I start this post having NO idea what I want to say, really. In fact, I started this post last week and just couldn’t get very far with it because I was still a little shell-shocked. A week later I’m still digesting and questioning and wondering if I went too far or if I failed to go far enough. I don’t know. But I know I want to memorialize it all somehow, so I’m diving in.
Avery and I had the talk. THE talk. The SEX talk. Not just the generic where-babies-come-from talk, not just the sperm-and-egg talk, not just the this-is-how-our-bodies-change-as-we-get-older talk. No, we had the full-on, full-detail, no-holds-barred, mechanics-of-it talk. And I’m not sure either of us will ever be the same again.
Because Avery has two younger siblings and because she’s been around and aware of me being pregnant twice in her lifetime, questions have come up before. She knew the biology of how babies were made and born. She knew how they made their entry into the world (and she is a staunch supporter of adoption as a result). But she didn’t know how or why the whole ball got rolling, so to speak. When I was pregnant with Amelia, she once asked the ultimate question and I totally, totally chickened out on answering her. She was FIVE. I couldn’t bring myself to have that conversation with a kindergartener, so I punted with a “We’ll discuss that when you’re older.” (Which was exactly what my parents punted with when I asked the same question at Avery’s age. I remember asking. I remember the punt. And I remember that the “when you’re older” never came.) The next day I felt awful about being such a wuss. I’ve always operated under a fairly strict “As Honest As They Can Handle” policy when communicating with my kids, and I had cratered. So I did some research and found an age-appropriate book to buy and then sat down with my five-year-old a few days later and tried to re-open the conversation. By which point, of course, she had totally lost interest.
Fast-forward three years. At bedtime one night last week, Avery started asking questions. Very specific questions. Unsure if she was really wanting/ready to know or if she was just trying to delay bedtime, I reminded her that she had a book sitting on her shelf that she could read anytime she wanted and then we would talk about it. And … good night and go to sleep. The next morning, she pranced down to breakfast with the gleeful announcement, “Well, I was a little surprised to find out what sex was!”
Just like that, we entered a new era. I shipped her off to school with the promise of an afterschool chat and the admonition that this was not information to be discussed with her peers.* That afternoon, Starbucks in hand (iced nonfat latte for me, vanilla steamer for her), we sat in the car and talked. The whys and the hows and the whens and the when nots. It was awkward and sweet and embarrassing and bonding and just a tiny bit surreal. The funniest moment of the entire conversation was when Avery, book in hand like the little researcher she is, said, “So just to make sure we are on the same page, when you were a kid and you found out how sex worked, did it just seem … not quite right to you?” It did, indeed.
We eventually covered the bases that needed covering and the talk shifted to the more relevant topics of “How do you know when a boy likes you?” and “How do you tell a boy that you like him?” and “What exactly does someone say when they ask you on a date?” I breathed a sigh of relief that we had moved into safer territory and incorrectly (and rather naively, given the understanding of how my daughter’s mind works), thought that was going to be worst of it. That should have been the worst of it; in my opinion, that’s more than plenty of heft for a sex talk with an eight-year-old.
Except that it’s Avery and because she’s so freaking logical and linear and if/then, it turns out that wasn’t the worst of it by a long shot. By bedtime, she had processed and progressed to such fun topics as: “Is there a way to keep from getting pregnant when you have sex?” and “If you get pregnant and you don’t want to be pregnant, is there a way to stop being pregnant?” Which is how, on the fly, I ended up trying to craft a birth control and abortion discussion on a level that was philosophically/legally/morally appropriate for an 8-year-old. And who the hell knows if I handled any of that right?
I don’t know. I mean, I really, really, really don’t know. These are such murky waters and there are pitfalls every way we turn. There are a million different ways to handle this part of parenting and absolutely no way to know which is right. You go with your gut. I know she thanked me for the conversations and told me she was glad that she could talk to me about anything. I know I took every opportunity (and there were several) to stress to her that I always want to be included in the big decisions in her life, no matter how awkward or embarrassing or terrifying those decisions may be. I know she’s taken that first step away from childhood and pulled us both into a new phase of the mother/daughter relationship—one that will evolve and contort in terrifying and wonderful ways over the next decade or two. I know I am proud of the way her mind works.
And I know this: At bedtime that night, she texted from her room, as she always does, to say her goodnights and her I love yous. I said goodnight and told her that I adored her. She texted back: “I admire you.”
And that felt pretty perfect.
*And for anyone whose children might run across Avery in the real world, we later had an at-length discussion about how every parent decides the time and manner in which this information is communicated to their children and how those decisions must be respected and how there exist a multitude of reasons she doesn’t want to be “that kid” disseminating the sex talk on the playground. So hopefully, mum’s the word for awhile longer, at least.