Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

I found myself tonight having a conversation which I hadn't exactly planned to have.

How does one get into these things? I was sitting at the foot of the twin bed in which Eleanor and Julia were snuggled (the other bed, across the room, has become, through neglect, a repository for stuffed animals and clean laundry). We had just said prayers. The discussion traced a meandering, but more and more inevitable course -- from praying for vocations, to praying for your future spouse, to Eleanor proclaiming that she didn't want to get married because she wanted to work at the zoo and when you got married you had to stay home with your babies (and here I reminded her that she knew some mothers who had childcare or worked part-time), to Julia pointing out that some people had babies when they weren't married, to my telling her that every child deserved to have a mother and father who were married to each other and who had promised to live together forever and give their child a loving home. Having babies before you were married was a grave sin against the baby, and that's why people needed to wait until they were married to show the kind of love that made babies. And being children themselves and seeing it from that point of view, Eleanor and Julia agreed that this was best.

"But then how do people have babies when they're not married?" Julia objected.

Well, having babies is a physical act that doesn't depend on whether you're married. That's why we prayed for purity so that they would always make the right choices and keep their minds and bodies holy. And the act of making babies was a kind of love that was only proper for married people, even if people who weren't married could behave that way, because babies deserve to have married parents who have promised to live together and make a family for that baby, remember? (Here I was starting to squirm.)

I can't retrace the conversational drift that led to discussing how fathers were necessary because humans needed both men and women for reproduction, nor how we got to eggs in women's bodies, but inwardly I was dying. "Just look confident and don't pause or stammer," I told myself, "and then they won't get wise to the fact that this is an Important Conversation." And finally we came to the rock on which I foundered.

"Well," I said, "boys and girls are different, you know. How is Jack different from you?"

"He's crazy!" Julia proclaimed.

I remember how moving it was when John McCain spoke at the 2008 RNC about how he had been tortured by the Vietnamese, and how he finally broke. Reader, I broke. I howled for ten whole seconds, which is a long time to laugh without interruption. The girls laughed because I was laughing, because what was so funny about making such an obvious statement?

"No," I was finally able to say, "how is his body different from yours?"

"He has that dangly thing, " one of them said with scorn.

"Yes," I said. "That's his penis." And this was followed with the briefest and least-involved account of how eggs were fertilized.

"I don't get it," said Julia. "How does the pen-nis touch the eggs?"

"It doesn't," I said. "It... what did you call it?"

"That thing."

"It's a penis."

"Well, I didn't know the name."

"Julia, haven't you ever heard Jack talk about his penis?" I asked incredulously. Jack will be four on Tuesday. We are in the throes of potty-training. There is a lot of discussion about penises here.

Julia dismissed the thought that she would ever pay attention to anything Jack said. "He's crazy."

"He is peanuts," I said thoughtfully. This was the kind of wordplay that the girls could appreciate.

Feeling an ever-strengthening desire to extricate myself from this conversation, I corrected biological misapprehensions with the least amount of detail necessary, and emphasized that these were not things that little girls needed to worry about.

"I don't want to think about it," said Eleanor, preparatory to putting her head under the pillow.

"Good," I said, with more enthusiasm than was seemly. "You don't have to think about it right now. At all. These are things for adults to think about. That's why right now we just pray for purity so that our minds and bodies will be clean and fresh. And that's why you should pray that if it's God's will that you get married, that your husband will be pure and holy as well."

"I'm not getting married," came Eleanor's muffled voice. "It's too much bother to have babies and be sick and get those wrinkly lines on your tummy."

I left the room with my dignity intact. Then, as I started down the stairs, I was seized with a sudden panic.

"You know, girls," I said, opening the door, "these aren't things we talk about with friends. These are only things for children to discuss with their families -- with their parents, okay?"

There was a murmur from the bed, from which I gathered that some people couldn't understand why anyone would want to discuss this subject with anyone, let alone friends.

And I thanked God that, at least for now, no one had cared to take the few logical steps to connect how babies were made with anything that their specific parents had ever done.


Dorian Speed said...

