“Hey, Mom…? I’ve been wondering about something.”
We’re in the middle of our bedtime routine. We’ve just climbed into bed, my nine-year-old daughter and me, and it’s the quiet time when she talks.
“Okay,” I say. “What?”
She hesitates. “Am I related to Daddy by blood?”
Of all the things she could ask, that question really catches me off guard. This is the time we normally talk about various dramas at school or her hopes for a sleepover or maybe something she’s thinking about for her birthday. “Of course you are, honey,” I say. I mean…she looks Just Like Him. “He’s your daddy.”
She rolls over, those laser-beam blue eyes trained on me now. “But I came out of your body,” she says. “If I was inside you, how do I have his blood?”
Oooookay. Didn’t see that coming. I scramble, not at all prepared, and end up muttering something about that’s just the way it works. (Lame, lame, I know.)
“So like…his eyes,” she persists. “I don’t understand how I can have his eyes, when I was in your body.”
I scramble some more and heave a huge punt, muttering something about God. My answer satisfies her, but I leave her room realizing I’m living on borrowed time. My little girl is a thinker, and she’s definitely thinking, trying to put all those puzzle pieces together.
I remember when I first learned about the birds and the bees. I grew up on Days of Our Lives. My mom has watched since the first episode, ergo, we watched. And at some point around 1975 Days ran a controversial storyline involving one of my mother’s favorite characters, Doug Williams. Doug was in love with (and married to) Julie, with a housekeeper by the name of Rebecca. And Rebecca longed for a baby. So Doug agreed to father her child, via artificial insemination.
To my young mind (8? 9?), this didn’t make sense. Doug and Julie were married–how could he have a baby with someone else? (My confusion was tantamount to confusion my daughter has expressed when learning of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, since brilliantly, we told her a man and woman have to be married to have a baby. But I digress). So, young me asked my mom how Doug could have a baby with someone other than Julie, and my mother did what any learned librarian would do: she handed me a book. A Doctor Talks to 5-7 Year Olds, it was called, and it was about fish. There were all these pictures of fish swimming around, lady fish laying eggs, men fish spraying something called sperm on therm, etc. And….I was really confused. I mean, what did fish have to do with Doug and Rebecca?
I don’t remember if I actually asked my mom that, and if I did how she answered. Maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal to me and I just blew it off. Maybe she told me more, maybe my older sister or someone else did. I really don’t remember. Other than Doug, Rebecca and the fish, my education on the big S wasn’t a big, omigosh-what???, life-altering moment.
And so now here I am, all these years later.
“Sweetie, we’re getting a new foster dog this week!” I tell my daughter.
“Really?!?” she exclaims. “When?”
We’re walking home from school. My mind is working on a plot point, bills to be paid, and dinner. “Tomorrow,” I say. “We’ll pick him up from the clinic after he gets neutered.”
She stops walking. “What’s neutered?”
Crud. It was easy to explain spaying. Girl dogs have babies, you know? So I can say, “when a dog gets spayed it means they can’t have babies.” But boy dogs don’t have babies…
It’s time. I know that. My husband knows that. We’ve talked about it. It needs to happen. Several of her friends know. Have they told her? Who knows? Would she tell me if they had? Would she tell me if she heard something about Santa Claus that conflicted with what we’d told her? Again, who knows.
I’ve talked to friends. I’ve bought books. I’ve jotted notes and rehearsed what I want to say. And yes still I hesitate. And I wonder why. Once upon a time, back when I was growing up, when we had questions, we could ask our parents or our siblings, or the Greatest Mecca Of All: friends with older brothers and sisters. Maybe we picked a little up from TV, but this was back in the Little House on the Prairie days. Not only was the bedroom door firmly closed, but skin was almost never shown, and lips rarely even touched. We just didn’t have that many options for obtaining information.
But now….wow. Now. We live in the information age. Not only are commercials often far more sexual than any program we witnessed while growing up, but bedroom doors are wide open, and satellite and cable offer endless channels. It’s no longer safe to let your children watch TV without monitoring what’s on. One change of the channel, and there’s no telling what they might witness. (When my daughter was 3, she was known to sing, Viva…..Viagra!)
And then there’s the computer. And our phones. And tablets. Even children who don’t have technology in the home frequently have access at school. Or through a friend. You can try to protect and guard, but you simply can’t control what they see every minute of the day. And you know, my daughter loves Google. She researches all sorts of stuff: Which dogs don’t shed? When is the next full moon? How did Halloween start? What really happened to Atlantis? So, omg, what happens if (when?) one day she types, What is sex?
Right now she thinks sex is what she calls dramatic, lethargic kissing. And sexy means pretty. But she’s wondering about things–what happens if she asks Google, what is neutering? or how can I have my father’s eyes? She might stumble upon clinical answers, or she might land on a demonstrative video.
There’s just no telling, and that’s not a risk I can take.
It needs to be me. I need to explain exactly how it is that she has her father blood, and his eyes.
So I’m preparing myself. And I think I’ve realized my hesitation stems as much from discomfort as from sadness. This conversation means my little girl is growing up. For some reason, for me, giving her this knowledge feels like a loss of innocence, a loss of my little girl. A loss of a beautiful time of our life together which we’ll never get back.
I tell myself I’m being silly. Children grow up. That’s what happens. But these first ten years together have been so staggeringly precious to me. I want to hold on forever, even though I know that change doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes change is just change.
What’s good before can be good after.
And yet the odd little sense of mourning remains.