After a hectic day in the office, I knew there was trouble the moment I arrived at my daughter B’s extended kindergarten class. Instead of opening the door and stepping aside to let me in, the teacher took a step  outside, holding the self-locking door in one hand.

Shit. We were about to have a talk.

“Two things,” she began, in the hushed voice all teachers perfect to drop something they don’t want the other children to hear.

I held my breath and waited.

“B hit a little boy today for sitting where she didn’t think he should sit.”

Ok, bad, but not the worst I’ve ever heard. We could talk about it on the way to pick up her little sister from daycare.

“And then,” the teacher continued, “She touched another little girl’s privates.”

WTF.

“They were wrestling,” the teacher continued, “and I told them to stop right away, but apparently B touched the girl’s privates. She says she didn’t know she did it, but I wanted you to be aware.

Translation: You get to have an even more awkward conversation with your five-year old than the one we’re having right now.

“Wow,” I said, because really, what do you say to the news that your kindergartener just crotch groped another child. I blubbered something about it not being ok, that we’d talk to her, that I had no idea why she’d do that.

“It happens,” the teacher shrugged. Which made me feel better, but immediately made me question why my daughter was rolling around on the floor with another girl in the first place and had the opportunity to touch a vulva other than her own.

B’s no fool. She knew a hushed teacher-parent convo was bad news, and she looked nervous.

“Hi B,” I said, giving her a hug.

“I didn’t know I touched her vagina,” she volunteered.

“We’ll talk about it in the car,” I said, hurrying her out the door.

“Well, McKenna – let’s call her that – and I were so excited that we’re having a playdate that we started rolling around,” B said as we drove to pick up her little sister. “She said I touched her vagina. But I don’t think I did.”

“McKenna whose mommy I emailed last night?”

“Yeah. She said I touched her vagina, but I don’t think I did.”

Really? Of all the vulvas, we have to be talking about the one belonging to the little girl whose mom I finally put aside my social awkwardness long enough to try to befriend with a coffee playdate. Of course, this wasn’t about me. This was about B and McKenna and vaginas.

And, of course McKenna’s mom or dad or both. Kids this age talk. I was in for the mother of emails, phone calls or face-to-face conversations.

I took a breath and reminded myself that this was a teachable moment. The fact that we were even having this conversation in the first place shows a positive move forward for women and our right to control our bodies. My husband and I constantly reinforce that our girls have the right to body ownership and the responsibility to let others control theirs. Our daughters know that they, and only they, decide who gives them a hug. I’ve told my own Nana that when it comes to my girls, no means no. If my husband tickles B and she says stop, he stops. I may be too easy going when it comes to picking up toys or brushing tangles from hair, but hitting is an automatic, no questions asked, time out.  We don’t hit—unless you’re B and some kid sits in a chair you don’t think he should sit in. I decided to let that go for now and talk vaginas. And yes, we don’t call it a pee pee or even privates. It’s a vagina. That’s its name and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it.

So, why on earth would my feminist-in-training kindergartener grope another kid? B knew better, or should have known better. In a situation like this, there were three possibilities:

1). McKenna made it up.

2). McKenna didn’t make it up, but B didn’t even know it happened.

3). It was intentional.

I didn’t even address the first possibility. The consequences of “blaming the victim” seemed far worse than just assuming it happened. At the next stop light, I opted to proceed as if it happened, but that B, as she claimed, was unaware it had. First, I explained that even if it was an accident, McKenna was correct to tell the teacher because she didn’t want B touching her.

“Perhaps it made her uncomfortable,” I said.

B chewed her hair and nodded, a sure sign that she was uncomfortable. “I don’t even think I did it,” she said between strands of soggy hair.

Then I told her that no matter her intention, she needed to be aware of where she was in relation to others, so as not to accidently touch them. But as I began to drive again, I wondered what if it was intentional? I did not want to go there. Call me chicken, but I was just not ready to have a sexuality talk with a five year old. I followed up by reminding B that no one has a right to touch another person without permission, and that she shouldn’t be touching anyone, with or without permission, at school.

“Ok,” she said, clearly exasperated. “Don’t talk about it when we get E.”

“We’re finished, for now.” I knew Daddy and McKenna’s parents were bound to have something to say on the subject, but B and I were both over this talk.

I’m incredibly grateful to McKenna’s mother. In an email the following day, she first suggested a time for our playdate before acknowledging what had happened. She said we both must have had difficult conversations the night before, and she was there to talk about it, if I wanted. It was the perfect response, one I would likely have given myself if B had been the one touched. It acknowledged what had happened without shaming.

I wrote back about the conversation B and I had in the car, but what I really wanted to say was: So, sorry my daughter touched your daughter’s vagina. Thanks for being understanding.  Can’t wait for that playdate. Let’s just not tell the girls ahead of time.

Awkward parenting win!

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Kathryn Hively

I started Just BE Parenting as a way to cope with the anxiety of balancing work, motherhood, and the impulse to write. That’s right, I’m not a parenting expert. I, my kids, and my family are perfectly flawed in MANY ways. As a parent, I’m trying to let go of perfection and just BE the best mother I can for my kids. The ‘B’ and ‘E’ in Just BE Parenting also represents the first letters of my children’s names. What works for me and my family may not work for you and yours. That’s ok! Even if we’re not the same, I hope you’ll find something relatable here.

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