On Saturday evening, Willem and I decided to have The Talk with the kids.
We’ve always been big on communication with them, even about potentially uncomfortable, high-level or advanced topics, on the theory that if you start ’em young and adopt a very matter-of-fact attitude, it will create the possibility for the kids to learn that which I want them to learn about the topic early on, and maybe even make it a little easier for them to come back and talk about it again when it actually has relevance to their lives.
So, we brought up the topic of drugs, from pills to cigarettes to street substances, by the time they were in preschool, at first keeping it to a very simple, “If you find a pill on the floor, don’t touch it. Go ask for help,” and working up to, “Someday, you’re going to be out with friends and you’re going to feel pressured to try something – or you will try it and start worrying about its effect or feeling sick. And when that happens, you call us, any time, and we promise to find a way to help you without yelling.” The concept of violence has been raised before, particularly because I think I err on the side of conservative restriction when it comes to violence. Having L and her kids with us last year was an excellent segue into what real-life violence is like, what it can do to a person and to a family, and I think it really helped them understand why I have no tolerance for fake violence, in their play or in their media. (Of course, I’d rather L have been safe and my kids still be clueless, but we don’t always get to choose.)
We had simple, honest talks with them when my sister got very sick a few years ago, to help them wrap their minds around the concepts of illness – and have gone through it all again when I was diagnosed with spondylitis and when I had the seizure. And when things went off the deep end with my in-laws, we left most of the details out (“Grandma did something that hurt Daddy’s feelings,” rather than an itemized list) because if a reconciliation ever does happen I don’t want the kids feeling overly resistant to the idea… but still, when I’m certain the general preference would have been for us to paste on a happy face and “wipe the slate clean,” we opted instead to acknowledge the realities of the situation.
And so on and so forth, and while we’ve had many conversations about body parts and appropriate/inappropriate touching, personal hygiene, etc., we hadn’t yet gotten to the nuts-and-bolts, as it were. It was time.
We’d known it was, um, coming for a while, because my pregnancy creates a perfect segue into the topic, but we kept waiting for one of the kids to stop and say, “Hey, wait, how did that baby get in there, anyway?” They have had several questions about the pregnancy, but they’re more focused on how the baby is going to get out, and what we’re going to do with it once that happens.
So, right after dinner, everyone found a seat in the living room, and we opened the discussion with a pretty simple question: “You know that I’m pregnant, right? What does that mean?” They both knew it meant I had a baby in my belly. “Great. So… how did it get there?”
I stared out at a sea of dumbfounded faces. It was obvious that they’d never given it one second’s thought, and Emily is old enough to be surprised, in retrospect, that it hadn’t occurred to her before now.
Jacob guessed, “Magic?” Emily had no ideas at all early on, but when we pointed out that no one else in the family is pregnant, and that I’m not pregnant all the time, she guessed that maybe I was exposed to some sort of… “Something. I don’t know, but like a virus or a germ, only a healthy one.” Which are really not bad guesses, all in all.
From there, we talked about the specifics, the body parts, the act itself, and so on. Within the first 30 seconds, Emily made some sort of attempt at humor/sarcasm – I think she suggested that the baby had been implanted by aliens, which is not actually all that facetious on her part because we’ve been reading a book called Weird New England and it has a few alien-abduction stories in there. But we kept it calm, suggested that she not use this time to get sarcastic, and after that it was just an honest, interesting discussion.
Jacob tuned out for large chunks of it, which is exactly what I expected and hoped would happen. He and Emily are at different enough ages that they need different sets of information about most of the Big Topics. We considered having separate Talks with each kid, but I thought that Jacob would simply not take in any information his brain wasn’t yet ready for, and that’s just how it went. He got the most basic information in, and more importantly, he understands that this is a topic that’s OK to talk about, to either parent, when he’s ready.
Emily was fascinated. I was surprised that we didn’t get a, “Ewwwwwww, you did WHAT?!?” out of her, because let’s face it, there’s a certain squick factor when your parents talk about sex. But instead, she was very matter-of-fact – “Oh, so, is that why you two take showers together sometimes?” Well, sometimes, but sometimes we just use that as a chance to have a conversation away from the children. But it’s why we lock the door of our bedroom sometimes. I had purchased an enormous book, full of photos and information, called Pregnancy Day by Day, which I keep it in the bathroom, to maximize availability to all interested parties. Midway through the talk, Willem went and got the book, and Emily spent the next hour paging through it.
So, really, it went as perfectly as it possibly could have gone. We showed the kids that sex is something that is OK to talk about – that it’s important to talk about – that both parents are involved and approachable – that it has familial and, someday, personal relevance – that the body can do some really, really weird things during pregnancy. There was no undue embarrassment for any of us, and I felt that the information I wanted to relay was received.
I’m still basking in this little success, two days later. And we’re thinking of hiring ourselves out to other families, because The Talk can be such an awkward, uncomfortable, uninformative, confusing event, sometimes. I know I had my Talk with only my mother, and it consisted of her sitting me down and having me watch the Nova episode, Miracle of Life, and then asking if I had questions… and then leaving quickly and gratefully when I shook my head. Other people got a book with stick-figure drawings and strange vocabulary. Of course it would be preferable for The Talk to come from one’s own parents, but if that’s not possible for some reason, then give us a call, we’ll figure out an appropriate fee structure…
I may screw up any number of other things, parenting-wise, but I feel like I got that one right.