“Mama, how did I get in your belly?”
I did not feel prepared for this conversation. I searched my mind and seemed to recall something I had read about being sure not to be more specific than necessary so as not to overwhelm your child with TMI. I took a deep breath and said,
“Daddy put you in there,” thinking this might satisfy her. But no.
“Through your belly button?” She wanted to know.
“We’ll, no,” I said, a little dismayed that we were already having this little talk. “Through my vagina.”
There was a long silence. Relieved, I thought she had fallen asleep. But then, at long last, through the dark I heard,
“With his finger?”
So much for keeping it non-specific. So I told her it was with his penis. I told her about how men have “seeds” in their penis that can grow into babies inside women (I used this language because we had planted seeds together many times in the earth).
“Oh, ok,” she said, and rolled over and went to sleep.
A few weeks later she asked me if she would need to find a man to marry who had lots of seeds in his penis, since she hopes to have many kids. This opened a conversation about some of the many ways that babies find their way to their parents: from adoption to two-mom families where the “seeds” come from a man who they are not married to, but who wants to help. She liked knowing she has options, and from time to time she muses about whether she’ll marry a man or a woman, and how they will get their babies.
I have had the good fortune of having great listeners in my life who I could tell these stories to and laugh and feel horrified and embarrassed… and remember the details of the strained conversations I had so many years ago with my own parents, who (as well-meaning as they were) both grew up in evangelical Christian households and managed to pass on a good bit fear and shame about bodies, sex and reproduction. Having non-judgmental places–out of my daughter’s earshot–to talk and laugh about this stuff has made a huge difference in how relaxed I feel in these conversations with my daughter. While initially these little talks felt awkward to me, I have come to appreciate the openness and relaxed tone of our conversations about all things related to bodies and reproduction.
This week she told me all about the kissing games going on among her first grade classmates. I was aware that by her age, I already felt enough shame that I would never have talked to my mom about such things. But I was able to be curious in a relaxed way, asking questions about how it feels to her during the kissing games, and how the other kids are reacting. She mentioned that at school they tell the kids not to kiss “because of germs,” but reflected that this seems to have led some kids to think that kissing is bad. I asked what she thought, and she said, “Kissing is good as long as everyone is having fun when it’s happening.” And how do you know who is having fun? “If you don’t know, you ask!” She said. Thatta girl!
As much as I dreaded this aspect of parenting, I am finding that it is a very enjoyable part if our relationship. As in many areas, trying to keep up with the demands of parenting is healing my own “issues” around bodies and sexuality. What a gift! And I know we have just begun. I plan to call the listeners in my life as often as I need over the years to keep the conversation around sex relaxed and open between me and my daughter. And if you need to do the same, call me!