In the midst of our weekly morning hustle, as I busily pull breakfast together, my four-year-old inquires, “Mommy, how do giraffes and ‘elphans’ mate?”
Now, given her particular articulation challenges, there is hope that what she means to say is “meet,” and I decide to go with that. “Meet? Well, on the savannah.”
From the corner of my eye, I can feel little eyes stare me down before she asserts, “No, Mommy, mate.”
I look over to see my pajamas-clad child holding a plastic spotted giraffe and a much larger, solid gray elephant. It’s a curious concept: how, exactly, would those massive, stout elephant legs work around the more scrawny giraffe legs? Some visuals are just too bizarre a stretch, especially before morning coffee.
My preschooler’s awareness of the word “mate” comes as no surprise, given that her ten-year-old older sister is our very own in-house Jane Goodall. It’s hard not to gain an appreciation of different species and their particular habitats in our home. Little Sister here is being tutored in all ways of the animal world. But is animal husbandry truly part of that education? I suspect not, since the older sister spells out “s-e-x” to us adults in confidence, leaning in a disapproving whisper if a movie scene gets a little heated. By that, I mean kissing.
I opt to now go with a more practical response so I can focus on the tasks at hand. “They don’t mate,” I reply.
Apparently, not mating isn’t an option. The plastic figurines are held up near my elbow while little hands maneuver the animals around so their backs are turned toward each other, their tails touching in a haphazard fashion. “Do you think it’s like this?” she offers sincerely.
Now, that’s a position I never would have considered. Especially between a giraffe and elephant.
There are times when the only answer I can resort to is one that will proclaim my ignorance to my offspring, shattering further hope that they’ll respond to my years of experience with great reverence and awe—especially in the teenage years. But this response has become my standby favorite.
“I don’t know,” I say, daring not to look up from the pancake grill.
My daughter pulls down the amorous plastic toys and as she walks away, I turn and notice a slight smile across her mouth.
I suspect that she’s thinking what I’m fearing: Mom doesn’t have a clue.