When I was about 8 years old, I was asked by my teacher to come up to the blackboard (one with chalk and those wooden dusters and lots of broken chalk bits – you know the ones that took up a whole wall in the classroom) and write a word with ‘ER’ in it.

We were doing ‘ER’ words in class that week. I was an avid reader and this was easy peasy for me.

I walked up to the front and was handed the chalk by Mrs Patterson (you know, one year I forgot my own birthday, but I can remember this teacher from 30 years ago!) and happily wrote my ‘ER’ word on the board.


Within seconds of proudly writing my word on the board, I was sent to the principals office.

I waited in the chairs in the hall while my parents were called in. We lived in Brisbane, this mean calling my mum in from the hospital she worked and my dad from the business he was managing. This was a school that still punished with the ruler or cane and I was positive I was about to cop a hiding – for what, I did not know, but I knew that the ‘ER’ word I had written on the board was the root cause of it all.

My parents were called in first, and a discussion ensued.

My mum then called me in.

She said to me: “What are the rules around using words in our house?’

I said:” You must know what they mean and use them correctly.’

Mum said: ‘Correct. And what word did you write on the board in class?’

I said:  ” SPERM”

Mum said: ” What is the correct meaning of sperm?’

I said “Its a type of whale.”

Mum turned to the principal and smiled – “Thank you for calling us both from work to be here, I think we are done now.”

Now, I also knew that there was a second meaning for sperm. My mum was a nurse and not one to sugarcoat or filter anything. I also knew that the correct usage of THAT meaning was not at school. But honestly, my 8 year old self was smitten and intrigued with whales and was voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on about them and was proud of the fact that I knew the different species of whale – so I had written it on the board quite innocently and not thinking of the other meaning.

Now flash forward 30 years  to my son, Master 9.

He came home from school and announced that they did anatomy today in school.

“We learnt all about penises, vaginas, breasts, testicles and nipples today mum!’

“Great honey, tell me what you learnt.”
And he did. And he was bang on – I was quite proud. He obviously listened and learnt and took it all very seriously. I asked if anyone giggled or acted silly and he said “No mum, this was science.”


I then probed further, asking if he had any questions, wanted to talk about anything at all, you know – just opening it right up there…

“No thanks mum, but I did tell my teacher that sometimes people are born in the wrong body, and when they start growing the wrong body bits, they take medicine, called blockers that stops it so they can be happy.’

“um, OK, great…. what did your teacher say to this?”

“He just said “Thank you, that is correct but we are not up to that bit yet.”

An awesome response from teacher thrown a curveball!