My first memory of talking about sex with my kids would be with my older daughter. I was explaining how I was going to be having a baby, that there was a baby growing inside of me that would eventually come out and turn her into a sister. She was only about two at the time so I didn’t get into the rudimentaries. Before there was ever any talk about sex, there was just a lot of nudity. My older daughter loved to be nude. She would strip down at any opportunity and despite her growing sense of decorum she still sleeps without pajamas. My brother, crashing on our couch one night, recalled being awoken at dawn to her painting at the kitchen table stark naked. She also enjoyed wrestling in her underwear. I can remember her around four years old greeting one of her little chums who had come over to our house;
“Henry, take off your pants. We’re playing naked Zurg.” There was never any latent sexuality in this kind of play. It was just joyfulness at being in her body and moving around. Although as I write that I can see that maybe a big part of sexuality is just that, or should be just that.
Later there would be questions…
Sometimes I would come upon the kids in compromising positions;
“What are you looking for?”
Okay then. At least when you find them they will be clean I thought, since you are in the bath.
Or to my husband;
“Is that your bladder hanging behind your penis dad?”
Often the girls would look nostalgically at my breasts, asking if there was still milk in my nipples. Nope I would say, these wells are dry. There were questions about menstruation, or “moon time”, in the hippy parlance of their first care-giver…
“Are you blooding mom? Can I see?” Charming. Nothing beats pooping with an audience until you have to change a tampon, or a diva cup with a curious onlooker.
My youngest daughter, lucky enough to spend her early years at home with dad instead of at a daycare occasionally claimed to have a penis.
“Dad has a penis.”
“I have a penis too.”
“Nope, you have a vagina, like me and Aimee. Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.”
“No, I have a penis. Like dad.”
“Ok. Whatever you have is fine with me, as long as you go to sleep now.”
The interest in the penis subsided until the Christmas season when wrapping paper rolls were brandished, phallic and festive at once. Lately she seems less interested, maybe the novelty wore off?
Typically any conversation around sex hinges on either babies, which both girls love, and how to get one, or on gender and biology; who has what and how does it all match up? I feel like I have had the talk about babies so many times that it is like being caught in an awkward Groundhog Day but without the help of Bill Murray. The first time one of the girls asked about where babies come from I decided to stick to the facts, but provide only the bare requirement of information. I told myself that if they were asking about digestion I would have no qualms and so I pushed forward, past my weird feelings.
“I want to have a baby.”
“Well, maybe someday you will have a baby”
“I want one now.”
“Only adults can have babies.”
“Because your body is not done growing and so it can’t grow baby.”
“You grow a baby in your stomach.”
“Well, it looks like it’s in your stomach but women have a special place for babies to grow.”
“A vagina!” Close but no cigar, I think.
“Well, the baby comes out of the vagina when it is born but it grows in the uterus.”
“How does it get in the stomach?” Why bother explaining I wonder.
“It grows from a seed.”
“Okay. I’m hungry. Can we get cheesies?”
And for awhile that was enough. But like an addict, every time the topic came up they needed more information, more details, to be satisfied. I struggled to find a way to answer the questions without creating more questions, or to be honest without bringing up the question. It. Basically, doing it. I felt like I could get through any baby interrogation as long as I didn’t have to describe the act in its entirety.
The next time babies came up we were stuck in the car during a rainstorm, waiting for a break to make a dash into the library. The drops hit the windshield in gusts. The girls had their dolls in the back seat and were talking about how they would have so many babies when they grew up. Ha, I thought. I hope you do! Justice! Anyhow, the older one, eager to assert her power by displaying her superior knowledge of biology began, in a very pedantic way, to explain how babies were made.
Little one: “They grow inside the mum.”
Big one: “Yes, but not in the stomach, they grow in a special place, by the vagina.” Not bad.
Little one: “They come out the vagina, but not the peehole.” Already superseding my own childhood anatomical knowledge by maybe a decade. What can I say? I went to Catholic school.
Big one: “That’s right. And we can’t make babies because we don’t have the special place yet.”
Little one: “Where do we get it?”
Big one: “From a seed!”
This is when the talk turned to me. Uh oh.
Big one, to me: “Where does the mum get the seed?”
“Well, the mum already has the special place, women are born with the place, the seed is just to grow the baby. You have the place. It just isn’t ready until you’re an adult and then you get the seed and grow the baby.”
Big one to me: “So we just need the seed. Where do we get the seed?”
I am starting to sweat. I look at the rain. Still pelting.
“Well, you get the seed from your partner. Usually.” I amend, thinking about donors and same sex parents and surrogates…keep it simple, right?
Big one to little one: “See, we can have babies when we’re adults. Do you want to have a baby with me?”
Little one: “Yes!”
Big one to me: “We are going to be partners and have babies together.”
“Well, usually you need a boy to give you the seed. The dad gives the seed to the mum. Or sometimes a close friend, or…” I am faltering. This is getting too complicated. How do you explain the many and varied ways of obtaining a seed. But it doesn’t matter. I have lost them at the dad part.
Big one: “We’ll just get the seed from dad! We can be partners and dad can give us the seed.”
“NO, No no it doesn’t work like that. You can’t get the seed from your dad.”
Big one: “What about Ben? We can get a seed from him.” (her cousin)
“You can’t get a seed from anyone you’re related to. It looks like it’s letting up, come on!” Imparting this final fact I choose the rainstorm over any more strategizing and open the car door.
The next time the seemingly inevitable seed conversation rolls around I am parking near St. Joe’s in order to take the older one to the asthma clinic. I can’t remember what sparked the question this time; I must have remarked offhand that this was the hospital where she was born.
Big one: “But not (my sister), she was born at home, in the bathtub, right?”
“Yep.” It sounds so makeshift and somehow slipshod. I wonder if I should have made up a lie that she was born decorously in a birthing tub. Too late.
“So dad gave you the seed, right?”
“He sure did.”
Silence as I unbuckle her and lock the door and we make our way across the street.
“But how did you get the seed?”
Think, think, think.
“Well, like I said dad gave it to me.”
“But how? Where does it come from?”
“Well, it comes out of his penis.”
“What!” in total disbelief. “Well, that’s weird. Can I get a cookie after the doctor?”
So that was it. I did it. Could’ve been worse. I guess. At least I was the first one to tell her, not some know-it-all on the playground. I did mention later that most parents like to be the ones to explain about seeds so that if she had friends who wanted to know the whole story she should tell them to ask their own parents. Besides, who knows what level of broken telephone would occur in her retelling of the facts. For now I had escaped the inevitable explanation: it. Bare facts had sufficed, the strange image of a seed (likely a sunflower seed or orange pip , as that’s the extent of my kid’s seed knowledge) emerging from a penis confounding enough to distract my daughter from the next inevitable question. That would be another story, for another time. I had, at least, a respite, time to gather my resources and prepare for the next level of inquiry.