“You did WHAT to mommy?”
I’d always thought my daughter would be a little older before she became inquisitive about her beginnings, perhaps well into her 40s when I had just started to suffer from the onset of dementia.
Unfortunately, Darcy is four, and what would be a challenging conversation at any age is complicated by her youth.
Darcy’s a bright girl—she takes after her mother in that regard, but like most four-year-olds, she has only a vague understanding of her own anatomy. She also has an attention span slightly longer than that of a yellow Labrador Retriever on shrooms. The potential for misunderstanding is enormous and lies somewhere between “Ohhh, I’m sorry; I thought this was the Men’s Room” and “The Russians don’t care about this Bay in Cuba; you know, the one with the pigs,” in scope.
Darcy wants answers, and I’ve run out of cutesy, albeit time-tested, responses. I’ve answered her questions about where she has come from with the banalities most parents use when explaining to children about how they came to be. When my daughter first asked about where she began, I told her that she “came from her mommy’s tummy.” At first, Darcy thought I was joking (as I mentioned earlier, she is pretty bright), but when it finally dawned on her that I might be on the level, I worried that I may have broken her brain. She furrowed her little brow and ran off to her room to reflect for all of ten minutes or so before asking the inevitable follow-up: “How did I get there?”
I’ve never liked the standard response to this question, the one most of us from my generation have heard from our parents about “people loving each other in a special way.” It’s creepy. Don’t object. There’s really no room to debate the issue. Instead of providing anything like a real answer, the phrase only piques a child’s interest. The implication, of course, is that there’s something secret or coy about the act, which there is, but only because public fornication is frowned upon in this day and age.
Even as a kid I thought that the whole “loving each other in a special way” response was a cop-out. “Special?” I wondered. “Special how?”
Back in the 1980’s, the same term was used to describe developmentally disabled children, so the word was somewhat loaded. I wasn’t the brightest child in the world, but I was still pretty sure that Austin, the kid from down the block who thought he was a werewolf, didn’t have a whole lot to do with making babies.
“Special.” I remember rolling the word around in my head. How is sex special? Is it like a birthday sort of special? Do you get to eat cake when it’s over? Does it involve an eggbeater? The answer, of course, to all of these questions is “yes,” but I would be well into my thirties before I came to that conclusion.
When I was a child, my younger sister, who became interested in her origins by the time she was two and could voice a semi-coherent thought, would ask my mom and dad about where she came from, which my father took as a prompt to ask us out for ice cream. As a distraction, the tactic didn’t work all that well. In fact, it didn’t work at all. The massive infusion of sugar only increased the frequency of Frit’s frenetic barrage of questions, another round of ice cream, another round of questions and a vicious circle that would continue until my sister fell into a diabetic coma. To this day, I’ve got some pretty troubling emotions about frozen dairy products and sex, and in a perfect world, I’d prefer to spare my daughter from some sort of weird ice cream fetish (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Ice cream notwithstanding, there’s still an awful lot to be misconstrued about sex, particularly when it comes to the mind of a four-year-old. After a year of constant harping, I still can’t convince my daughter to wipe herself from front to back. By my most optimistic estimate, the chance that I will be able to explain the mechanics of sex to her in a way she understands are roughly those of me being able to travel back in time to save the Titanic.
Darcy’s vaguely aware of the differences between men/boys and girls/women. She knows that boys have penises, but she’s still pretty convinced that her vagina and her butt are one and the same despite my constant instruction to the contrary.
And yes, I’m one of those people who refers to male and female genitalia by their rightful name in front of my daughter.
The only way that this subject could become more awkward is if I started referring to “vajay-jays” and “wieners” because the only thing creepier than a soon to be five-year old-girl who refers a to boy’s penis is one who refers to a boy’s “willie” or “cock” and her own “hooha” or “pussy.”
After no small amount of consideration, I’ve decided to give Darcy the straight up deal when it comes to sex. I’ve decided to parcel it out depending on how far she wants to go down the rabbit hole. By the way, that was not sexual innuendo. It was just a really poorly conceived metaphor, and now that we’re all uncomfortable and more than a little confused, I think I should move on.
The next time Darcy asks me how she came to be in her mother’s stomach, I will tell her that Daddy put her there. When she asks me how I managed the feat, I will tell her that I did it with my penis and with any luck that will be the end of the conversation. Unfortunately, I’ve never been lucky, and the next question will be (and I shudder as I write this), “Where did you put your penis in mommy?”
“I put it in your mother’s vagina,” I will say as factually as possible. Darcy will undoubtedly give me a very strange look that implies, “Why in the hell would my mother let you do that?” — a question I still have no good answer to after ten years of marriage. With any luck, the topic of conversation will move on to a lighter subject, like the geopolitical upheaval in the Middle East, but as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve never been lucky.
Darcy’s questions won’t end there. I can already see how it’s going to unfold. She will nod her head a little and purse her lips for a bit before asking the question first and foremost on her mind.
“You put your penis in mommy’s butt?”
“Not intentionally,” I’ll respond. “There’s a lot going on down there. Do you have any other questions before we go out for ice cream?”
“We’re getting ice cream?” she’ll shriek, and I will say that we are, in fact, going out for ice cream to buy myself a half hour or so to regroup before the next barrage of questions and, hopefully, get the answers a bit more right.
This post was originally posted on The Unfit Father.
Photo: Max Noisa
Richard Black’s piece first appeared on Sammiches and Psych Meds.