"I'm a boy and I've got a willy."
-Loudly. He is 2 and volume control is a skill as yet undiscovered.
"Daddy's a boy and he's got a willy."
-Me. Less loudly. We are, after all, squeezed together into a toilet cubicle at the V&A Museum.
"You're a girl, you haven't got a willy."
"Yes darling. That's right."
-I am amused by this conversation. Happy to answer questions as I try to reach the toilet paper past the squeezed-in toddler. My late-pregnancy bladder can wait no longer.
"You lost your willy."
"You threw your willy in a skip!"
"No, darling" (Squeaked, high pitched) "Mummy never had a willy. I didn't throw my willy in a skip!"
-Gulp. The sound of barely suppressed laughter is heard from both adjoining cubicles. I wonder how long we can reasonably hide in there for.
And this is the moment I realize that I have failed my son. Totally. He knows about male genitalia, he can name his parts, but all he has learned about women's bits is simply an absence. A lack of willy. He has no words, and right there and then, in that moment, neither do I.
How do I name the female parts? I find we lack a word that can be repeated loudly in a public toilet by a curious 2 year old without causing embarrassment or offence. Why so squeamish? Why am I not comfortable with the word Fanny? I've never really liked it, somehow. My mum referred to my Front Bottom at that age, but that seems a bit daft. It is not, after all, a bottom.
I decide to survey my friends. Other mothers of small people. Mothers of girls. We have some very funny conversations.
One uses Crinkle, to match her son's Winkle. It's a neat solution and nicely descriptive without being graphic, but not quite right for us. It works best as part of a matching pair.
Another, who is Swedish, has always used the word Pearl in her native tongue. But then they moved to Pearl Road. And her daughter has a friend called Pearl. This could get confusing. And I don't speak Swedish.
"How about Bits and Bobs"? Asks another. As in "Have you wiped your Bits and Bobs?" Funny, but a bit too vague.
Minkie? Nope, sounds too much like the word manky to me, not a positive word. Loo-Loo, (or is it LuLu?) Hmm, that's where you go, not the part that does the business. Pompom? Eh? Well, I suppose a pompom is kinda fluffy, but that's not right for a child. A lot of the suggested names for parts are perfect for that particular family, a neat fit within their own familial language. Phrases and names which make sense to the tribe, but which sound like nonsense to the outside world. I put Minkie, LuLu, NuNu, PomPom, Fuful and Bear into that category. Bear is, actually a particular favourite of mine, originating from a friend's son, who pointed and inquired "Mummy, why have you got a bear down there?". Hilarious. Not right for a child though.
Finally someone suggests Pee-Pee. It sort of does what it says on the tin. Sounds inoffensive enough, but describes its function, and has a similar sing-song quality to Willy. It will have to do.
And it has. We tried it, it seems to work. But why don't we, in the English language, have a common word that works? Fanny? Sort of. How about the C word? See, I can't even type the word without risking offence. Its one thing to reclaim it for my own use, but its not right for kids; too brutal, too tarnished with offensive insult to work from the mouth of a toddler. Twat? Oh no. See previous concerns. In her brilliant autobiography 'North of Normal', Cea Sunrise Person describes the look of horror on her paternal grandmother's face as she shouts "Mom, come wipe my twat!". Growing up living in a tipi in the Canadian wilderness, surrounded by adults who were escaping the confines of societal norms (you know, sex, drugs and skinning bears) Cea's language is, her mother realizes, not all that appropriate for a 3 year old.
What about more technical terms? Vagina? Nope, I don't think I want to hear my kids talking about vaginas just yet. But again, I blame my own prudish squeamishness for this. It's not a terrible word, it just sounds medical, but also like a bit of grimace. I've tried saying it out loud, without grimacing. I can't.
In Sweden they have tackled this problem by creating a new word. Snippa, to go with the male Snopp, (which is equivalent to willy). Oh those clever clever Swedes, once again, showing us how to deal with inequality, gender and child rearing with intelligence and no grimacing. Created by a social worker, back in 2000, it is now in the official Swedish dictionary, and more importantly in common use. By encouraging nursery workers to use it, they have eased the word Snippa into the language in one generation. Now, all we need is an English equivalent.