A few years ago, when my daughter was five, she asked me how babies get made. It was not the first time she asked, and my old “an egg and a sperm meet in the mommy’s tummy” trick wasn’t working anymore.
But how do they meet, she wanted to know. So after about a half an hour of question-dodging that would put any politician on a Sunday morning news show to shame, I finally gave up and told her the truth. The daddy puts his penis inside the mommy’s vagina, I told her. Which pretty much shut her up.
When I told people that I’d had “the talk” with my then-kindergartener, the responses ranged from shock and judgment to good for you. Of course, I spent days, maybe weeks, worrying that I’d done the wrong thing. Maybe I should have continued to put her off for a few more years, maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so honest. But in retrospect, I’m really glad that we had that conversation when we did, because we got it over with and out of the way, and also because I’m pretty sure it would be a whole lot more awkward to have it now.
Of course, I always knew that there would be more questions. I told her how babies got made, sure, but I didn’t tell her that daddies put their penises in mommies’ vaginas for reasons other than making babies. I told her about procreation, but I didn’t tell her about sex. So I wasn’t entirely shocked last week when my daughter asked me how a person can possibly get pregnant by accident. “I mean, I just don’t understand,” she said. “How does someone accidentally put their penis inside someone else’s vagina?”
My entire life flashed before my eyes, as if I were in a car, plummeting off of a cliff to my death. It’s funny – when people think about having these kinds of talks with their kids, we tend to imagine that we’ll be in control of the situation. We’ll sit down, together, as parents, and we’ll decide that yes, perhaps it’s time to have “The Talk” with little Johnnie or Janie. And then you think that you’ll go into her room and sit down on the edge of her bed and say something like, sweetie, I think it’s time we have a talk. And you imagine yourself laying it all out there with the charts and graphs and PowerPoint presentations that you diligently created in preparation for this monumental parenting moment, while your child just listens and nods, eternally grateful to you for clearing up the mysteries of life. Obviously, having my kid ask out of nowhere how a penis can accidentally end up in someone else’s vagina was not exactly how I thought it would go down. But, the best laid plans, blah, blah, blah.
So once again, I told her the truth:
“You know how you always ask me why the dog licks his penis so much, and I tell you that he does it because it feels good?”
“Yeah,” she says, slowly, in a where-could-you-possibly-be-going-with-this voice.
“Well, putting a penis inside a vagina feels good, too.”
“Oh. So,” she deduces, “boys make girls do that?”
“Nooooooo,” I say. “That’s illegal. But it feels good for girls, too. And people who love each other, AND ARE MARRIED TO EACH OTHER, do that sometimes as a way to express their love.”
Wheels turn. Neurons fire. Words sink in. “But teenagers get pregnant by accident,” she says. “And they’re not married.”
Wheels turn. Neurons fire. I throw up a little in my mouth. “Where did you hear that?” I ask.
She tells me it was on Glee, which she isn’t allowed to watch. But apparently, many of her friends are. I tell her that some teenagers are stupid, and do things before they’re old enough to really understand what it is they’re doing. Kind of like her friends who watch Glee. For good measure, I also tell her that getting pregnant as a teenager can ruin your entire life, because you won’t be able to go to college or have a career or backpack through Europe.
I ask her if she has any more questions, but she just shakes her head. I have a feeling she got a little bit more than she’d bargained for, and I wonder, once again, if I did the right thing by telling her, or if I should have just said that this is a conversation we can have in a few years, after I’ve had a chance to prepare my PowerPoint.