Lordy. It must be something in the air, because I have been feeling like The Talk is an imminent need around here. Like a coward, I ordered a couple of books to "leave around" but now I'm not so sure about that. But yeah, the "don't go blabbing this to your friends" thing is what concerns me more than the actual initial conversation, because who knows what version of Said Talk my own children might transmit to other children.

Clare said...

Hahaa. I remember marching into my parents' room and DEMANDING they confirm, deny, or clarify allegations my cousin had made while she was braiding my hair. My mom said it was the beginning of my journalistic aspirations, but I just remember how bizarre and gross I found it at 8, and how unimportant. I couldn't figure out why this could ever be a big deal.

"I'm not getting married," came Eleanor's muffled voice. "It's too much bother to have babies and be sick and get those wrinkly lines on your tummy."

I wish this were not still my attitude. Once a month I receive a completely irrational and unnecessary surge of intense relief that I am not pregnant. When I asked my mom when this would stop being the case, she, radiantly happy mother of eight, said "Never."

Barb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mrsdarwin said...

Clare, I like your mom.

Anonymous said...

My kids knew from a young age that the dad "puts the seed" in the mom, that grows into a baby.

At one point my 4 year old was going to visit my newlywed sister and over dinner she asked my sister if her husband puts the seed into her. (She answered yes.) Then my daughter said "I'm going to watch him."

They were clearly still in the dark as to how this happened, and finally asked "but how does the seed get out-through his nose? through his belly button?" So I did supply that information.

Now my youngest asks me if I will buy a baby and her dad put it in my tummy.

I haven't exactly spelled everything out in so many words, though I will need to soon enough, as my oldest is now 11. A year ago she was very surprised and understandably confused to see that "swinging" is a sin against the sixth commandment.

I guess I just want to preserve their innocence as long as possible, especially in this day and age where sex is so casual.

Jenny said...

My maternal grandmother told my mother nothing of the birds and the bees so my mother decided she would rectify that mistake by telling us everything at entirely inappropriate ages. I was told way too much way too soon. I don't remember not knowing which makes me sad.

I was told practically everything there was to know at about the age of four and then proceeded to tell all my friends. My mother told me there were other things that had to wait until I was older for us to talk about.

As I got older I couldn't figure out what else there was to know and finally at about the age of thirteen I asked what the other stuff was that I was too young to understand. Birth control. Well then.

Given this as my background, I try hard not to divulge too much information and I will admit to maybe erring on the side of not saying enough.

I think the following is an accurate summary of what the two older girls (7 and 4.5) know:

1) Women have periods and it is a normal thing even if a little messy and unpleasant.
2) A period means there's no baby in there right now.
3) Babies grow from eggs inside the mommy and the daddy is involved somehow, but it is mostly up to God when an egg turns into a baby.
4) The baby comes out of the mommy's girl parts. Crazy! They are a little incredulous at this piece of knowledge. Me too, actually.
5) Boys have boy parts that are different from girl parts.

You remind me of the first time Grace, at age 4.5, saw me changing Sam's diaper. She exclaimed in a tone that was part concern and part disgust, "Mommy! What is that *thing* between his legs!" Answered with #5 above.

Lauren said...

Jenny-my mom was the same way. I knew way way too much. On top of that Playboys around the house and premium cable, I had some messed up attitudes about sex. I consider myself much more "pure" now as a married woman than I was as a physical virgin in late childhood and teens.

I have no idea how to have "the talk." Cat-I hope your blog archives are still around when my girls are older so I can refer to your good sense.

A little funny from my mom's friend: After telling her son (one of four) about the mechanics of reproduction, he said mouth agape, "Ugh, four times! You guys did that four times!"

Peter and Nancy said...

Ha ha!! This same unexpected conversation ended with my son's summation, "So the man puts his penis into the woman's retina?" Better buy his bride some safety goggles . . .

MrsDarwin said...

"So the man puts his penis into the woman's retina?"

This comment just won the internet.

Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP said...

Talk about an eye-opening experience.

Blackadder said...

My favorite "how I learned about the birds and the bees" story comes from the beginning of this John Zmirak piece.

kharking said...

Lauren, do our mom's know each other? That is exactly what one of my siblings said (although I don't remember at the moment which).