Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Not So Clever After All

“Where do babies come from?” All parents dread that question. Dave and I, however, had thought we’d been oh-so-clever in avoiding it by conveying the essentials to our son Tucker with the help of a cooperative guinea pig (a real one) and appropriate TV viewing.

From the time Tucker was two, Sunday night was “bug night,” our family’s name for channel Thirteen’s show “Nature.” Through the talents of PBS videographers, Tuck had witnessed any number of mating rituals and births. Calmly and honestly, Dave and I answered every question our little boy asked. It was easy when the subject matter was zebras and elk. While he developed an irrational fear about deer shedding their antlers and could not even look at a picture of a deer without tears, Tucker was relaxed regarding reproduction.

A brief confusion arose when we acquired a pregnant guinea pig. At the time of purchase, we had no idea that Scratchy was female, much less pregnant. We thought she was simply putting on weight until we began to feel the babies moving inside her.

It was a wonderful, small miracle, actually, affording an unexpected experience in animal families as well as an opportunity for further sex education. Tucker wondered, wisely, “How can she have babies without a daddy?”

Dave explained that Scratchy must have mated while she was still living at the pet store. He re-visited the facts of anatomy and process and Tucker was satisfied, comfortable with his knowledge.

What good parents! We congratulated ourselves on brilliantly sparing ourselves and our son embarrassing pre-teen discussions about sex. Initiation to the topic did not go as smoothly for our daughter, Casey.

She was only five when she returned from a playdate, tearful and anxious.

“What is it, sweetie? What’s wrong?“ I asked.

“I. Can’t. Talk. About. It,” she managed to blurt, shaking, between sobs.

She fled to her room and closed the door. I could hear her weeping piteously.

I knew the friends with whom she’d spent the day and so had no major concerns about my daughter’s well-being, but what might have caused such distress?

I entered her room and found her prone on the bed. Her long brown hair clung in sodden wisps to her flushed, tear-wet cheeks. I rubbed her back and murmured soothing words. Finally she wailed, “Courtney told me how babies are made! I’d finally decided that I wanted a baby even though it would hurt, but I’m not going to do what she said!”

Oh dear. What could I say? It’s not too bad once you get used to it? Someday you’ll like it? No. Clearly that was the wrong tack. I stuck to hugs and a vague “It’s okay, precious” kind of approach.

Over the next three days, Casey’s crying bouts lessened, but her concerns did not. “I don’t want to think of my pretty mommy doing that. What if I decide I do want a baby, but no one loves me enough to do that?” It was heart-wrenching to witness her loss of innocence, to see her struggle for acceptance of this, to her, gruesome fact of life.

Tucker, meanwhile, was neither moved nor curious about Casey’s tears. She was a bit of a crybaby in those days and for a time, he didn’t notice anything all that unusual. Eventually though, days had passed and still his little sister was morose.

“What’s the matter with Casey?” he said, finally.

I felt no qualms in responding. Tucker already had all the answers.

“One of Casey’s friends told her about mating,” I said.

“Oh.” He nodded, satisfied. But only briefly. He looked at me, his brow furrowed, eyes puzzled. “But why’s she so upset?”

“She doesn’t like to think about Mommy and Daddy doing it.”

His eyes grew wide. I did not see it coming. He said, “You mean humans do it too?!”

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