I had the talk with my little ones today. The conversation caught me off guard as we sat together on the couch playing Spoons, sharing a bowl of Pirate’s Booty. As the yellow puffs started running low, my youngest daughter, glancing sideways at my son, said, “Mommy, we should get more Pirate’s Booty than him because we’re girls. And girls need to eat more than boys so our bellies can grow big and turn into babies.”
I was momentarily stunned. Realizing this theory was something she had spent time hypothesizing, I stifled a giggle, “Oh, honey, women don’t have babies from eating too much food.”
My oldest girl piped in quickly and confidently, “No, we get babies by taking pills from the doctor.”
“Who told you that?” I spun around to look at her.
“Well, no one. When you were pregnant you had a big bottle of orange pills in your bathroom and you took one every day.”
“No, those were prenatal vitamins. I took them when I was pregnant to give my body extra energy while I was growing the baby.”
“Oh,” she said, looking perplexed. ”Wait. Where DO babies come from, Mommy?”
“Yah,” echoed my youngest. “Where?”
It took me a minute to gather my thoughts (and my courage). My children are 5, 7, and 9. I’m a true believer in answering their questions honestly. Life is wrought with unknowns — there’s no need to be evasive when they ask me what a tampon is or wonder when they’ll grow pubic hair. They’re asking about their own bodies after all, so I always tell them the truth. They have every right to be absolutely comfortable in their skin suits. Plus, dispelling mystery is part of my job as a parent.
I briefly considered shooing away my 5 year old boy. But if I excluded him, I’d be implying that conception is secretive. He might think that this type of questioning is dangerous.
I don’t want to close doors on my kids. I want them coming to me FIRST. With ANYTHING. If they are not comfortable coming to me, they will inevitably turn to the internet or to friends. And I know for sure that I can parent my children better than Bing! or some tween on the playground. So I stepped up and addressed all three of them together with honesty and *restraint* — because telling the truth doesn’t mean telling ALL.
We started by talking about Nat Geo and Animal Planet, two of our favorite family channels. The kids adore animal shows and are relatively familiar with mating rituals. I explained that the animals mate to create offspring. I told them that all mammals conceive the same way, and humans are also mammals. And ultimately, our primary human function, like all mammals, is to reproduce. All of our body parts have a certain purpose, like parts in a machine. In order to make a baby, a man and a woman need to make those parts work together.
The girls followed attentively, locking on my eyes and nodding their heads as I spoke. The little guy began spinning the spoons lying on the game table, distracted.
I quizzed, “When you think of body parts on a man and a woman, which ones are different?”
“Boys have penises. Girls have van-ginas,” said my oldest proudly. The others agreed.
“Right. And inside the bodies, men have sperm and women have eggs. Once a month, a woman’s egg drops down and a man’s sperm has a chance to fertilize it.”
“But how does the sperm get to the egg?”
“It swims. It has a tiny tail and races with a million other sperm to see who can reach the egg first. The one who gets there first gets to become the baby.” Admittedly, I hoped that the kids would be satisfied with this and we could return to playing Spoons.
“Yah, but how does the sperm GET to the egg?” No such luck.
“Well, you said yourself that men have penises and girls have vaginas, right?”
Silence. Introspection. Reaction:
“WHAT?! Daddy put his penis inside your vagina?????”
I tried but failed to contain myself. We three girls started laughing. My boy, meanwhile, really had no idea why we were hooting. He probably wasn’t ready to hear it anyway, so it was all for the best. Even though he didn’t understand the content of the message, he could still benefit from the openness of our dialogue. He took what he wanted and focused the rest of his attention on twirling spoons.
The girls, however, pummeled me with questions — Did it hurt? Did hair get up there? Do I have to do that? Because I am NOT doing that. What about twins? Does that take two penises?
I decided to steer clear of the words “sex” and “love.” The word “sex” is polluted by pop music and I didn’t want to confuse them by introducing the word in this context. And “love,” while an important part of relationships, has nothing to do with reproduction. They weren’t asking about relationships, they were asking about anatomy. So that’s where I focused our conversation. I explained to them that the woman has to have her period before her body is ready to make babies, and it’s best that she’s married and settled first, because every baby needs two loving parents and a stable, happy home. The rest of the questions I answered clinically.
My second daughter stated emphatically, “I’m only doing that twice. And I’ll have two babies. And THAT’S IT!”
“You can do whatever works best for you, babe,” I reassured.
“Does it hurt to get your period?”
“No, sometimes you’ll get crampy in your belly, but if you eat right and take care of your body you should feel just fine.”
“How about when the baby comes out? Does that hurt?”
“Yep,” I confirmed. ”It really hurts.”
“What does it feel like?” she probed.
“Stretching. And fire. Kind of like you’re pooping a hot cannonball.”
“I’ve had big poops like that before.”
“Well, maybe not this big. Do you want to hear the stories about when you were born?”
“YES!!!!!!!” all three shouted.
As the subject graduated from conception to birth, all three kids sat up and leaned forward, giggling and scrunching up their little faces as I colorfully wove the stories of their beginnings. It was a really lovely experience and I’m so glad it unfolded in just this way, with all of us together.
A minute later my husband strolled into the room and I said, “We just learned about the birds and the bees!” Without a word he spun on his heel and strolled back out. I guess he wasn’t ready to learn yet.