One of my fondest joys as a parent is talking about about sex with my children. I really do love these conversations, because I just never know what will come up.
Last week, A. Peevie and I hopped out of the car and walked across the parking lot to the drug store. Along the way, we passed a discarded condom wrapper lying on the asphalt.
"What's that, Mom?" A. Peevie asked.
"It's a condom wrapper, A.," I said. "Do you know what condoms are?"
"No," A. Peevie said. Pause. "And I don't want to know." His instincts guided him to take evasive action to avoid a conversation that he somehow intuited would be awkward.
"Well, buddy," I said, "I'm going to tell you what they are when we come back out to the car. And it's going to be only the first of several conversations that we will be having about sex in the near future." I could feel him sending vibes of displeasure into my airspace, but he didn't say anything else.
"So, A.," I said as we walked back to the car, "Condoms. A condom is like a little rubber hat that a man puts on his penis when he has sex to make sure that the woman he's having sex with does not get pregnant." I was not ready to get into a discussion of STDs yet.
"Oh," said A. Peevie.
"The reason I need to tell you about this is that it's time for us to start having a couple of talks about sex, buddy," I said. He grimaced. "And by the way, are you doing sex education at school this year?"
"Umm, hmmm," he said. "For a week." Well, then. That should do it, right?
"Well, dude," I said, "Daddy and I want to make sure you know what's true and what's not true about sex. So we will be talking about it--but for today, we can be done." He emitted an audible sigh of relief.
In the same week, I was in the car with M. Peevie and a news story came on the radio about the Illinois abortion notification law. "What's abortion, Mom?" M. Peevie asked. Of course she did.
"Sometimes a woman or a girl gets pregnant, and she doesn't want to be pregnant any more, M.," I said. "An abortion is a medical procedure that makes her not pregnant any more." I knew it would not end there.
Sure enough. "But Mom," she said, "What happens to the baby?"
"Well, M. Peevie," I said slowly, thinking through my options--there's a simple answer to this one; and then there are answers that are just going to lead to eight thousand more questions; I went with simple--"the baby dies." It still led to more questions, because this is M. Peevie. It's what she does.
"But Mom, why would someone not want their baby?" The questions were getting harder.
"Sometimes a person gets pregnant, but she's not ready to be a mommy, M.," I said. "Sometimes teenagers have sex, and they get pregnant by accident, and they aren't ready to take care of a baby. That's what that news story was about."
She was quiet in the back seat as the traffic whizzed past. "Um, Mom?" M. Peevie said, "I think this conversation is going into things I don't want to talk about."
Phew. I could not agree more. After all, she's only nine.
"OK, baby," I said. "We don't have to talk about it anymore."
I wasn't kidding when I said these kinds of conversations are a true joy of parenting. They're challenging, for sure; and mostly I'm just swinging in the dark, trying to tell the truth, but without giving them more information than they're ready for.
And I love that I get to be the one to guide them. What an honor; what a precious honor.
And what a crapshoot.