"Mommy, Mommy!" M. Peevie called to me from two rooms away, as per usual. "Two squirrels are fighting!" She was watching out the picture window as the drama unfolded on the neighbor's front yard.
"They're probably mating," I said. Urban squirrels are fluffy-tailed rodents the color of dustbunnies. There are so many of them living in the tree in our front yard that I assume they reproduce constantly.
"But they look like they're wrestling," she said. "Why are they rolling around like that?"
"It's probably part of the mating process," said Mr. Peevie jealously.
"How do they mate, Mommy?" asked M. Peevie.
"Well, it looks to me like the male squirrel gets on the back of the female squirrel," I said.
"Why does he get on her back instead of on her front?" she persisted. I really don't know why she would ask that question. I kind of don't want to know.
"That's how mating works for squirrels," Mr. Peevie said. "Different animals have different ways of mating."
"But what happens when he gets on her back? Why is getting on her back called mating?" said M. Peevie, who might be aiming for a career at the Kinsey Institute.
Are seven-year-olds too young for discussions of animal reproductive behaviors? Kids on farms are conversant with this sort of stuff--so why not our city kids, too? I had a conversation about the anatomical differences between bulls and cows once with a five-year-old who lived on a dairy farm in Oklahoma. So I plunged ahead.
"Well." I took a deep breath. "The male squirrel has a penis"--I was leveraging two years of high school biology here, and nothing more; I could be totally wrong about squirrel anatomy--"and he puts it in the female. That's called mating." Phew. Done. Can we stop now?
Of course we can't. The girl does not quit. "But why are they mating now?" she asked.
"It's that time of year," I told her. "Time for them to make some baby squirrels." Then I made a strategic move. "Do you ever see baby squirrels running around outside?" I decided I was done with the s*x talk.
"I don't know," M. said. "How big is a baby squirrel? This big?" She held up two chubby fingers.
"I really don't know how big a squirrel is when it's born, M.," I confessed.
"Well, how big is a teenage squirrel?" She made the chubby finger gap wider. "This big?"
"M. Peevie, I really don't know," I said. "Can you please go and play now?" If you let her, this tiny interrogator will ask more questions than a prosecutor. It can be quite exhausting, and I think my brain was starting to bleed.
I'd love to hear your stories about conversations with your kids about the birds, or squirrels, or bulls, and the bees.