Today’s guest post comes from Laurel Peterson Wicke is a former English teacher and actress who currently stays at home by choice as mom to three adorable and busy children. When not acting as cook, maid, and laundress, she spends her time volunteering in her older children’s classrooms, serving at church, and coordinating community HOA events. For her own sanity she reads, sings, blogs, and dates her husband. Read more of her adventures at teapartyplace.blogspot.com.
Just to be clear: I did not take my daughter out for frozen yogurt to discuss the birds and the bees. In fact, the trip for frozen yogurt was supposed to be my husband’s job since I was taking her out for lunch on her birthday the following day. However, he was ill. Very ill. And since our son was already getting ice cream with a friend, Logan was devestated not to be going for a sweet treat herself. So, the job fell to me. A tough one at that. I mean, cake batter and heathbar frozen yogurt? C’mon. Twist my arm.
And so there we sat. Outside Golden Spoon, enjoying one of life’s happy little gifts when it happened. I didn’t intend to start a thing when I asked, “So, how’s your life going so far?” But somehow that morphed into, “Why did you and Daddy adopt? And how come you could have baby Lincoln in your tummy and not me?”
Granted, I knew these questions would come up at some point, and I was prepared to answer, just not outside Golden Spoon on the eve of her eighth birthday. And, by the way, it’s pretty hard to talk about infertility with an eight year old.
“What’s that called?” she wanted to know.
“You want to know the specific name?” Mothering has taught me that clarifying questions are good.
“Yeah.” And that’s how she heard words like sperm, which she immediately started including in her speech as if she were discussing knees, elbows, and ankles. I suddenly had visions of every inappropriate context in which words like sperm could be used.
“Yeah. Those are the words, but we probably shouldn’t use them with just anybody. These things are personal and private. Things we talk about with Mommy and Daddy, but not with just anybody.”
“Why?” Mothering has also taught me that clarifying questions can be annoying when they come from the other side. And difficult. And endless. They just kept coming. Why this, and why that, and finally, “Why aren’t you really answering my questions?”
She wasn’t buying the sidestepping and dancing around important topics. I took a deep breath. “Do you want to know how babies are made?”
Her eyes lit up. I don’t think it was what she was specifically getting at, but now that it was on the table she was definitely interested. “Yeah!”
“Umm…o…kay.” You see, I knew this was coming, too. People say eight years old is a good time to open up the dialogue about sex with your child. Before they are introduced to it by some random girl on the monkey bars at recess like I was. That unfortunate conversation was burned onto my emotional psyche. I wanted better for my little girl, but it’s tricky, that delicate balance of childhood innocence and education. How much is too much? When is the right time?
Apparently, the right time for Logan was 6:45 pm the night before she turned eight years old. In the time it took to take a couple of deep breaths and a glance at the moon, I threw a prayer into the stars and gave myself a pep talk. “Okay, Mommy. Be fearless.” I had no text to follow. No experience of my own to draw upon. My talk with my mother–my ONE talk with my mother–included her drawing something that looked like the head of a long-horned cow on my blackboard. Something traveled from the end of one horn to it’s nose but what it was exactly or how it got there or what it did there, I had no idea. I love my mother, but she must admit that that was not the gold standard of sexual education. (Ahem.)
“Okay, Mommy. Be fearless. Be clear. And be casual.” I want her to understand that sex is sacred but not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. I want her to understand that is joyful in the right context. And yet, outside of the right context it can bring unhappiness and heavy consequences. I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be informed.
That is a mighty precipice to be standing on. Not that I expected her to get it all in one fell swoop. It’s not that. It’s just that I realized that this first introduction would set the stage for every conversation hereafter. A mighty precipice, indeed, down which I began, carefully at first, building upon what she already knew.
“You know how we’ve talked about how it takes a man and a woman, both, to make a baby? Well, there’s a reason for that. There is something from the man, sperm, and something from a woman, an egg, that when they come together is the very beginning of a baby.” And then the best clarifying question I have ever heard. One that my wisest friends have used with success: “Do you want to know more?”
She did. I won’t go into specific details, because those are private between the two of us, but I will say that when we got to the main idea–the actual “how to” of the instruction manual– she said, “Can we go somewhere else?” and suddenly stood up.
“Sure,” I replied calmly. She began walking, clearly looking for something. “Where would you like to go?”
“Some place I can scream.”
I stifled even the trace of a smile. “Umm…how about the car?”
“Okay.” And after closing the door she let out a loud, “Arrrrrrrggggh! You and Daddy did that?”
“Honey, Daddy and I do that. I know that it probably seems strange and weird to you right now, just like kissing does, but I want you to know that it is a wonderful thing. A happy thing.
“Okay…” she hesitated. After a moment she said, “Is it okay if I don’t do that?”
“Sure. It’s okay.”
“Good. I think I’ll just adopt.”
“Well, that’s a fine idea, but I have to tell you that a long time from now, when you love somebody, it’s going to be the most natural thing in the world. You’ll want to be that close to someone, and that’s the way Heavenly Father made it.”
After the initial shock she seemed to take it well. She was even comfortable enough to ask a couple of questions that knocked the wind out of me. How was I to answer the question, “How does that feel?” Oh, mercy, please! But I think I succeeded in being fearless, clear, and casual, even though on the inside I felt none of those things. My first trip down that precipice made me feel awkward, and grasping, and cowardly; I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night, although when we returned home she seemed unfazed. She jumped right in pretending with her brother and reading bedtime stories all the while I was replaying the whole scenario in my head, questioning my every phrase.
The next day, when I took her to lunch, I couldn’t help myself. “Well?” I questioned. “How do you feel after our little talk yesterday?”
“Good. Well…I mean so-so.”
“Oh, really?” I worried.
“Well, I mean I still want to get my ears pierced, but I’m a little nervous.”
(Insert chirping crickets here.)
“No! Not that talk. I mean the talk about the big secret of life that we had last night.”
“Oh, that,” she replied nonchalantly. “Well, I guess if it’s such a “big secret” (this accompanied by the use of air quotes) I should know about it. Hey, look at this mirror. It makes my head look funny.”
And that was it.
The thing that I’m coming to understand is that these giant precipes are ever so much easier for the child than for us as the parents. But I think that’s because they get to hold our hand. And we get to keep them steady. That’s our job. That’s our responsiblity. That is our joy. Even when we aren’t necessarily sure how to begin. Even when it just starts out as a trip for yogurt.
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