Early in the morning, a male in my bed announced that I was sexypoo. I did not kick him out. I asked him if he meant if nicely, which he did, so I gave him a hug.
Then he called me a sexy peebin. He had not meant that kindly, so we talked about it.
Sex, for Epsilon, right now, is a game played by people with armpit hair. It is a game people can play nicely, or it is a game people can play meanly. When it is played meanly, it is a REALLY bad thing. (Yes, I will get in serious trouble next time he sees one of his friends' mothers who shaves in a sleeveless shirt.) But Epsilon understands playing games nicely and meanly much better than he can understand rape or sexualizing women's bodies or sexual abuse in relationships. He understands armpit hair better than he understands puberty, and it is less vague than "big people" (he's big, why can't he play sex?)
Explaining sex is easy. Explaining sexy is hard. It is different from other bad words he picks up. Four letter words are scattered about our house with undone dishes and unpicked up toys. Fuck and shit are words that you say when you are really unhappy about something, never say them to a person, only to a situation, and not outside the house, as that will upset people-- a long set of rules, but clear.
Stupid is not a word one says under any circumstance, even about oneself. Rascal is not nice, but a word we don't make a big deal about. After all, Puff the Magic Dragon is a rascal. One only uses that word nicely, not meanly.
We watched Peter Pan a while ago. His daycare had a pirates and mermaids themed week, the movie seemed appropriate. Ujan has started calling people savages as a result. Peter Pan said it all the time, it must be a good word. We had a long sad conversation about once upon a time people in the country we live in called people who look like us savages, and the depravation of liberties that entailed, and the people who died trying to fight that. So far, there has been a 48 hour reprieve in the use of the word in the household. It will come back. We will have another conversation, but he is starting to understand.
Sexy? What do I do with that word? It is not a bad word in its own right. It is even possible that when one of this classmates picked up the origial phrase "you're a sexy girlfriend" somewhere, the child heard it in a non-offensive context. The child probably repeated it, was told that it is not a nice thing to say, misunderstood the adults admonition, and brought it to daycare as a singsung tease. "You're a sexy girlfriend. You're a sexy peebin. You're a sexy dirty sock."
Like a bout of flu, or orange paint in his hair, Epsilon infected my house with it in all innocence. I never thought I would ever allow anyone to call me sexy, but motherhood has changed a lot of things I thought were immutable axioms in my life. Sexy is not the same as sex, even though it sounds like they should be related. How does one explain desire to someone who still thinks it is funny to fondle my breasts? Sexy is not the same thing as pretty, unless one is trying to give a zeroth level approximation of the word to a preschooler. I viscerally recoil from the idea of him calling one of his female class mates sexy, in order to tell them that they are pretty, while I do not have the same reaction at the thought of him saying that to a male. HE is not objectifying the girl, any more than he is racially motivated when he describes a new playmate at school as black, before he manages to mention that the playmate is male, and weeks before he can tell me his name. At the age of three, he is still truly describing the world as he sees it, in the order of what is apparent to him.
Still, sex and race are suh topics of power and abuse in this world, navigating this ground, teaching him to use the word sexy, fills me with unease.