My son, Theo, was seven when he requested a sibling. Specifically, he requested a brother, but I think he'd have been happy either way. He was only three when the baby I was carrying suffered fetal demise at 32 weeks along. He'd been primed to expect a brother because we knew what was coming--a boy we'd named Connor. After the fact, we discussed the baby's death, his ashes and their home in a planter with a statue of a baby in our backyard, white letters memorializing: Connor Jules Garrett and the date. Theo, only three, had questions and we did our best to answer them. In my grief, I'm not sure how helpful I was but I did my best.
Four years after losing his brother, plus enduring his parents' divorce, Theo decided the time had come. A sibling is a reasonable expectation and Theo was always a reasonable child. However, I had nothing planned on that front. My main priority was figuring out how best to negotiate single, part-time motherhood and not be too depressed about it.
One night after dinner, and perhaps hoping to stall the homework brigade, Theo asked--"Can I have a brother?" It seemed somewhat random. We hadn't talked about brothers, sisters or babies in years and it caught me off guard. I countered with: "Well, Honey. I can't have a baby. I'm not married right now."
He parried with: "Mom.You don't need to be married to have a baby!" (You never know what they know until they're flogging you with it. I couldn't argue since he was right.)
Me: "OK. You're right. How about this: There's no one I want to have a baby with right now."
Theo: "Oh Mom! Why don't you just get it over with and kiss Daddy?"
Me: "Kiss Daddy? Is that how you think you make a baby?"
Theo: "Yeah. You know, it has to be a tongue kiss."
Me: "Well, that's not how it works."
Theo: Hesitant silence. He had no questions because he thought he knew the answers.
I paused to ask myself: Do I really want to do this? I took some calm breaths while I went through the mental calisthenics: Seven years old was not too young to know. Boys are more circumspect than girls and I'd never get the direct question: "Where do babies come from?" It wasn't going to happen or it would have by now. He was already under the misguided notion of "French kiss procreation"--it could get only worse, I speculated, with playground propaganda. I decided to seize the moment.
Me: "Do you want to know how a baby gets made?"
The poor kid. Let's face it--tongue kissing doesn't even begin to do it justice. I started the discussion with something he already knew about--what happens in the morning to boys and their apparatus--and went from there. I did not go into potentially scary and confusing detail but got the basic points across in short order. In fact, I knew he knew exactly what was involved when he had this reaction:
"Ewwww! That's digusting!"
About 30 seconds went by before he added:
"I'm never getting married, and if I do, not to a girl!"
I didn't laugh. At seven, it's a perfectly lucid sentiment. I told him I understood why he felt that way but made the point that there was something beyond the gross-out factor that made people want to engage. I told him that people did it because it felt good. Of course I worried this might be send him even deeper into shock but somehow, it seemed like an important thing to include along with the obligatory "It should only happen between two people who are really in love." I also made it clear that ours was a very private and personal conversation that he should probably not have with his friends at school. It should be something their parents talked to them about. Given his reaction, I had no fear that he'd be itching to get into school the next day and tell everyone. He just wanted to forget I ever told him. The horror!
It's now ten years later. The past decade included no more broaching of the question of brothers or sisters. A few years back we advanced our topics to include birth control, safe sex (I'm an advocate of condoms and oral contraceptives for burgeoning, lustful Romeos and Juliettes) and the squalling, money-sucking, life-altering consequences of being lackadaisical. As much as I look forward to being a grandmother, I'm hoping that joyful event is at least another decade from now. Theo has kept to his habit of not asking questions and acting as if he knows everything already. In spite of this, I try to offer information wherever it seems appropriate. In my now middle-aged-ness, I'm not sure how helpful I've been but I'm still doing my best.
Timing is everything. Children can be a blessing or a comeuppance and the circumstances surrounding their conception all too often dictate the outcome. I'm too young to be a grandma and he's too young to be a dad. So far it's something we both agree upon. When the time comes I'm hoping for a blessing.
|My blessing and I.|