I had the talk with my almost 11 year old last week. Yes, the talk. I had to do it. It had been coming up at school toward the end of the year, thanks to some of the girls in the class, and I know he’s going to hear about it at camp this summer. I’ve been ignoring it for a while now. Well, that’s not quite true. I haven’t been ignoring it. I’ve been dealing with it by trying to push it off on to my husband. He’s been ignoring it. But it had become obvious that our son understood something, and was wanting to talk about it. He kept looking for ways to get the word "sex" into his conversations. So, I grabbed the book I bought years ago, took a deep breath, and told him to have a seat on the couch.
Me – I guess you guys have been talking about sex at school, huh?
Him – Sometimes.
Me – So, tell me what you know. What is sex?
Him – I don’t know. Kissing.
Me ( trying to take a deep breath) – Well, do you know about making a baby?
Him – You mean mating?
Thank you all those BBC animal videos…
Me – Yeah, okay. When the male and the female come together to make a baby.
Him – Huh?
He looks confused. I panic and think I made a mistake – this isn’t right – he actually knows nothing – I should stop right now or I’m going to freak him out forever. But, wait, I’ve already started, and it really took a lot of effort on my part. I’ve been preparing myself for this for days. And if we stop now it’s going to feel really weird and taboo and I definitely don’t want that. We’re doing it.
Me – Well "mating" is like the scientific word for sex. When the female and the male of any species… come together… to make a baby…
I’m fumbling for my lines but I’m prepared and, like any good actress, I reach for a prop.
Me – Here, look at this book.
The book I have is called "It’s Perfectly Normal – Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health" I keep it on the child rearing shelf right next to "What I Believe – A Young Person’s Guide to the Religions of the World"
We open the book to the cartoon picture of a sperm swimming to meet an egg.
Me ( brightly) See the sperm comes from the male and enters the egg and the baby begins to be formed!
Him – How does it get in there?
Damn, right off the bat. I was hoping I’d have a minute.
Me (stalling) The sperm?
Him – How does the sperm get to the egg?
Me – How does the sperm get to the egg?
He looks at me sideways.
Me – Huh. Well. You know. The sperm comes out of the penis. The male puts his penis in the vagina and the sperm comes out. Then it kind of swims up to meet the egg.
Him (backing up into the corner of the couch) Did you do that?
Me – Yep. That’s what you do when you want to have a baby.
I am really proud of myself now. Hard part over. I can handle anything from here.
Him – When?
Me – What?
Him – When did you do that?
I did not anticipate this. I don’t know what to say. I mean I could say "um, a week ago I guess" but somehow that feels wrong. So I say something stupid.
Me – Almost 11 years ago.
cue the rim shot
Him – And 9 years ago too.
His brother is 9
Me – Yep.
I’m feeling weird about this line of questioning. I don’t want to be evasive but I’m not going to tell him that his parents have sex just for fun either. I want to move on and get whatever images he has in his head out of his head so I turn back to the book.
We start looking at cartoons of reproductive systems. He looks for a while, silent, reading. He points to a word.
Him – What does that say?
As Beckett said – I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
Me – "Menstruation"
Him – What does that mean?
Me – Well the woman’s body provides the perfect environment for the baby to begin growing in but, if a baby is not growing, she gets rid of the blood and nutrients and stuff ( wait is this right? are there any nutrients in there?) that she doesn’t need. This happens every month.
Him – What do you mean? You mean it comes out?
Me – Yes. It comes out of the vagina.
He looks at me. He looks away. He turns the page.
At the top of the page big letters spell out Planning Ahead; postponement, abstinence and birth control. Again I am tempted to close the book but, as I am trying to convey my counseling availability for future hard parts of growing up, we continue. My kid will know that he can come to me with stuff if it kills me.
Me – So if you don’t want to have a baby there are things you can do to stop the sperm from getting to the egg.
On the page there are all these drawings of pills and creams and sponges ( I told you I bought this book a few years ago) and there’s a cartoon of a male figure with an erection putting on a condom.
Him – What’s that?
Me – It’s called a condom. You can put it on and it catches it so it doesn’t get to the egg.
Him – (panicking)YOU MEAN IT FALLS OFF?
Me- (alarmed) WHAT?
Him – YOUR PENIS CAN FALL OFF?
Even though I know this is the absolute wrong thing to do, I start laughing. I have to bite the insides of my cheeks to stop.
Me – No, no. The penis can’t fall off. The condom catches the sperm.
Him – Oh. Then what do you do with it?
Me – Put it in the trash I guess.
Him – Yuck.
We go on for a few more pages and I am working my way up to taking "It’s Perfectly Normal" away from him. I want it to look casual and organic when I do but I’m also acutely aware that the book gets to – well, let’s just call it other things – toward the end and they are not a mommy’s job.
I lift it out of his hands saying –
Me – Any questions?
Him – Uh uh.
Me – I want you to know that you can talk to me about any of this stuff any time ( except, of course, for the aforementioned) It doesn’t embarrass me. You can ask me any questions or anything. Okay? Your dad, too.
Him – Can I tell my brother?
Perfect, just what I was hoping for.
Me – No! It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it but you are more mature. We’ll make sure he knows when he’s ready. Let us do our job, okay?
He has a glint in his eye.
Me – Seriously.
Him (disappointed) Okay…
He runs off and I realize I’ve been pretty much holding my breath for 15 minutes. I take a slow, deep one and give myself a pat on the back.
You can avoid the challenges of a conversation like this with a 10 year old by taking advantage of the window that opens around age 4 or 5. This window is very real; I had it, many of my friends have had it. Most of us slammed it shut as quickly as possible, telling ourselves it was better to wait until our kids were older, but you can walk on through and it might have been easier for me if I had. When my kids started asking the "how did I get here" questions I could have quickly and easily dispense with them by saying, "Daddy puts his penis in Mommy, his sperm meets an egg from her body and a baby begins to grow" There would have been no mention of menstruation, nothing about condoms. The kids simply would not have asked. Oh, well. Too late now. At least it’s over with and I think I did a pretty good job. Now, if I can just make sure my reverse psychology works and my son tells his brother, I won’t have to go through this again.