My five-year old son knows exactly how babies are made.
Though it’s not the first time he’s wrapped his in-need-of-a-haircut-head around a grown-up concept, I am stunned by the subjects we cover well before I imagined we would.
When my grandpa died at a week short of 99, I explained death to my then three-year old son. When at four he asked about God, I introduced the notion of energy (or N.O.G. as he pronounces it). But when the other day, six weeks and four days before his sixth birthday, (his math), he announced that he knows how babies are made—“The man sticks his penis into the woman’s ‘gina,” I sunk.
“Is it true?” he pressed. He was in a need-to-know-before-dinner state.
My brain did a pull on the child-rearing slot machine. All lies? Two truths and a lie? Or….all truths?!
“Who told you that?” I stalled. Like many fivers, my son gets his facts from an assortment of sources—overheard on the bus, told directly to him on the bus, or no connection to the bus.
“Gideon,” he said.
Gideon was our 99.99999999%-scoring gifted and talented neighbor. Not only did he read at four and play chess at four and a half, he is the zip code’s most compact didact, always lecturing his peers about real world and fictional material he’s mastered, e.g. Dinosaurs Among Us, Pokémon. Because of this precocious boy, I was having a sex talk with my toothless child in our building’s poorly fluorescent lit hallway. Me = Unprepared. The last Your 5-Year Old email I skimmed was titled “School Daze.”
Immediately I thought of my mother, who once when we were driving to the airport and I spotted a park and asked if we could stop, said,” Oh, honey…. That’s not a park, that’s a picture of a park.” I decided against her approach.
“It’s….true,” I said. Anyone who can imagine a child’s imagination can imagine what came next. “Ewwwwwwwwwwww….!” followed by a “That’s disgusting! I thought you said you just had to hug?”
OK so I guess the subject had come up before. I remember now. It was in response to a question about how the baby gets into the mommy’s belly, asked after a favorite bedtime story about his younger brother’s birth. I may have said something about an egg and special sauce. And then there’s been his insult du jour. “You’re so sexy,” he says at random times in a range of registers, believing this to be a synonym for silly or worse.
Turns out I was avoiding the entire topic. No wonder the elementary elite stepped in where I had failed.
“How does it fit?” he brought me back to his line of questioning.
Be vague! says the voice in my head. But as anyone who’s tried to be a generalist rather than a specialist with kids knows, it’s impossible. “It stretches,” I say.
Lemme see!” he exclaims.
And for a nanosecond, I consider it. Like I consider every one of his requests before I am reminded that I am under no obligation to entertain his entreaties in some all-inclusive parenting package. “I can’t show you. You’ll have to take my word for it.” I’m back in mom mode, unwilling to pull down my pants.
“Is that how all babies are made?”
“Yes,” I reply confidently. “Umm… No,” I retract, just as confidently. I am suddenly thinking about same sex reproduction, then about how he was made. I don’t feel obligated to tell him that while his brother was conceived in the way he articulated, his conception involved a subway ride, a room for one with magazines, and a catheter.
But I simplify. “Most babies are made that way. And not just people!” I say in my biology teacher voice. Animals too!” We have a no iPad policy on weekdays that I will violate if I can Google image search mating mammals and go cook dinner.
“So who watched me when you were making Izzy?” Yes, he cares about the continuation of the human species, but really, he’s just out for self.
“No one. You were sleeping.” Him = Horrified.
“It’s Lucy, Gideon’s older sister,” my husband says accusingly when I tell him of our convo. “We need to be careful who we let Sy hang out with.”
“So only dumb kids with younger siblings?”
“That’s right,” he says assuredly. While I wear my maternal nuance like jewelry, my husband looks for singular answers. The boys are waking up in the middle of the night? Put an upright fan in their room. Our three-year old still wears a diaper to poop? Quit work and teach him to use the toilet. His child rearing approach resembles a round of Jeopardy. “I’ll take Toddler Tantrums for $200, Alex.”
Two days later my son brings up procreation again. “I think there’s another way to make a baby. What if the doctor takes some skin off the daddy and gets blood and rubs it on the mommy and the blood mixes, would that work?”
Wanting to encourage creative problem-solving, I give appropriately positive feedback, but tell him it won’t. We are seated near his younger brother, so I whisper. “Sy…You probably still have questions about this, and I am happy to answer them, but please keep this between us.” He nods, which I take to mean that he will pull Izzy aside as soon as he can to report everything.
According to Parenting.com’s Talking to Kids About Sex, we were operating in the 6-7-year old range of inquiry, which they suggest answering: “Nature created male and female bodies to fit together like puzzle pieces.” With a scroll of my finger, we were in the 8-9-year old range, where apparently, a basic explanation of rape can be handled. From there, almost anything is game. In 300 pixels, my son goes from potty talk to polyamory.
Internet advice aside, where do I sit on the disclosure spectrum? I’m no Captain Fantastic, the survivalist father in the movie of the same name who gives his six-year old son a copy of The Joy of Sex, but I could stand to put some forethought into how I communicate large life concepts to my kids.
Twice I missed the opportunity to contextualize my son’s how questions with any why. I was serving simply as his fact checker. All of a sudden I am overcome by a need to speak with him—not just to adequately explain sex, but to share my perspective on bodies and love and humanity and mortality.
But when I peek into his room, he barely looks up. He is lying on his belly, eyes blinking intently, sound effects spouting from his mouth, his nimble but still chunky fingers pressing Legos together. “It’s a rocket ship jail!” he proclaims, holding it up for me to examine. Another time, I think. Like when he’s two weeks and four days shy of his six(teen)th birthday.
About the author: Rachel designs, writes, dances and mothers in Harlem, NY. Find her at http://www.rachelink.com/.