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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

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About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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Sharing the facts of life

Uploaded: Apr 28, 2014
My preteen daughter and I spent the last two Wednesday evenings at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Heart to Heart: A Seminar on Growing Up for Parents and Kids. The seminar covers physical changes of puberty, sexuality, and sexual reproduction. Before I became a parent, teaching my kids the facts of life was not something I thought I would need to out source. I studied biology and took a psychology course in human sexuality in college. I taught high school biology, including a unit on human development and sexual reproduction, and in medical school I completed rotations in sexual wellness and adolescent medicine clinics. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, a fair amount of knowledge and professional experience in this field, the responsibility of sharing this information with my own kids had me in a cold sweat!

Our approach with our eldest son was to provide information on a need to know basis, an approach encouraged at the time. The advice was to let their questions be the guide and not to overwhelm them with too much information. Now the assumption seems to be that if they are asking questions they want to know more than they know how to ask, so while you have their attention keep talking until they tell you they have heard enough.

So, our son heard the facts of life doled out piece meal fashion, with time to ponder. But during a trip with my husband and two younger siblings to Southern California, our son suddenly became impatient and needed all the details. He pressed his dad for more complete answers as his dad navigated heavy traffic on Interstate Highway 405. With two younger kids listening in, and my husband driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads, it was not an optimum time to delve into this topic, so my husband handed our son the cell phone and told him to call me at home, where I had remained with the baby and toddler, and ask me his questions. I suggested to my son that we talk in person when he got home, which we did. I thought our discussion went well, he listened intently while nodding earnestly. Then he asked me in a concerned manner, "Does Dad know about all of this?"

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, never asked a single question about where the new babies in our house came from, and refused to discuss it when I brought it up. I bought her a lot of books and told her I would be happy to talk when she had questions. She did not have any questions. Ever.

The process has gone more smoothly since we started attending the seminars at Packard. The very best thing about the seminar is that the health educator is hilariously funny. Being self-conscious ties up a lot of brain cells. Humor is an extremely effective way of easing the self-consciousness that would otherwise prevent most of us from remembering a single fact from all the excellent material she presents.

The second thing I like is that she emphasizes to the preteens that the adults who accompanied them to the seminar really, really want puberty to go well for them, and are there to answer their questions and help and guide them. I appreciate that my kids hear that, even though I have a hard time telling them myself!


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Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 10:53 am

This past weekend, This American Life (public radio) opened with pre-teen boys at Packard commenting on puberty. They had pretty good senses of humor so I can only begin to imagine the sense of humor that the health educator had. Laughter has a lot to offer when dealing with this topic. Fun piece, Sally!

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Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 10:57 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi LJ,
There was an NPR reporter taping the first session of our seminar as well, and some of the girls agreed to be interviewed (although my daughter chose to stay clear of her!)

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Posted by PR, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Laugh-out-loud funny, Sally! Thank you!

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Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks for sharing a laugh, PR!

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Posted by Karen, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thanks for a terrific piece highlighting the Heart to Heart program. I've done the program twice and it was really worth it both times. I agree that the leaders do an outstanding job of making a tough topic enjoyable, even for a squeamish parent or tween.

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Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 28, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Karen, for reading and commenting! Yes, it is a surprisingly entertaining evening, and a great way to initiate a dialogue with a preteen.

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Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Apr 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm

How long has this program been around? I'm in my late 30s now, but remember being traumatized when my mom started the talk about periods. Let's just say there was ketchup involved.

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Posted by Nancy Sanchez, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Thanks for your shout out to our Heart to Heart Program, Sally! We at Stanford Children's Health/Lucile Packard Children's Hospital are pleased to offer this class for preteens and parents in our community. As you have indicated, we find that humor about the "human being experience" of puberty relaxes everyone in the room and the emphasis on using trusted adult resources is appealing to both parents and kids. ps. Watch for our upcoming launch of classes for pre-high school and pre-college teens and their parents!

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Posted by GC, a resident of Community Center,
on Apr 29, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thank you for the "review" on the Heart to Heart program and including your background for context. I was interested before but the humor element and someone that is not Mom or Dad speaking it makes this sound ideal for our family. My male headmaster taught us reproduction in 6th grade... that was as stodgy and proper an experience as you can well imagine. Since my parents knew it had been taught in school it was *never* brought up at home... and sixth grade was a bit late to learn the facts as summer camp in 3rd grade with older girls had already started the process that was continued by a "helpful" 5th grader with Barbie and Ken dolls. Thank you again for your thoughtful review/post and Thank you LPCH for having this program.

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Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 29, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear RW,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Ketchup, really? Definitely best left to the imagination! The health educator said she has been talking about puberty for 25 years! You could have been spared the ketchup talk!

Dear GC,
Yes, this seminar is actually fun!

Dear Nancy Sanchez,
Thanks for reading, and the info on the new programs. As I have one of both those categories I will be signing up. If you could just please add a program an parenting adult children!

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Posted by Charles, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Here is an example of family values and challenges.

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