The Talk

My husband, John, and I love being parents.  We’ve loved it almost every minute of the last 22 years.  Four kids together, three girls and a boy.  We loved being pregnant, we loved staring at our newborns, playing with our babies, chasing our toddlers, cheering for our school aged kids, laughing with our teenagers, and having a beer with our adult (only one of those so far).

Not that they’ve been perfect angels, but when they’ve strayed, they’ve reminded us of ourselves, and we’ve gotten through it together.

I remember when we first brought our oldest daughter home.  We felt as though we’d stolen something from the hospital.  We were amazed they let us take her home.  We got to just walk right out of the place and no one ran after us yelling, “Hey!  Stop them!  They’ve taken one of the babies!”  Neither did they say, “Good luck!” which would have been appropriate, because we were pretty sure we needed it.

We weren’t kids or anything.  We were both about 30.  I had read “all the books”, and read much of them out loud to poor John.  “Honey, listen to this.  It says they eat like every two or three hours.  It’s because their stomachs are so tiny.  Can you believe that?  You’re going to have to grow boobs.”

We puzzled over diapers and swaddling blankets and carriers and snaps on baby clothing…and eventually figured them all out.  The best part was that as we tried and failed, and tried again, no one was there but the three of us.  And Kate was a good sport.  Laying there breathing in and out, gurgling and being GORGEOUS and PERFECT while we bumped around trying to sharpen our skills.  By the time we had to do anything in front of others, we were pros.  People would sigh and say, “Oh, you’re naturals.” which would make us beam with pride, of course, stealing a glance at one another as we both imagined the scene an hour before when we were both covered with an explosion of baby poop that we couldn’t quite seem to clean up.

It was also easier when they couldn’t talk.  You didn’t have to think ahead to how your response to each question was implanting an image that kid would have to build on for the rest of his or her life.  Questions like,  “Why is that lady so fat?” or “Why are those two men kissing?”  When those questions come up, you feel as though you’d better have an answer that will do the job at the moment, but will also lay reasonable groundwork when you have to build up the answer a little more in the future.  Like, “Everyone’s bodies are different, Honey.” and “Because they love each other.”

I think every parent worries most about having The Talk.

See?  You know what I mean.  Everyone does.

My college girlfriends and I would get together periodically and update each other on kids, husbands, our parents…  And when we had kids getting to “that age”, someone would ask, “Soooo, have you had The Talk?”

I have one girlfriend who would say, “HELL NO. I’m not going to have The Talk, either.”

“How can you say that?  You have to have The Talk!”

“Oh-no-I-don’t!” she would reply. “My mom didn’t have The Talk with me and I figured things out just fine.”

Well, I wasn’t going to get myself caught in a situation where I was not prepared for The Talk.  John said he would be happy to have The Talk with Kate, but she would probably rather hear things from her mother.   And I kind of wanted to be the one.  But not alone.  I wanted experts.  I wanted the backing of research and child psychologists and liberals and conservatives.  I wanted to get this one right.

So I went looking for a book.  I wanted a book that would give us something to look at.  Together.  So we wouldn’t have to look at each other.  I found one.  It really fit the bill, because I understood it.  It started slowly.  It started with the part kids are truly most curious about at age 8 or 9:  babies.

Face it: when a kid at that age asks where babies come from, they have no clue how much they really do not want to know the answer.  The answer is inconceivable.   The answer is impossible to anticipate at that age.  Especially when it could involve your parents.  And your grandparents.  And the neighbors.  And maybe even your teacher.   And I am sure every single kid under the age of 12 in the whole wide world who got a straight answer to that question wishes they had never asked the question.  That’s an image you cannot erase.  They can never look at another married couple again without being disgusted at the idea that they probably did it.  OH MY GOSH.  NO WAY.  MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP.

So, best to start with babies.  And I didn’t want to set them up for future ridicule by telling them that babies come from angels or storks or even mommy’s tummy.  Why postpone The Talk to a point where you are asked by your now-mocked child what a uterus is.   Tell them all of it now, and sell ’em on the idea that the baby-thing is so amazing, that the other stuff (they learn later) has to be that wild to make such a miraculous thing happen.  The baby talk is the pre-sell.

The trigger question?  Any question related to reproduction or sex.  “What is sex?”  “Where do babies come from?” “Why do boys have a penis?”  “What’s this (holding up an unwrapped, disassembled tampon)?”

To whatever question it is, I give the same, mysterious, enticing answer.  “Hmmmm.  That’s an excellent question.  I wonder if you are finally old enough to hear the answer to that question.  Do you think you are old enough to learn about these things?”

If you’re mysterious enough (raised eyebrows, sidelong glances), and pensive enough (tapping your chin slowly like, “What a wise child you must be…to learn such a grown up thing…”).  It doesn’t really matter whether the kid pulls back and says, “Uhhhh….maybe not.  Forget it.” or “YES YES YES YES!  PLEASE OH PLEASE!  I CAN HANDLE IT!  I CAN I CAN I CAN!”  I trusted them to make this call themselves.  And each kid was ready at a different age.  Eventually, they would say, “Yes.  I am ready.”

Next, I would enter the disclaimer phase. “You need to understand that this is the most grown up Talk I have had with you.  It is so important, that a kid should only really have it with their own mom or dad.  So what I tell you is something you are not allowed to talk to your friends about.  That wouldn’t be right.  They need to hear it from their own parents.”  Besides, our stories might not line up.  And I certainly don’t want to let some slacker parents off The Hook because my articulate kid told their kid The Truth.

