that it’s our friends we get to choose. So we rationalize that the lack of actual blood relation makes it less bad to touch each other just because it feels good. We’re too young to feel guilty about it and we never talk about the fact that we both somehow know it’s supposed to be a secret because I’m not sure we understand why.
Sometimes I wonder how we learned this game. Today I just wonder how we are supposed to explain where are hands are when we are caught. Later I wonder only briefly about the twin bed being pushed against the wall, eliminating the hiding place. Much later, I wonder how much may have been avoided had therapy been an accepted part of dealing with obviously oversexed children who couldn’t explain how they got that way.
I’m terrified. I want nothing more than to fix the misstep before this one and the one before that until I can breathe again after having wiped the slate clean of any reason to be ashamed. I want to feel the relief I felt knowing that nothing more would come of the moment my mother and doctor stopped whispering about why I had jumped on to the exam table, laid on my back and spread my legs wide open for a rash he needed to look at on my bottom. I wasn’t supposed to have done that, you know. I don’t remember why but I do remember the slowing of my heartbeat and the sudden ability to breathe normally after overcompensating on the kindergarten antics to distract the doctor as I flipped onto my tummy. I giggled. I made jokes. I felt the doctor let the question in his mind sweep itself away.
And then I felt safe.
I never ask if my parents were told and they never bring it up if they were. I don’t connect the less frequent joint weekends because I’m a kid and I’m not ready to give up my presents from Santa yet. We see each other at birthday parties for friends and cousins and cousins of friends and here we are at another one.
I am wearing a blue dress that I love but itches my skin on the inside and white tights and a pair of shiny, black Mary Janes. My kinky hair, which falls midway down my back when wet, has been arranged into two braids, each hanging down from above my ears. There are balloons to sit on and pop for a prize and piñatas and cake and an the boy I now and and older boy I don’t. We walk to an upstairs bedroom where I somehow understand I am to lie back on a table and let them do things I can’t remember exactly except for the older boy being on top of me because my mind learned to disconnect from my body long before I learned my ABC’s.
Magically, we are downstairs again and no one asks any of us where we were or what we were doing because there is no reason to. Nor is there any reason to blame any of the adults present for missing what isn’t obvious at all no matter how so it may seem to the opinionated outsider. Every adult and every child present was on familiar territory and no one ever had to ask where the bathroom was because we already knew. Another day. Another boy. A cousin, I think, maybe just a bit older than I am. It’s hot outside so we are inside, playing in the cool dark of the basement while my mother does housework upstairs and plays with my little sisters. My memory is choppy and I only recall the cold feeling of the concrete floor on my back and him on top and just as quickly, we are pulling up our shorts and my mother is calling our names and it’s time for peanut butter sandwiches. He never comes over to play with me again.
My daughter — she’s six — and she’s the Because to my Why. When she was born I was reviewing car seats and blinged-out pacifiers on a blog I don’t bother including on my resume. The words I share for me I share because of her. Because she thinks horses have to get married to have babies together and because she thinks little boys and girls used to be wishes sitting on stars until their moms and dads wished them true. When a little boy she is friends with was kicked in the crotch by his sister, she told me with all the certainty in the world that her friend — the boy — had just been kicked in the vagina. It’s because of my daughter and her innocence that I came to realize how truly fucked up my own childhood was. I simply should not have known the things I did at her age. And neither should the boys I was with. But we did, and we aren’t the only ones.
It’s not a pretty topic, is it? Hypersexual children and peer sexual abuse are words laced with implied guilt on the part of the adult who was supposed to be in charge. They point the finger away from the problem instead of directing us to it. There’s shame for the children and shame for the adults and sometimes it’s just easier to hope the kids forget and sweep that nasty little set of memories under the rug. It’s easy enough when these things happen amongst family and friends.
But what happens if two five-year-olds are caught “having sex” in the class bathroom by their kindergarten teacher? And what happens if the teacher, Kathy Mascio, reports it, not stopping to think of how doing so will reflect on her own abilities as a teacher? It’s easier and more comfortable for us to point the blame and shift the focus than it is to think about a little boy and a little girl with at least a general understanding of how sex actually works.
None of us know exactly what the children were doing at the time their teacher found them, but we do know that the teacher immediately went to her principal who then contacted authorities because we all know that was the right thing to do. Now she’s in danger of losing her job and that seems to be the focus of almost every news story I’ve read since yesterday (and that includes the comments). It’s all What she didn’t do and should have done are what the media focuses on because we are not emotionally ready to think about our children as sexual beings because they shouldn’t be — not yet.
While experts are weighing in on the situation with their thoughts, no one can provide anything more educated than a guess about what actually happened in that bathroom. All anyone knows for sure is that the naked kindergartners told their teacher they had been having sex when they were discovered. Whether that means they simply looked at each other or if physical contact occurred, we don’t know, but we’d sure as hell like to know what exactly in these children’s’ lives that sparked the classroom incident. Somewhere, somehow, these children were exposed. Why isn’t that the focus?
Information is not going to move quickly. The two children involved are very obviously minors and are most likely in individual therapy to figure out what did happen, and how to help them heal. Hyper-sexual children and peer sexual abuse are not topics we often see in the headlines, and uncomfortable or not, it’s time we stop whispering when we should be shouting.