My kids are confused about sex.
I can’t blame them. So am I. When you think about the whole shebang, it is kind of a weird thing. But I probably shouldn’t call it a shebang, right? Trust me, that is not how my kids got confused. Their confusion is entirely about the mechanics. Why? Because of me. When women pathologically hardwired to ramble try to explain anything of complexity—how to make a frittata, for example—we pretty much sound like we’re trying to explain the God Particle.
My oldest child, a third-grader, is an inquisitive little cookie often accused of being an old spirit. That she requested the recipe for babies when she was only four was not surprising. I remember how intently she listened as I explained that a woman has an egg, and a man has a seed. When the seed and the egg get together, a baby begins to form. Voila! I also told her where the egg was located and where the seed was stored. Feeling like I’d done a good job of playing it cool, I stopped there and nervously waited for her to ask how the seed got to the egg. She didn’t.
Fast forward five autumns. Out with me on an errands run, my daughter randomly blurted, “How does the male’s seed get to the female’s egg?” At first I gave her a very plain answer—yes, the this goes into that answer—but because I was off guard, I then went on and on about it. At least I did it matter-of-factly and with no hint of my urge to scream and poop my pants. I even explained how the male moves around to make the seed come out and why. Good God. Her expression spoke volumes, indicated she was feeling kind of like this:
When I got home and told my husband how I’d had to SAY THE THING, I’m not sure if I was being a martyr or a braggart. “Aren’t you glad you didn’t get that question?” I said. “Seriously, what would you have said?” Without hesitation, he answered, “I’d have said, ‘It swims.’”
Crap. Me and my God Particle.
“See those two ducks, honey?” During the days that followed, I began pointing out to my daughter random examples of sex in the animal kingdom—you know, to
sanitize normalize it? “That’s the male on top of the female,” I’d say. “They’re making a baby!” And then, of course, the female mallard would try to flee as a second mallard would attack, bite at the back of her head and pin her down like a rapist with his stupid webbed orange flapper. Then another would try. Then another. Soon her poor head would be pecked bald from the abuse of horny mallards. It wasn’t quite the Exhibit A I’d wanted.
Thank God my sister has two dogs, Martha and Buddy, who often “play train,” as my daughter long called it. They always look like they’re having a grand old time, grunting and panting with their standard smiley dog mouths agape. They would make a good example! So, I turned to them next, explaining to my daughter that “making a train” was actually sex. In retrospect that was a really bad choice of words. And unfortunately, Martha was always the one riding Buddy, so it kind of confused matters.
You know, I’m not afraid of explaining sex. I just wish I had some control over what my kids envision with it, particularly when it dawns on them that their dad and I do it. Violent head-pecking, growling, tongue-lolling—these are just not what I want them to envision. (Which is why my husband and I lock our bedroom door.) In all seriousness, though, how can I make it not gross? And why the hell is Dad not having to field these questions?
Ha! Well, Daddy finally got his come-uppance this week. Our 4-year-old is like a little engineer. That’s the kind of inquisitive he is. He likes to know how things work, loves to construct and deconstruct. Once I gave him a broken alarm clock and a screwdriver, and his face lit up like Justin Bieber getting his monkey back. So, apparently, my son demanded out of the blue to know how babies are made, and like any good engineer, he wanted specifics. Here’s how my husband said it went down:
“Dad, how are babies made?”
“Oh, you know that. There’s a seed and an egg and—“
“No, I KNOW about the seed and the egg, but how do they get together? How is the baby MADE?”
“Well, only grownups make babies, so you won’t need to make a baby until you’re a grownup.”
“But then DAD, I need to know HOW.”
And so on.
You know what my husband did? He continued to deflect those questions until they stopped. What did he think was going to happen next? I bet he wouldn’t have guessed our son would take the conversation to our daughter, which he did. This conversation took place yesterday after we picked up her new tadpole.
“You know how tadpoles become frogs?” my son offered. “First they get legs. Then they lose their tails. No, wait. First they’re a seed—”
“No, they’re not!” my daughter said. “First they’re an egg.”
“No, no, they’re a seed AND an egg,” my son answered.
Quarreling continued for a few minutes before my daughter said, “Look, this is what happens. First it’s an egg. Then the tadpole is born. Then a frog—hmn, I think it’s a frog—puts seed on the—hmn—wait, on the…um…tadpole.” Her brother listened intently, nodding with an ah-ha look. Yet I could tell his sister was getting confused by her own explanation, and I really didn’t like the idea of letting them think you just ejaculate on things to make them grow.
“Look, guys,” I finally said. “Here’s the deal. There’s an egg. The daddy puts sperm on it. The sperm is the seed. Then the seed and the egg grow into a tadpole. The tadpole grows into a frog.”
“When does he put it on the egg?” my son asked. “Where?”
“After the female lays it,” I interrupted, annoyed that the animal kingdom had once again failed me in explaining how HUMAN babies are made. Flustered I started to second-guess myself, as in thinking maybe I don’t actually know for sure how frogs make babies and whether the eggs are fertilized outside the body. (Don’t judge me. I was frazzled.) Self-talking, I muttered, “Wait. Maybe they’re not like chickens.”
“What? Chickens help make frogs?” said my son.
“Have you ever seen a frog penis?” said my daughter.
“Frogs don’t have penises!” laughed my son.
“All animals have penises!” insisted my daughter.
“Want to hear about the God Particle?” said I, or might as well have. Time to volley back to my husband.