Care and Feeding

Carl Dropped Trou

What should we do about a neighbor boy who showed my sons his penis?

Photo illustration of two boys covering their eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by pookpiik/iStock/Getty Images Plus and kdshutterman/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two boys, ages 9 and 6. They often play with a neighborhood boy named Carl, who is 5.

Yesterday, my morning sitter heard my younger boy say to the older one, “Don’t you think Carl’s penis looks weird?” My sitter jumped in and asked how they know what Carl’s penis looks like. They told her that he took it out and showed them, but they didn’t show theirs. Carl told them not to tell me.

While he says he didn’t, I’m not sure my 6-year-old wouldn’t have reciprocated. He’s been seen by different neighbors outside on a snowbank, shirtless with his pants around his ankles (underwear up!) beating his chest like King Kong. I think he’d just won king of the mountain, but why he’d need to drop his pants to celebrate, I have no idea.

I had a talk with my boys reminding them that their privates are private and they don’t take their penises out around other people. I made sure there was no touching involved. We talked about not keeping secrets, and that if this happens again, they should tell Carl to put his junk away, and tell me or their dad or the sitter what happened. All good.

My feeling is that Carl’s behavior is within the range of age appropriate for a 5-year-old. Am I wrong on that? Is it something I should to talk to his parents about? They seem perfectly nice, but we aren’t friends, and our contact is limited to text messages saying, “Can you send my kid home.” I think I’d want to know, but I admit I’m pretty uptight and from what I can tell, she’s more laid-back. Do I wait and see if it happens again?

I’ll admit I’m also concerned about my 9-year-old being around when a much younger kid has his penis out. Mine knows to keep it in his pants, and says he was uncomfortable and walked away when Carl dropped trou. What should I tell him to do if it happens again? Should I keep him from playing with Carl? That would be hard, since there are no kids his age in the neighborhood. Should I make sure they only play in our yard where I can keep an eye on the activities (also hard)?

—Please Keep It to Yourself

Dear PKItY,

I think this is pretty standard-issue behavior for a 5-year-old, but I do admit that the fact Carl told your sons not to tell their parents gives me pause. That (maybe) sounds like repeating a warning he’s heard before. I don’t think you need to go full KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON here, but I would definitely call Carl’s parents and relate the very simple course of events: Carl showed our sons his penis, our sons told us about it, we reiterated that we don’t take our genitals out to show people. You can tell them you’re only calling so they can remind Carl about keeping his junk to himself, but also that he did tell your sons to keep it a secret, which you found mildly worrisome, and you would want to be told about it if your situation were reversed.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My family spends a lot of time with another family all ski season. Our kids are the same age and we have been sharing a ski house since our kids were very little. My kids refer to the other kids’ parents as “Ms. Karen” or “Mr. Tim.” With some of our closest friends, they drop the Ms./Mr. and just call them by the first name. Our ski friends taught their kids to call other adults “Mommy Karen” and “Daddy Tim.” It wasn’t my favorite, but I could tolerate it from a 4-year-old. Now that these kids are 9 and 12, being called “Mommy Karen” just creeps me out. Do I just grin and bear it? Do I say something to the parents? To the kids? They are pretty mellow people and I worry it seems like a nit-picky, rude thing to bring up.

—I Feel Like I’m in a Cult

Dear Mommy Karen,

You have my permission, next season, at the first “Mommy Karen” usage, to give a delightful, tinkling, bell-like laugh and say, “Oh, darlings, we’ve known each other so long, and you’re so grown-up now, I think I’d be more comfortable if you just called us Karen and Tim.”

Whatever one’s personal feelings about what kids should call adults, they are immediately overruled when one of those adults says, “Actually, I would prefer you call me Froot Loops.” This is a basic etiquette question, and only a real boor would say, “NOPE, it’s politer for them to call you MISTER Froot Loops.” It’s polite to call people what they request to be called.

If these weirdos overrule you and insist on pushing onward with you as Mommy Karen, they are kooks and you’ll just put up with it and laugh about it with your less-weird friends.

Have a blessed day. You brightened mine considerably.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for about a year, but have unfortunately had a difficult time, suffering through multiple miscarriages. We’ve been married for several years and are both in our early 30s, so lots of people—particularly the prospective grandparents, but other family members as well—think it’s their business to ask us regularly when we’re going to have a baby. We’ve tried being nice (“You’ll know when there’s something to announce!”) and being curt (“Please stop bringing this up”), but nevertheless, they persist. I don’t think I should have to share the most painful experience of my life with people just because they’re resolutely nosy. Do you have any ideas about how to get them to STFU without having to reveal the extent of our struggle and trauma?

—Leave Me Alone

Dear Leave Me Alone,

Oh, fuck these rude-ass people, seriously. I’m so sorry, I know they’re your families, but come on! This is a nightmare, and a common one, and you have all my sympathies. Once someone is pushing past “Please stop bringing this up,” you’re dealing with absolutely impossible people and you are justified in turning the garden hose on them.

More productively, I think you should find a sympathetic family member (if you have none, your husband) and ask this person to mass-email the offenders and say that this is a deeply personal and painful question—it is actively causing you grief and discomfort—and you are sure that now that they have had this brought to their attention, they will wait until you have news to share with them.

If they keep going at that point, I will come to your town and make a massive public scene.

I hope that this question becomes very quickly utterly unimportant to you, and you will be in my thoughts either way.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I want to start off this letter by saying I love using my food processor. Both my partner and I are busy professionals and I use my food processor quite frequently, as I find it makes my life a lot easier. The shredding and slicing blade is such a godsend. Also, I just like eating soup for lunch.

My partner’s sister and her 5-year-old son, “Matt,” are coming to stay with us for two months this summer. Last summer, when they stayed with us for a similar amount of time, Matt found the sounds of the food processor scary and would yell at me to stop whenever I used it. I would let him know when I was about to turn it on and I didn’t use it longer than absolutely necessary. It didn’t really help because each time, he would demand I stop using it.

Am I being cruel if I use my food processor while they’re in our place again this summer? Our place isn’t super big so there isn’t really anywhere to escape the noise. I really only have time on the weekends to prepare food for the week. I don’t want to terrorize the kid but at the same time, there are already a lot of changes to my routine while they’re staying with us. Should I just give them a warning more in advance that I plan to use the processor so they can do something else? I should note that his mom never asked me not to use it.

—I Just Really Like Soup!

Dear IJRLS!

A year is a long time for a kid. Call his parents and ask if he’s still wigged out by noises like a food processor. He might have sensory issues or it might have been a temporary thing, like how plenty of “normal” little kids flip the heck out over noisy public toilets.

If he still hates it, tell him nicely to step into his bedroom/the yard/the apartment hallway when you use it.

This is not a big problem.

—Nicole

Ask a Teacher

My daughter’s sixth-grade elective teacher mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. I feel like it isn’t my daughter’s responsibility to manage these boys in class. Should I just let it go?