The casual way TV sitcom characters talk about sex, all the time, in front of their TV sitcom children is something that never quite rings true to Paul and me, though it did have us laughing about our turns at bat delivering The Talk to our own respective children.
My former brother- and sister-in-law kept chickens on their beautiful, rural homestead in Northern California. When visiting, Charlotte “helped” her cousins Phoebe and Shane gather the eggs, while learning to avoid the rooster and his spurs.
When she started asking where babies came from, for about a year I skirted the birds & bees conversation with the convenient referencing of Uncle Duane’s chickens. If you want fresh eggs, you need both hen and rooster. This satisfied her. For a while.
Then came one afternoon at the end first grade. In Texas, May is Coming Attractions for summer and it was hot; I was job-hunting and had been interviewing all day, wearing business suit and pantyhose. But on this day we received a new National Geographic with a bisected dinosaur egg on the cover.
Charlotte was taken with the photo, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they could find another one and hatch it? Then there would be a real dinosaur! And it could lay more eggs and then there would be more dinosaurs!”
Because I so seldom grasp the consequence of anything that comes flying out of my face I said, “Well, you’d need two, actually, if you wanted baby dinosaurs, a boy and a girl.”
Pulling out the tried and true card with which I had successfully ducked and dodged this question, I tossed out Uncle Duane’s chickens.
“No, Mom. Why do you need a rooster and a hen? Or a woman AND a man to make babies?”
Charlotte has piercing, blue, blue eyes. When she was born, they appeared blue-within-blue and my first thought on seeing her was, “I’ve given birth to a Fremen.” Leveled at me like a duelist’s they clearly conveyed don’t BS me, Mom, give it to me straight. I had overplayed my hand, and the trump card of Uncle Duane’s chickens would not suffice.
Though wanting nothing more then to shed the suit and especially the pantyhose I had a moment of clarity, the kind I’ve come to love and loathe in equal measure, when I realize no matter how hot and sweaty I am, or busy, or tired, I have to Do This Thing.
“Well, you know that boys and girls are different, right? Boys have penises, girls vaginas.” It had been important to me to teach her the proper names for things, so she wouldn’t be ashamed by naked bodies and most especially her own, later in life. There were no pee-pees or weenies or hoo-has in our house. My punishment for such progressive mothering was Charlotte, aged three, announcing during a lull in conversation and apropos of absolutely nothing, “Boys have a penis, girls a bagina,” much to the mortification of her parents, and the delight of our dinner guests.
Still in pantyhose and suit, I sat her down on the big green couch and explained what happened with people who love each other, and what they do with their penises and vaginas. At the crucial juncture she pulled a horrified face, “I don’t think I want to hear any more of this.”
“Sorry kiddo. We’ve come this far, we have to go all the way.” As it were.
“I don’t think I want to have children. That’s disgusting.” I prayed a silent prayer that this attitude would hold through the dangerous teenage years. But then the specter of Shame, and all it’s screwed up little cousins, reared it’s ugly head.
“I know it sounds disgusting to you now, Sweetpea, but it really isn’t. Not when the two people involved truly care about each other. And are married. Making a baby is a big responsibility.”
A distasteful thought struck her, “So, you and dad had to do that to have me.”
With the expression of one sucking a lemon and pondering this revolting new aspect of her parents, she wandered down the hall to her room, where I imagine she buried new, troublesome thoughts within the pages of a book. I had answered her question and thankfully, she didn’t require (or want) more just then.
And I really wanted to get out of the pantyhose.
Raised with a vague notion that my conception was the result of the one and only time my mother had sex, I entered puberty with a head-full of nonsense gleaned from friends. I wanted to arm my child with Knowledge. It’s been said that while it’s hard to talk to one’s children about sex, it gets easier the more you do; I have found this to be true, though certainly not in the blithe, TV sitcom way.
Do you remember your parents having The Talk with you? When did you explain the Facts of Life to your child? And how?