“Abba, when I grow up and have a baby, I’m going to need a little piece of your penis, OK?”
Having uttered this statement, casually and matter-of-factly, our then two and half year old went back to what she was doing in shul. She was just staking her claim, making it clear. She wanted to let him know. No big deal. Business as usual.
Abba, however, was having a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face. As he was fighting not to burst out laughing, he was also rehearsing the story for use at dinner parties (because it’s freaking hilarious), future life cycle moments (What? That shouldn’t be in the bat-mitzvah speech?), and maybe even a Kveller post. He needn’t have bothered: this was one he wasn’t going to forget.
We knew right away where this statement came from. I’d had our third child not long before, and our oldest naturally wanted more information. “How did the baby get in there?” “How will it get out? “ And, I admit it (and my husband will tell you immediately), I was pretty excited for this chance. I’d been waiting for her to ask. I had the book (“It’s Not the Stork,” highly recommended) all ready.
I wanted to have this conversation as soon as she was ready for it, partly because I figured it would be easier to do it earlier rather than later, before the social pressures and embarrassments set in. But also, reproduction was happening in front of her eyes, and I wanted her to know as soon as she could understand, as much as she could understand. Finally, because I wanted to lay the framework for talking about all kinds of families; those with one mother and one father, those with two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, or any other kind of variation. By demystifying the biology, I could show that it is just that: biology. Which is very different from love. Or family.
So we sat down and talked about the birds and the bees, except we didn’t use words like that. We used biologically and anatomically correct terms, many of which were familiar already, and some of which were not. That’s important: kids need to know how to name their body parts and to take ownership over them. They need to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of with these parts, so there’s no need to come up with euphemisms or nicknames. They need to know that when it comes to all parts of their bodies, there is nothing to hide. They need to know how to talk to us about their body parts, and they need to know that we will listen. No matter what. There are lots of opportunities to model that: this was a good one.
And we used the book. It’s a good book, written by people who know exactly how to do this. We looked at the pictures. We talked about how making a baby worked for our family, and how it might work for other families. We answered questions. And then we moved on.
Or at least, big sister moved on.
But. Ha. As it turns out, little sister was listening. Little sister didn’t quite understand as much as big sister, being two years younger, but she got enough to understand that a beloved and trusted man can donate something from his penis for the process. And who is more beloved and trusted than Abba?
We’ve laughed so much about that story. It was a bit awkward, being that we were in shul, but—as she modeled for us —not that big a deal at all. We didn’t do anything to correct her at the time. She was two and a half, and making the sense she could make out of something complicated. She’s forgotten it now (though I am sure one day we will remind her), having replaced that sense with a more sophisticated one.
But just last week, we had guests over for Shabbat. Big sister (she’s 7 now) is doing a unit on the body at school. She was really excited to share her books about the body with her friend. We did the thing where we had a conversation with our eyes and turned a bit anxiously to our guests to tell them what some of the books are about. They laughed and said that they hadn’t quite gotten to that point with their son yet, but it was fine and they were ready.
We gulped. We knew that it would be okay, but recently, we’d sort of neglected to prep our daughter with the idea that other kids might not know this stuff just yet. We’d told her this three years ago when we first had The Talk, but let it fade since she really didn’t seem to think any of it was a big deal or even worth mentioning to other kids. We had seen that as a victory, actually; baby making was just a part of life, like so many other things that weren’t all that interesting compared to what she and her friends were talking about. That would change (that is changing), but at age 4, or 5, or 6, that seemed right.
But she’s 7, and we’re those parents now. You know the ones. It’s fine, of course, but we’ve got to remember to check in with her and with her friends’ parents. And we should, probably, check in with her younger sister, just to make sure she’s still got the story straight, and isn’t telling her friends to reserve pieces of their fathers’ penises for future use.