My kids are expressing their curiosity about the reproductive world this spring, now that our yard’s rife with flowers, pollen, bees and multiplying cicadas.
Enviro-spouse and I try to be open and accessible parents about their questions on sexuality and reproduction, while letting our children lead the discussions.
My daughter, at 9, is fairly well-versed in the mechanics of it all and, appropriately, grossed out by it. Yet she enjoys imparting bits of information to her brother, 6, who is still a little confused. He totally gets flowers, bees and pollen. It’s humans who remain mysterious to him (join the club, young Jedi).
At breakfast the other day, he suddenly asks: “Mom, what’s sperm?”
Edgy Mama chokes on her coffee, then answers: “Sperm is a fluid that comes out of your penis.”
Boy: “You mean pee?”
EM then attempts to explain the difference between pee and sperm.
I notice the boy looks stricken and is pulling down his pants to examine himself, so I quickly add: “Sperm won’t come out of your penis now. It won’t happen until you’re a teenager.”
I’m not positive about this, as I grew up in a household of girls, but the information relaxes my son. He’s still got his hands down his pants, but he looks relieved that he doesn’t have to worry about something else that could cause him to accidentally wet himself.
Then the girl splashes out her superior knowledge: “When a sperm finds an egg, you make a baby.”
EM glares at girl.
Girl backtracks: “But only when you’re much older and married.”
E-spouse calls out from the kitchen: “Like when you’re 35.”
The boy thinks for a few seconds: “So how do I find an egg?”
EM chokes on her coffee again.
The girl answers: “First, you have to find a mate!”
Miss Wild Kingdom loves having all the answers.
Then ensues the inevitable conversation about how sperm comes out of a penis, which makes all of us uncomfortable and disgusts both the kids. I realize they’ve had enough information and quickly change the subject to baseball, which is the default topic of conversation in our house. Asdrubal Cabrera’s recent unassisted triple play has been examined, dissected and glorified ad nauseum in Edgy Mama world. I often wonder what we talk about when it’s not baseball season. And when pollen and pheromones aren’t bombarding the air we breathe.
The multitudinous cicadas (a 17-year brood) creeping out of their underground burrows also provoked an intriguing conversation.
The boy announced that he’s learning about cicadas in kindergarten. He said his teacher told him they climb up trees, get married, lay eggs and then die. This evokes an image in my mind of a pair of cicadas, one in a tiny white veil and other in a tiny top hat, exchanging vows on a leaf as their sluggish brethren saw their wings together in approval.
I totally understand why a teacher, particularly of kindergarteners, would use the euphemism of marriage in this situation. After all, I’ve lied to my kids by telling them that you must be married before you can have a baby, which is silly. They know unmarried adults, some of them same-sex partners, who have babies, and soon enough they’ll figure it out. But sometimes my Deep South debutante pushes through my Edgy Mama armor and expresses dumb, traditional prejudices that I can’t quite banish.
I wait for Miss Wild Kingdom to pipe up. Sure enough, she says: “Cicadas don’t get married. Animals don’t get married. They mate.”
Who taught her this word “mate” anyway?
“I don’t know what mate means,” says the boy.
“It means they have sex,” I say. The kids go silent. I’m just relieved they didn’t think to examine the part about the cicadas laying eggs and then dying. That’s the stuff that can create lifelong sexual hang-ups.
So … how ‘bout those Tourists?