“But how did your kitty have her babies without a doctor there?” My then-seven-year-old son looked up at me after hearing my mom and me I talk about Miss Kitty. Miss Kitty was a stray we’d adopted when I was about his age. On the day my mom was talking about, Miss Kitty had been very pregnant in the morning, when we left for work and school. When we got home, later that day, she was skinny and there were four kittens under my bed.
By this age, my son had already asked how he got out of my tummy. He had seen pregnant women and knew they had babies in their tummies, and he started asking about how they came out when he was about four. I had always told him the truth: that the doctor did surgery on me and got him out of my uterus. In adult-speak, my son knew he was a C-section baby. Naturally, he thought all babies were born like this, so he was wondering how the heck the kittens got out of Miss Kitty when she was home alone. Clearly, no doctor was present.
I thought for a few seconds, trying to find the words, and then I told him, “Well, some moms have babies from their vaginas. They don’t need surgery like I did. The babies just come out of their vaginas.”
My son looked up at me with a confused face and asked, “But I didn’t come out of your vagina, right?”
I answered, “Correct. You were a C-section baby. The doctor cut my belly and got you out.”
He looked relieved. “Good. Because then I would smell like vagina.”
I let it go. I wasn’t sure how he knew what vagina smelled like, or what he was saying about my hygiene. So I did what a lot of parents do when a conversation gets uncomfortable: I changed the subject.
A few months later, when my son was eight, we were having dinner with my new boyfriend, who is now my husband. The boyfriend had just taken a sip of beer when my son asked a serious question.
“Zach said his mom and dad were having sex. What’s sex?”
My future husband started coughing and wiping his nose as if he had shot beer out of it. Having grown up in a very Catholic home, he was not used to dinner conversation like this.
I told my son that I would go to the library and get some books and maybe a video, and we would have a chat after school the next day. Honestly, I didn’t know how I would answer his question without obscene hand gestures, so I thought it best to get educational materials. He seemed satisfied with that and finished his dinner without making anyone else choke.
The next day, as promised, I sat down on the couch with my son. I had two age- appropriate books on reproduction and a video narrated by Howie Mandel called Where Did I Come From? I put the video on first, since I figured it would be more entertaining. He asked me to stop the video about 10 minutes in.
He turned to me and asked, “So, my dad put his penis in your vagina?” The look on his face said he was trying to figure out how the universe came into existence.
I nodded slightly and said, “Yes.”
He scrunched his eyebrows and made a sour face. “Why?”
Well, the truth was that his father and I had gone to a wedding. We both had a lot to drink and felt a little frisky. But I didn’t tell him that. My official answer was, “Because we wanted a baby.”
He looked a little relieved, but still confused. “Well, thank you for doing something that gross just to have me.” With that, he announced that he was done learning about sex and I could return the video and books. And I did.
That explanation seemed to be fine for a long time. We went years without talking about sex. In fact, the next conversation came when he was a teen, after he had already started having sex. I had suspected he was doing the deed, or at least considering it, so I had started leaving condoms in his room. He never acknowledged them until this day.
We were on the way home from some errand. We passed by a neighbor’s house where the teen son had recently fathered a child. My son asked me, “Mom, why did Bob get his girlfriend pregnant?”
I answered, “I’m not sure. His father said he bought him condoms. He just didn’t use them.”
“Why would someone not use condoms?” My son seemed really confused by this. I was glad.
I said, “Well, some guys don’t like to have sex with condoms because they think it doesn’t feel as good.”
“Hmmm, feels the same to me.”
Somehow, I kept driving to our house. I did not drive into a mailbox or leap from the moving car to vomit in the bushes. I somehow kept from beating my head against the steering wheel. I also managed to say, “OK. Well, be sure to keep using them, then.” I felt gross, yet relieved. At least he was using condoms. But, really, he was just too young to be doing this at all.
My son is almost 19 now. He has had the same girlfriend for more than two years, so I’m pretty sure he is sexually active. I’m also pretty sure he buys his own condoms. I don’t ask, though, because as an uptight American mom, I really don’t want to know. I just don’t want grandchildren. Not yet.
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