Some of these conversations, however, are not always eagerly anticipated. My nine-year-old chose these holidays to start pestering me about the exact method by which babies enter a mother’s tummy. She had already figured out the exiting part, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the story behind the entering was more interesting, and she was determined to hear it.
I always made it a policy that I would tell my kids whatever they wanted to know as soon as they asked me. I wanted them to hear it from me, and I wanted to keep the lines of communication open. By the time my oldest daughter reached ten, though, she had never asked me anything, and I was starting to worry that her body would catch up with her. So I announced we were going on a special “girls’ weekend”, just the two of us, when we would have fun together and I would tell her all about being a woman.
We went forth, and I spilled everything. She handled it well, asked loads of questions, and then had fun exploring craft shops. She now knows she can now ask me anything she wants and I’ll tell her, so frequently as I’m tucking her into bed questions do indeed arise.
She had never been a particularly curious kid about these sorts of things prior to our excursion, though, except for one incident I recall when she was playing with her four-year-old cousin. After checking on the munchkins, my sister-in-law emerged from the basement stifling laughter. Apparently Rebecca had gotten a hold of her
new plastic doctor’s kit and had decided to examine Matthew. She had affixed the clamp to a particular piece of his anatomy, which had promptly grown rather red.
When Tina saw this, she asked that stupid question that inevitably pops out of every parent’s mouth when confronted with something horrible: “what are you doing?”, as if it were not immediately obvious. Rebecca looked up with innocent indignation and replied, “we are playing doctor.” Tina told her that was fine, but from now on they should do it with clothes on. They complied. And as far as I know, that was the only real curiosity Rebecca demonstrated.
Katie, on the other hand, has always been more sensitive to these things. When she was three, we were camping with a family who had two boys, one of whom had an “outie” belly button. Katie decided that the thing that differentiates boys and girls must be the belly button, so this must be an incredibly private part of the body. She proceeded to pull down her two-piece bathing suit (which had quite modest tank top and tank bottoms) so that the offending piece of anatomy was covered, leaving the pieces of anatomy that were supposed to be covered by tank tops visible for everyone to see.
So this Christmas when she started asking questions, I was not surprised, and I tried my best to answer. I told her the whole “entrance” part of the equation, and for once the child actually stopped talking. She pursed her lips and replied, “I see.” Then she thought for a moment and said, “but Mommy, if you’ve had three babies, did you have to do it each time?”. I nodded. She looked horrified.
The next day she sidled up to me in the kitchen, gave me a big hug, and said, “Oh, Mommy, thank you for going through that with Daddy. But don’t feel too badly. At least you’ve got me!”.
I tried to reinforce once more that people actually enjoy the exercise, but I truly don’t think she believed me. After drilling me more on what those things in the “Tampax” box were, she asked what I hope is her last question for a while.
“Mommy,” she said, “Why don’t men have to use so much toilet paper?”. I smiled, and replied, “go ask your dad.”