Clint Greagen explains how Jim Carrey helped him start the sex ed conversation with his 8-year old son.
It’s only because I think that Jim Carrey is a dead-set comic genius that I suggested to the boys that we include him in our regular Friday movie evenings, and after I’d coerced them by describing some key scenes from The Mask and manipulated their enthusiasm with brilliant recitals of some of the more famous lines, including ‘P-A-R-T . . . WHY? Because I gotta!’, I went sprint-screaming to the computer like a teen girl to a One Direction concert.
While I was downloading The Mask in an illegal and traceable fashion, it occurred to me that Jim Carrey’s comedy often includes mature references that might pique the kids’ curiosity but, because I was so excited to be re-experiencing one of my favourite movies, my responsible parent-y thought went skimming across the shallow pool of my mind – ploop-ploop – like a casually thrown stone, leaving nary a ripple.
The Mask was a total hit with the boys and, thankfully, lines such as, ‘Kiss me, my dear, and I will reveal my croissant. I will spread your pâté. I will dip my ladle in your vichyssoise,’ made no impression on them at all. They ate pizza and chips open-mouthed with laughter and requested that certain scenes be replayed, and we were all leaping from the couch to mimic certain feats of physical comedy.
I was so delirious with happiness – building new memories from old memories – that I committed to illegally downloading every Jim Carrey movie I could get my hands on. A week passed and we were into the school holidays, so I kicked off the entertainment early, enlivening the TV and the still pliable cortices of my children’s brains with Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls – and, yes, the ploopploop of the skipping stone came again, but I quashed its influence with my jittery enthusiasm and the mind-altering smell of chemically inspired microwave popcorn, and it was only when Ace Ventura simulated the birthing process by falling – naked and wailing – from the arse of a fake rhinoceros that I heard it again.
While 6-year-old Lewis and 4-year-old Tyson were starting to annoy each other in their unique, well-practised ways, and toddler Maki was brooming circles with his favourite fire truck, eight-year-old Archie was frowning just a little, his eyes shifting up and to the right occasionally. There were questions forming. Ploop-ploop.
‘Dad,’ he said. ‘Why are the people watching like they’re scared?’
‘They think they’re seeing a real rhinoceros giving birth to a naked grown man, Arch,’ I said. ‘And that would be pretty scary.’
The shallow pool of my mind found its depth and width, and life formed in and around it, and the moon appeared to give it tides, and the wind blew to form waves, and while I was able to enjoy the rest of the movie to a certain degree, every scene and every line was affected by my attention on Archie. I could tell that his mind was raging as well.
He held that curious gaze even as he laughed at Carrey’s brilliance, even as Lewis and Tyson began to shift their attention from the movie to the task of pushing and poking and punching each other and even, a time later, when I turned my head to see what all the noise was coming from the backyard.
‘Lewis and Tyson are jumping on the trampoline, Arch,’ I said, surprised I hadn’t noticed them leave.
‘Dad, what does that mean?’ Archie asked, jumping from the couch and running to the TV to take the movie back a bit. He released it to the final scene of the movie for one particular word.
Ace Ventura – triumphant after another adventure – is waxing lyrical as the Wachootoo prince takes the Wachati princess into a little hut so that they can consummate their marriage and bring their two tribes together in peace. Shortly after, the prince comes running from the hut screaming that his bride is not a virgin, and Ace is quickly assigned the blame.
We watch the tribes chasing Ace through the jungle for no more than two seconds before Archie says, ‘What’s a virgin?’ which effectively drops a Mount Everest-sized rock into my mind-pool and empties it of water. What’s left is the pact Tania and I made not too long ago: we would answer our children’s questions on sex as they asked them, and as openly and matter-of-factly as possible.
‘Well . . . it’s a person who hasn’t had sex . . .’
‘You haven’t heard anyone talking about sex before? Any other kids at school?’
Archie attempts to hide a telling smile as he answers, ‘No.’
‘No one has talked about why boys have penises and girls have vaginas?’
He smiles again, pressing his tongue into his cheek, and looks at me out of the corner of his eye. ‘No,’ he says again.
‘Well,’ I say, thinking a bit. ‘Do you remember how babies get out of a woman’s tummy?’
‘The vagina,’ he says as Maki continues brooming circles with his favourite fire truck.
‘Yep,’ I say. ‘So, sex is how the baby gets in there.’
‘Inside a man are seeds called sperm and inside a woman are seeds called eggs . . . and the only way to grow a baby is to get the sperm and the egg together . . . and the way to get the sperm and the egg together is for the man to put his penis into the woman’s vagina so that the sperm can go into the woman and fi nd the egg . . . and then the sperm goes into the egg and together they grow into a baby . . . inside the woman’s tummy – the womb – because that’s the best place for a baby to grow.’
Archie gives up on trying to hide his smile and after a hint of a giggle says, ‘Have you done that?’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Five times. Otherwise you and your brothers wouldn’t be here. And it’s a special thing to do with someone you love, Arch, when you’re an adult. I mean, don’t you think it’s amazing that Mummy and I made you?’
He nods and then asks a question I wasn’t quite expecting. ‘Why do you have to be an adult?’
‘Well, your body’s not ready until you’re older and . . . you have to make sure that you and the person you do it with are ready . . . and want to do it. Sex is a wonderful thing, Arch, that can make people feel really special and happy, but it can also be used in the wrong way . . . and so you need to be older . . . to make sure you’re doing it in a way that makes it special.’
Archie does his Archie-esque frown and nod, which tells me he’s understanding things that, at the same time, are opening him up to other curiosities and further questions. The subject is open now and can never be closed.
‘You’re going to have lots more questions, Arch, as you hear things at school or see things on TV or read about things in books. So I want you to know that you can ask me and your mum anything at all whenever you want, okay? I really want to hear every question you have and I want to be able to talk to you about this stuff whenever you need to. Do you have anything else you’d like to ask me now?’
‘Yeah,’ he says, suddenly sitting a little straighter. ‘Dad? Can I tell Lewis?’
For the first time in this positive, appropriate, coming of age conversation I am struck dumb with an acute awareness of the horror that could unfold. Archie now has acquired some knowledge, from one of the people he trusts most, that he could pass on to his brother Lewis, who could in turn pass it on to Tyson, who could pass it on to Maki.
An image forms of me standing in front of a whiteboard that has cross-sectional diagrams of human genitals. The boys are sitting cross-legged at my feet and I’m using a laser pointer to highlight certain areas of the penis and the vagina and saying things like vas deferens and pudendum, and then I’m talking into a microphone on a podium and handing little scrolls to each of them as they walk past me wearing those strange mortarboards with the little bit of tassel hanging from the top, and just as I think the graduation ceremony is over I turn to see Lewis bent over, pretending to talk through his bottom, à la Ace Ventura.
‘Excuse me,’ his bottom says. ‘I’d like to ass you a few questions.’
‘Nooo . . . he’s not ready,’ I whisper to Archie hoarsely as Lewis and Tyson are scream-jumping on the trampoline, as Maki is brooming circles with his favourite fire truck, and as Ace Ventura takes his rightful place as a key figure in our family’s timeline.
If you liked this story, buy Clint Greagen’s book “Reservoir Dad” to learn more about his experiences as a father.
– photo from imdb