I was shopping for milk when my 8-year-old son punched me in the balls. This was the second time in two days.
I’d been tickling his neck, when he took a blind swing at me. I hunkered down, leaned up against the cart, and struggled with blinding rage and stomach pain.
I’m going to be honest, it is moments like this that I realize parenting does, indeed, take patience. In the cart were my two daughters. As I leaned up against the cart’s handrail, Aspen, my sweet one year old, patted my head, while Norah, my snarky six-year-old, said, “It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
Both times Tristan has punched me in the balls, I feel confident it wasn’t intentional. But that was in hindsight. He’s in this rowdy boy age, where his solution to everything is to throw a punch. It started a few months ago, and I’ve had a heck of a time stopping it. The major problem is his height. He is at the perfect height to punch me in the balls.
Unfortunately I was in gym shorts, which offers very little protection.
I gave Tristan a hard stare, and he looked up at me with fearful wet eyes.
“That’s twice dude. Twice! Not cool.” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just didn’t want you tickling me. I didn’t mean to hit you there.”
For those of you that don’t know, getting punched in the balls is a blinding hot rage. I just wanted to snap, and it was everything I could do to keep calm.
Everything about my son at that time made me furious, so I told him, as politely as I could to “please stop talking.”
We finished shopping in silence, and once we made it to the van, loaded up the kids and unloaded the cart, and the pain had subsided, I looked behind me and said, “Tristan, why did I get mad at you?”
He looked down, scratched his leg, and said, “Because I punched you in the junk.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know that you have no idea how bad that hurts yet, but you will…”
Tristan interrupted me to say, “I do know how bad it hurts. I’ve been kicked there playing soccer.”
But the fact is, he doesn’t know how bad it hurts because he hasn’t gone through puberty yet. I’m no doctor, but I know that every time Tristan runs around the house naked, which is often, it’s easy to see that he has some development ahead of him.
“No you don’t know how bad it hurts,” I said. “Not yet.”
He argued with me for a moment. We were driving now. It was a little after 8 p.m., and my plan was to take a drive after the store to get Aspen to sleep. We were heading out of town when I finally got frustrated and said, “You don’t know because you don’t have balls…”
I stumbled over the word balls. I wondered if I should’ve chosen a better word, perhaps testicles, but it was too late.
I didn’t know if Tristan knew what a man’s balls were. But before I had a chance to say something more Norah cried from the back seat, “Are those your hangers?”
A few months earlier Norah walked in on me getting out of the shower. Then she went up to her mother and said, “Dad’s have big hangers,” and I could only assume she was talking about my body.
Tristan nodded at what Norah said, and then added, “Oh… those.”
The crazy thing about being family is that everyone has seen each other naked. At this stage in life, at these ages, there is no modesty. There are no secrets. Everyone had seen my balls.
I didn’t know if I loved the term hangers, but it seemed to make sense to them, so I ran with it, “yes,” I said. “Those.”
Norah’s face scrunched up and she said, “Those are icky.”
I shrugged, and Tristan asked another question.
“Will I get those?”
“Yes,” I said. “Eventually. And when someone punches you in them, it will hurt worse than you imagine. It will make you sick to your stomach.”
Tristan’s eyes opened wide, and Norah said, “Good thing I don’t have hangers.”
“You will have other issues. It’s just part of having a body,” I said.
Norah looked at me with big eyes, and I wondered if I shouldn’t have used the word ‘issues.’ I could tell that she wanted to ask another question, but didn’t, and I was grateful. As much as my wife’s body amazes me, I am still confused by it.
I assumed that conversations like this would happen later, and that I would be able to see them coming. But this one started with a punch in the crotch, and then moved into something else. Something different entirely, and I wasn’t ready, but it was happening, so I did my best.
As we drove, talking about development, I tried not to stumble over my words. I tried to handle this conversation as best I could, but honestly, I didn’t feel all that qualified. I assumed that there would be some prep time before class, but that wasn’t the case.
This is how parenting works. It’s organic. Life chats happen on their own time. One was happening right then, and in the next few days I would think about the terms we used, the way I approached important subjects, and wonder if I blew it.
We were just out of town when Norah said, “Aspen is asleep.”
And so I turned around, and drove home. No one spoke for a while. We hadn’t given the topic of body changes all that much depth, but it was enough. I didn’t want much more.
We were almost home when Tristan said, “I’m sorry dad. I didn’t know.”
“I know. But you will.”
Tristan looked at me with big eyes and I said, “I know. But you will.”
When he’s not saying insane things to his kid, Clint Edwards’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. He’s the author of the new book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.