Before this conversation, K had been nearly silent about school. Peter and I had been trying nightly to open her up, asking easy questions like, "Who did you have lunch with?" and "What was your favorite part of the day?" She would always answer, but tell us no more than we asked. I wanted to respect her privacy, but I did not want her to feel alone with whatever she might be encountering. Peter and I have always had a general attitude that is best described as, "Observe closely but don't intervene unless necessary." However, we had not yet found a way to observe K's school day.
So I'd been searching for a way in when I happened to ask K whether she remembered that a specific girl in her homeroom had been a friend in preschool. (The girl's mother and I had been in touch.) K smiled and explained that the other girl had remembered her first, and now the two of them have rekindled their friendship. My adoptive parent's heart filled with happiness at this continuity in K's discontinuous life.
She went on to tell me all about the alliances that have formed since the start of school: who is friends with whom, who is mean to whom. K said that one girl in particular has said cruel things to her preschool friend. "So I'm not friends with that girl. She even invited me to be in her group, but I don't want to be."
I asked, "Because she's mean to your friend?"
She replied, "Yeah. And because she dresses and acts so...weird. She pushes her sweaters off the shoulder, and she wears tight clothes, and she wiggles her butt a lot. So do her friends. But I don't want to."
Trying to sound casual, but secretly thrilled, I reflected back, "You don't want to?"
She said, "No. I think those girls want to do things I don't want to do. Like, go to parties where people are making out and stuff. I am SO not into that. I don't want them to invite me."
My adoptive parent's heart wondered, How is it that this kid, who is supposed to have identity issues, knows exactly who she is and what she wants? My skeptic's brain also said, Yeah; just wait for the hormones to kick in.
K and I discussed the fact that she has a handful of girl friends moving at about her speed. I'm glad. I didn't have any friends like me when I was her age--rather, I had one, but she went to a different school. And then--I forget how we got there-- she asked me about preventing pregnancy. This didn't surprise me. She plans ahead, and in general she is curious about the human body.
For the record, we have not yet talked as a family about values concerning premarital sex. However, we have always been careful to discuss sex as something that happens between consenting adults in a committed relationship who have known each other a long time.
I've mentioned before that I used to work for Planned Parenthood. One of my responsibilities was educating clients about reproduction and birth control. I did this so many times that I learned to do it with and without props, in simple and complex language, and so on, but I rarely had to do it with 11-year-old girls who are not even menstruating. But I still had my skills.
If you don't want to know what I told her, please skip the following paragraph.
I explained very simply that what works best is abstinence and what works worst is the calendar method and pulling out. Then I ran down the list of available methods, making sure to emphasize that every one of them is more effective if used with a condom. I mentioned using condoms to prevent STDs. I mentioned that there are other kinds of sex to have besides intercourse. And that was all she wanted to know.
I have deep respect for parents who don't wish to discuss such matters with their kids; if you're one of them, I'm not recommending you change your views. You know what works for your family. What I said to my daughter is simply what works for mine.
For the record, K thanked me, folded up the paper I'd drawn on, kissed me, and went to play with her brother. Since this conversation, she has talked to me every day about the social scene at school (not about birth control).
I am so grateful we found a way to connect. I got a little more connection than I bargained for, but maybe it'll teach her that I'm safe to approach even about sex.