"Why do I have balls?"
I expected he'd ask, "Where do babies come from?" or "What's sex?" or "What are those people doing?!"
But Chuck is more practical than that. He goes straight to the science. He asked this question sometime shortly after he turned 7. At that time I explained, very inelegantly, that his balls had "stuff" in them that made babies. The experts recommend that we only answer the questions they ask and that we don't provide more information than necessary. Thankfully, the conversation ended there.
Several months later, as we were reading books before bed one night, he asked, "How does the stuff in my balls make babies?"
I was not at all prepared for this conversation. I assumed it would happen much later and that I'd be quite nonchalant, open, and sex positive. Instead, my first thought was to yell for his father, which I'm embarrassed to admit I did. Wasn't this a dad's job? My second response was an awkward giggle/snort/laugh.
"Well," I explained, "there are sorts of seeds in there, and when they mix with the egg in the woman, they make a baby."
Would that that satisfy him? Not a chance in Hell.
Pause, Pause, Pause.
"How do the seeds get to the egg?"
This elicited a little more nervous laughter. It was a shining moment in my parenting.
"Well… the man puts his penis in the woman's vagina and the seed comes out and meets up with the egg."
Aside: At the time, Chuck called this part of a woman's anatomy a "fa-gi-nia." His younger brother Ted had no trouble with the pronunciation. This was clearly proven one day, at the age of 4, when he asked quite loudly in a crowded aisle of Trader Joes' "Mommy, can I see what a vagina looks like?" But back to Chuck:
I explained that this is something that grownups do, and even though it sounds disgusting, they like it. Then the really hard questions started.
"Is that what Cal's Mom and Dad did?"
I have no idea why he latched onto someone else's parents first, but for a moment I thought I was out of the woods.
"Yes," I replied. "That's how they made Cal."
And then he asked the question we all dread, the horror in his voice rising:
"IS THAT WHAT YOU AND DADDY DID?"
I'm surprised that his shriek didn't bring his dad right upstairs, but I was still on my own. I think Fred sensed something and was hiding under the dining room table.
Chuck began to get very upset and protest that he DID NOT WANT TO DO THAT. I reassured him that he didn't have to if he didn't want to (hoping this would make his teenage years easier on me).
It was then that he started to cry. Not mock horror, but genuine sadness.
"But I want to have a baby."
That's how they do it. That's how they keep us from selling them to the highest bidder.
"It's OK," I reassured him. "When you're older it won't seem so weird and you'll probably find it interesting. Grownups like it, it's nice."
"Pinky swear?" he asked, holding up his hand, with his little finger crooked in the classic pose of a child's contract.
"Pinky swear," I responded, hooking my finger in his and assuring him that someday he'd like sex.
Megan Rubiner Zinn's work has appeared in Northampton's Daily Hampshire Gazette, VisualThesauraus.com, and Editorializing, and she blogs at life in the little city. In her imagination she's Myrna Loy in "The Thin Man;" in reality she's more like Lauren Graham in pretty much anything.
Image via Shutterstock.