Learning about the birds & bees out of classroom

By Lynda Hollenbeck

Sex education at one time was a controversial issue.
Truth be told, in my growing-up years, it was practically non-existent.
When I was in school, what little was said about the facts of life was incorporated into our science and biology classes. But this was a hit-and-miss approach at best. It pretty much was a topic not dwelt on in my childhood and adolescence.
But one must remember that I was a little girl during the "I Love Lucy" years. And even though Lucy and Desi were married — not just on the show but in real life as well — they weren't allowed to sleep in the same bed.
Twin beds appeared in any bedroom scene featuring the couple.
And, as far as I know, the word "pregnant" wasn't used in any of the episodes preceding the birth of Little Ricky.
The dialogue regarding impending births was akin to biblical accounts. They didn't say Lucy was "great with child" (as Mary forever will be for me), but they came close to it.
"Expectant mother," "we're going to have a baby," etc. were usual ways to get the point across.
Not long ago I noted in a column that any questions I had regarding the facts of life were gleaned from a book I read in the school library. Mamma didn't discuss stuff like that with me — maybe with nobody.
(I wouldn't even check out the book because I didn't want Mamma to see what I was reading.)
My cousin Paula was a great source of information on sensitive topics. As a kid Paula planned to be a doctor and frequently enlightened me on medical matters. The birds-and-bees stuff fell into that realm.
Typically, she would use animals to explain whatever needed to be addressed. Our families always had dogs and cats, so there were plenty of available examples around.
When I wanted to know how to tell the boy kittens from the girls, she took me out to the backyard and lined up a litter, soldier-style.
"Here's how you tell the difference," Paula said. Pointing to the lineup, she placed two little felines side by side that obviously were not of identical gender.
"Now look at these," she told me. "You can see they're different. Some have powder puffs; some don't.
"The ones with the powder puffs are the boys; the ones that don't have them are the girls."
Made sense to me. I've been using that method ever since.
Two little girls were talking about how to tell whether a puppy was a male or female.
The girl whose family's dog had new puppies explained the difference to her friend. She considered herself qualified because she had observed her father in action and parroted what she had seen him do.
She picked up a puppy, flipped it over on its back and said, "This is what my daddy does. He turns the puppies over and looks at the bottom of their feet."
Her friend believed every word she heard.
A little boy I know is a staunch animal advocate. He goes way beyond the dog/cat/bird variety. He's had many species — turtles, lizards, spiders, even a chicken with scoliosis that he carries around most of the time.
This isn't his only chicken. He has more, including a pair that he named Sonny and Cher. He considered the two to be a couple until recently when Sonny laid an egg.
Even the best form of gender identification can produce surprises.
I know this is so because of Uncle Lena. He was a great big beautiful black cat that appeared to be female because of undescended parts.
I had named the cat Lena, which worked fine until I took her to the veterinary clinic to be spayed.
Nature proved me wrong. I had checked the cat into the clinic as Lena, but when I went to pick it up, I took home Uncle Lena.
Even Paula's tutelage wouldn't have worked in this instance.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.