Then I said, “I have a book that will help us.  We can read a chapter each night before bed, and then talk about it. You can ask me any questions you want, and when you really get it, we’ll go on to the next chapter until we read the whole book.  Sound like a good plan?”  I always got wide eyes at this.  And an enthusiastic, “Good plan, Mom.”

Wow, I think to myself.  You have no idea what you’ve signed up for.  Then I tell them when we will start. “We will start on…Tuesday” like it is the perfect day for such an appointment.  So very titillating.

The book I used was called It’s So Amazing.  Great book.  My favorite thing about it is that it has kid-friendly cartoons with colorful (and accurate) drawings.  Two characters guide the tour through The Talk: One who is crazy-eager to learn every detail, and the other who is downright embarrassed to talk about The Talk at all.  So depending on which character the kid is like, we can relate.

So it starts with the babies.  And the female reproductive process.  Somehow cross-section drawings of the uterus do not invoke giggles….from any age group or gender.  It’s just cool  And very grown up.  I point out that a girl’s period is just her body practicing for when she is grown up and meets a wonderful man like Daddy who will be a great husband and dad, because by then her body has had lots of practice.  And you never want to skip a practice.

We go into lots of detail about the egg and the sperm and the baby growing, and then childbirth.  It’s always amazing to me how long you can have this detailed conversation….days or even weeks will pass, and the Big Question never occurs to them.  I think they imagine the mother has a supply of sperm built in.  I did tell them that the sperm is from the daddy and the egg is from the mommy, but our kids never worried about how the exchange was made.  I’m sure they respected us both enough to assume it was all above board and respectable or we would never have done it.

But one day, they absently ask the Big Question.  With a couple of our kids, I am convinced they had no clue what was coming.  With the other two, I suspected they heard something unbelievable at school, and they were hoping I would confirm that It was a nasty, outrageous rumor that some gross kid made up to shock people.

I remember one kid in particular.  Strapped into a seatbelt in the back, I could see her in my rearview mirror, gazing out the window.  We were stopped at a red light, and I remember the exact intersection where we were sitting.

“Mom?” she said. “How does the sperm get into the mother’s uterus?”

“Well, that is one of the chapters coming up in our book, but since you asked, I will tell you.  Are you sure you’re ready to hear such a grown up thing?”

“Yeah.” she replied, with only the slightest hesitation.

“Well, the man’s penis gets hard so he can put it into his wife’s vagina and that’s when the sperm comes out.”

Her eyes widened and became fixed on whatever she was staring at outside.

“WHAT?”

“Yup.  That’s what happens.”

“Oh….my….gosh.”

Silence.  Breathe.  Let her soak it in.

“Honey?”

“Yes, Mom?”

“Tell me honestly.  Had you never heard anything like that from your friends?  Is this honestly the first time you’ve heard this?”

There was a pause.

“Well…I heard it from my friends, but I didn’t believe them.”

Of course you didn’t.

Then there’s the part about boys.  I explained it the same way to our daughters as I did to our son.  “Their bodies practice, too.  And the thing about ALL people is that a long, long, long time ago – in caveman times – there were sabertooth tigers everywhere and diseases with no medicine and people didn’t live very long at all.  They were lucky to make it to 25.  But God wanted them to have babies before they died, so he made it so their bodies worked EARLY and cave-ladies had babies so much earlier it was crazy!  And God made bodies so that they WANTED to have babies, too.  Otherwise there wouldn’t be any people left.

“But nowadays, we have houses and cars that protect us from the lions and tigers so we don’t have to worry about that.  And there’s medicine, so people who get sick usually get well and they live a long, long time.  Most people live to be 70 or 80 or even 100!  So there’s no rush!  But God had already made our bodies so they get ready earlier.  The good thing is, He also made us smart.  And we know that even though our bodies are ready, we don’t want to have babies until we are grown up and married to someone who will help us make a super-great family.

“You should know that sometimes our bodies get tingly and think, ‘I want to kiss that guy!’  ‘I want to have a husband!’ or even ‘I wanna have SEX!’  And that’s just our dumb old caveman bodies at work, thinking we’re going to get eaten by a sabertooth tiger.  But we are smarter than that now, right?”

“RIGHT!” cried my 9-year-old. “Sex is gross anyway.  I am NEVER going to have sex.  YUK.”

“Perfect.  You are supposed to feel that way at your age because sex is supposed to be gross to you. You’re right on schedule.  Grown ups LOVE sex though, and you’ll love it when you’re a grown up, too, believe it or not.  It’s like beer. Kids are supposed to hate it.  You’ll be surprised though, that someday – probably when you’re a teenager – you might start to think, ‘Uhhhh, well. Maybe I might want to try it.’  And that’s when you need to remember that your old caveman body is starting to practice but God made you smart enough to know there’s no hurry.  I am so proud of you.”

The rest of the book is a piece of cake.  Lots of good stuff like OK Touches/Not OK Touches, Adoption, Twins and Triplets….  All interesting, and a great excuse to change The Subject.

Now imagine a group of eight 40-year-olds drinking martinis in a crowded restaurant, leaning way into the center of the table going through every detail  of my version of The Talk…..adding hilarious editorial comments and roaring with laughter.  But the story holds together.  And all of us agree we could have benefitted from This Talk.  None of our moms gave it much thought.  It was a different time.  But as mothers, we all felt like we were onto something.  They were all feeling better about The Talk.  More confident. More resolved.

At least I thought they were.

Until one of them said, “Kristi, would you please have The Talk with my kids?”  And others nodded furiously.

No…..way.

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