Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where Babies - and Tongue-Tied Papas - Come From

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"How do babies get out of a mommy's tummy?"

Like so many incredibly loaded topics, this question arrived over dinner. Diva was then 4, a preschooler whose primary understanding of adult female anatomy came from Barbie. We'd been joined for supper by Diva's Auntie Mikey, to whom she addressed the question, but since we hadn't been talking about either uteruses or Angelina Jolie, Mikey's jaw fell open in surprise.

Our general philosophy is to tell the truth in the simplest terms. We'd long ago settled on the idea that, when the time came, we'd neither stigmatize nor aggrandize the subject of sex. We just didn't expect to that moment to arrive while our daughter was still watching "Sesame Street." Technically, though, the time had come for Mikey; as we pointed out, Diva hadn't asked us. Smirking, we sat back to watch her auntie answer.

Mikey put on a great show, narrated from the perspective of the baby deciding to head down the birth canal and pop out between mom's legs. Diva looked down at her lap and then up at Mikey, with an expression that read, "You've gotta be kidding." She quickly changed the subject to the brownies I'd made for dessert, and I breathed a sigh of relief at having dodged the larger bullet for the time being.

That relief lasted three minutes. With a mouth full of chocolate, Diva turned to me. "So how did the baby get in?" After briefly emitting a startled quasi-gargling sound, I pulled myself together and tried to play it cool, like it was just any old suppertime chat about a sperm and an egg.

Trying to help, Mikey began the standard line we all learn: "When a man and a woman love each other ..." But I cut her off before she finished the phrase, because not all birth stories start that way. Many babies are not conceived from love, or even with the participants' awareness that conception is taking place, and, for decades now, some babies have been made with one or both biological contributors absent. I wasn't about to cement any one notion that might not apply to my own child.

Sketching things out briefly for Diva, accurately, but not exhaustively, I revealed only what the moment required. Like Dumbledore in the first few "Harry Potter" books, I didn't feel a need to fully limn out the future -- there will be plenty of time later to describe all the drama a wand can cause. Whatever I said, it turned out to be plenty; Diva finished her brownie and wandered off, leaving us grown-ups to ponder the sudden arrival of the Information Age.

I shouldn't have been surprised that the conversation had come so soon. After all, I was only 5 when my brother told me his version of our birth story: "Daddy jumped on Mommy and poked her till she cried."

I refused to believe my mother would have ever let my father do what my brother described -- which I reported to her verbatim. She was mortified, immediately leading us to our room for a concise sex talk that ended with the admonition "and do NOT repeat a WORD of this out loud."

I vowed, as a parent, I'd handle things with more finesse. But life is funny. After supper, I discovered Diva playing with a T-Rex who was busily finding a way to deliver some dino sperm to Barbie's eggs. Upon seeing me, Diva happily told me she was having the toys make babies. I found my hypocritical self gently suggesting she should only play this game at home. As amusingly ironic as it might be for the child of the gay guys to be telling classmates how straight people make love, I wasn't especially interested in being the Sex Ed provider for a preschool.

I'm not sure I was fully prepared to fill that role at my own table, to be honest. But, in the process, I helped teach Diva something valuable: Answers and babies both come from parents, whether or not they're ready for delivery.

Veronica Rhodes and David Valdes Greenwood alternate weeks writing the Family Gaytriarchs. Look for them on ParentDish every Wednesday.

David Valdes Greenwood has written about marriage and parenting for the Boston Globe and in his first book "Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex Marriage." The author of three nonfiction books and the creator of the blog "Diva Has Two Daddies," he also finds time to be a kindergarten room parent and Barbie pretend play expert. Read his blog on Red Room.

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