Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birds and Bees Part II- Truth and Evasion

I suppose I should be celebrating that my son is so inquisitive and precocious. The fact he really likes to know how things work and how things are all interrelated–and that usually he really does understand how things tie together in this world—could be a great sign that he will be a scientist, or philosopher, or even one of the greatest thinkers of his generation. Or it could be a sign that he will inevitably know all our family secrets way before I am ready to divulge them.
Let’s hope for the former.

I managed to evade (to some degree) his questions about how those pesky little mechanical sperm get inside the mom, why some die off, and how moms don’t have a baby every year if they always get new sperm—only to be hit with the following question at 8:30 a.m. Why do these questions always surface at meal times?

“Mom, how long were you and dad married before I was born?” I choke on my bagel. This sounds innocuous, you say. What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that David and I were married for four short (or long, depending on how you look at it) months before our little boy blessed us with his presence. The fact that I was five months pregnant when we tied the knot is no family secret. It was fairly obvious to all at the wedding as well—even if I wasn’t really showing—because I couldn’t stop rubbing my belly all night long. I haven’t seen most brides do this, so unless my guests thought that the stuffed chicken was giving me indigestion, I’m sure they figured out the news as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I had (and have) no intentions of keeping this some deep, dark family secret only to be revealed at my death. But I also had no intentions of telling my (then) second grader exactly how long it was before he was born. Not at age seven.

“Why do you want to know?” I asked.
“I just want to know how long you and Dad were married before I was born.”
“Well, Dad and I were married in December and you were born in April.”

I was thinking that maybe he wouldn’t count the months. I was thinking that he probably doesn’t even know how long a pregnancy is.

“December, November, October, January,..” he kept going, looking at me for some direction. “Is that the right way to count them?” I knew he had the concept down, thank God he kept getting the months wrong. Finally I had an answer.

“Eli, Dad and I were married in 1998 and you were born in 1999.”
“Wow! That’s a long time!” he answered and skipped away.

I realize I have only bought myself a few weeks. At most. The main problem now, is that when we finally have the conversation about mechanical life forms getting inside mom, all these questions are going to surface again.

Stumped on the last questions and how to go about explaining them, I took the kids to the public library. While they were glued to the computer games I silently whispered to the children’s librarian, my face behind an open picture book, “Do you have any books on the facts of life; something I could use to help explain it to my second grader?” No matter that I am a 34 year-old mother of two and clearly expecting my third. I felt like an embarrassed teen-ager who just told her mom she got her period. The librarian had that sympathetic look and sigh, as if she had heard this question a million times, and led me to the section where all the SECRET BOOKS are kept. Actually, it was right there, third shelf down, within a toddler’s reach. Across the isle from astronomy and right above cooking. Shouldn’t these books be kept behind glass? With the Playboy and Hustler magazines?

Each book was a tad different in its approach, from glazing over the whole making-love/sex part, to actually describing in full detail, exactly how the man part gets in the woman part. I chose three books; one with specific facts and fabulous 70’s color pictures, one that glossed over the sex and focused on the development of the baby, and one by Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that she wrote a book for children on the subject of sex. I was a little skeptical of a book from Dr. Ruth, because she is such an advocate of being open about sexuality and about sex being a healthy part of life. I’m one of those moms who wants to tie sex to marriage, as well as all the baggage that accompanies unmarried sex. Sex isn’t sex without the guilt. This is one of those times in my life when “Do as I say, not as I do,” comes in really handy. But Dr. Ruth’s book handled the subject well:

“When boys and girls grow up, they become adults. And when adults love each other very much, they get married. At some point, the grown-ups might decide to try to get pregnant and have a baby. So, the man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina. This is called having sex.”

Direct. Straight-forward. Pulling no punches. Now I like the fact that sex and the baby are mentioned after the love-each-other-very-much part and the marriage part. But let’s face it, as an adult—even a good Catholic one—not all stories start (or end) like that. So, my problem? Later Dr. Ruth says, “After growing inside the mommy for nine months, the baby is ready to be born.”
Ah, there’s the rub.

I can pretty much bet on the fact that after reading this story with my son, I will get the question again. Oh, it might not be for a day or two, maybe even a week if I am lucky, but it will definitely be before he turns 18. I was hoping to hold out until at least 18. The conversation will probably go something like this:
“Mom, a baby takes nine months to grow, right?”
“Yep.”
“Well, you and daddy got married in December and I was born in April. That means… (silence while he counts) I was only in your tummy for 4 months?” You were a miracle child, I want to say.
“No, you were in my tummy for nine months.” I hate telling the truth.
“Well, the book said that sex happens AFTER mommies and daddies get married, right? Then how did you have me only four months after that?”
Well….

My mother is probably sobbing with hysterical laughter right now. On the floor. Holding her sides. There’s a reason I told you to wait, her eyes giggle. There’s a reason the church says to wait, too. I told you so, I told you so, I told you so.

Apparently, it’s so you don’t have to try and explain the intricacies of sex and life to a second grader who wants to know how everything works.

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