It happened in the spring, the time when gardeners go out to battle against weeds. I was busily at work in the yard, uprooting the invaders, when my six-year-old son approached me after school with a burning question. After dropping his backpack on the grass beside me, he asked the unthinkable: "Mom, what's sex?"
I thought, This child is never going to ride the school bus again!
I must admit I wasn't ready for his question. After all, he was only in first grade, and we had no older children to pave the way through this unknown territory. I hadn't really given the topic much thought. My own preadolescent experience with The Talk had been ever so brief and acutely embarrassing. I secretly hoped my children would somehow learn the facts of life by osmosis—or at least that my husband would be the one to field questions of this sort. If you think my ostrichlike mentality left me unprepared for the ensuing conversation, you're right.
Keep it general, I thought. He probably just heard the term on the bus, and he doesn't need to know all the details right now. I focused on the weeds before me, trying to remain calm. Tugging at a particularly large clump, I tumbled backwards as it came loose. As I gazed up at the sky, the words came to me: "Well," I offered, "it has to do with a husband and wife, their love for each other, and God's plan for families."
There, I did it. I braced myself for further questioning, but it never came.
"Oh," he replied, seemingly satisfied. He trotted off to play on the swing set, and I returned to my weeding. As I listened to the rhythmic creaking of the swing, I thought, That was close. I knew I really needed to do some reading about this. I knew there are good books out there somewhere. But I felt so inadequate. Why, oh why, am I the one entrusted with explaining this most delicate, intimate information to my young son? Is there nobody else who could do the job better? His dad, for example? And why did he have to be exposed to this concept at such an early age? Were we wrong to have enrolled him in public school? Am I a bad mother for allowing him to ride the bus home?
These questions plagued me for a while, but after a few weeks, the dust from this discussion settled, and my head once again was in the sand. I hadn't yet found a book on the facts of life, and I hadn't yet done any more preparation for The Talk. I was at work preparing dinner when, with a ponderous look on his face, my little boy approached me once more. "Mom, I have another question." A cold dread overtook me, and tiny beads of sweat began to form on my brow.
Not another question about sex!
I chopped the vegetables vigorously to mask my discomfort.
Oh please, oh please, let it be something I know how to answer.
"Is there really such a thing as the Tooth Fairy?"
I was stunned. Was this not sacred ground? Who told him? Did this revelation happen on the school bus as well? My poor baby! I hated to be the one to break it to him, since he was at an age where he was dispatching teeth left and right. In fact, only recently he'd lost a tooth and had been rewarded with three shiny quarters under his pillow, along with some fairy dust and a congratulatory note from said fairy.
I set the knife down and turned to him. The truth was more important to me than preserving childhood myths. He had asked, and so I answered him: "You know, you can ask me any question, and I'll do my best to tell you the truth. No, dear, the Tooth Fairy isn't real. It's Mommy and Daddy who leave the money under your pillow." I waited for an outburst of tears, but none came. So far, so good. "We can still pretend, though, if you want, and we'll still give you money for the teeth you lose. It can still be fun, OK?" And then, as an afterthought, I added, "You don't need to tell other kids, though, because some of their parents might want them to keep believing, and it might ruin the fun for them." Or their parents, I wanted to add.
"OK." He thought a moment then queried, "Since it's only you and Dad and not the Tooth Fairy, can you give me a dollar for each tooth?"
"Sure," I replied lightly. The little capitalist! Satisfied with the promise of increased revenues, he trotted off to his room to play, and I returned to my chopping.
For a few days after that, life seemed normal again. Then without warning, the peace was shattered like glass. The Inquisitor King was back with another inquiry.
"Mom, remember when you told me I could ask you anything and you'd always tell me the truth?"
By now the tightening in my stomach was a familiar sensation, but at least I didn't break into a cold sweat this time. I looked up from scrubbing the floor and gazed into his innocent little face. He was so precious, and he was dealing with some big issues. My heart went out to him.
"Yes, honey. What do you want to know?"
"Do moms really have eyes in the back of their heads?"
Relief flooded my entire being. That's an easy one.
Stephanie Bauman, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Arizona.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.