Wednesday, August 4, 2010

“A Boy’s Best Friend” by Lauren Ryan

One morning when I changed my baby’s diaper, I noticed that his penis was larger than usual — about twice its regular size. Brady was just nine months old. “Oh my God,” I remember blurting out loud. “Is this normal?”

Of course, I thought, calming myself. I remembered reading about this somewhere before. Erections, though non-sexual, were a stage of development. He was becoming a boy.

Starting at about age two, Brady discovered it was fun to play with his penis as though it were a toy. Constantly. I did not want to make him feel ashamed of touching himself or draw too much attention to the behaviour, so I either ignored it or quietly told him it was something to do in private. “OK, Mommy,” he would nod, without ever actually removing his hand.

Then when he was about three, Brady realized that this part of him was sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller. He enthusiastically shared this news with me on a regular basis. “You’re right, sweetie,” I would respond very gently, feigning interest, while changing the subject. Wondering how my husband handled these moments, I learned that he was as much at a loss for words as I was. “Having one doesn’t make me the expert on the subject!” he chuckled.

During this period of fascination, we took Brady and his younger brother, Tyler, age two on a family trip to the Ontario Science Centre. While my husband and Tyler went scouting for a table in the crowded cafeteria, I waited in line for condiments with Brady. All of a sudden, he pulled his pants all the way down and, with unrestrained delight and fascination, shouted, “Look Mommy, my penis is long!”

“Oh my God! Don’t do that in public!” I shrieked, quickly reaching over and pulling his pants back up. A man witnessing the incident cracked a joke, but I was busy turning scarlet and scanning the crowd wondering if anyone else had noticed. Half-laughing and half-cringing, I made it to our table, avoiding all eye contact.

Our days of downplaying Brady’s fun discovery were over. We had to find a way to rein in the behaviour. My husband and I would talk to him on a regular basis, and I would very gently repeat the same thing: “Please don’t do it anymore, Brady.” Finally one day, I just exploded.“Oh for God’s sake, that’s enough already! Stop it!” I thought, if my reaction causes him emotional damage, so be it! As it turned out, all my efforts — including my angry outburst — seemed to have no effect on him whatsoever.

Now as I’m writing this, he’s almost six, he would never dream of pulling down his pants anywhere but in the bathroom with the door closed or in the privacy of his own room. He still holds it in public, though, and when I catch him, I still tell him not to. This makes him stop temporarily, but in no time at all, he’s back at it. I even resorted to warning him that children will make fun of him when he starts grade one in the fall. This didn’t cause the expected reaction or even seem to worry him at all.

Recently, I’ve decided to stop fretting about it and let nature take its course. That’s the advice I would give other parents facing the same behaviour. When concerned friends or strangers ask me “Does he have to go to the bathroom?” I simply shrug and reply, “No, it’s just a habit. He’ll outgrow it.”

It’s also a habit my younger son has recently picked up. One night, while I was reading Tyler a bedtime story, he asked me, “Will you hold this Mommy, while I turn the pages?” Stifling a shocked giggle, I answered, “No, honey, that’s something you do on your own.” Oh boy. Here we go again.

Lauren Ryan lives in Mississauga with her husband and two normal but very curious sons, ages seven and five. This piece was originally written as an assignment in one of Brian’s “Welcome to Creative Writing” classes and was first published as a “Your Turn” piece in Today’s Parent (submission info here).

On June 17, Lauren gave a reading of “A Boy’s Best Friend” at CJ’s Cafe.  Our next reading night will be Sept 13.  If you're interested in reading, check out the details here.

For information about Brian Henry's creative writing courses and writing workshops, see here.


  1. Lauren Ryan! Your son looks just like you! I knew this was the 'Lauren Ryan' I knew years ago as soon as I started reading your article! Your very sweet, and touching article (pun intended)! Renee Klerer (formerly of Y&E). Hope you are great!

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