William came out of his room this morning and said, in the voice of a child who has just realized there is a surprising gap in the chain of what he knows, "What starts the baby inside? I mean, it starts from nothing!" He did a lightning-bolt clap to emphasize the word "nothing."
At the time, I was trying to persuade the twins to eat their breakfasts rather than using them to test the theory of gravity, and I was responding to Rob's third polite request from the couch where he is nested in with a fever this morning, but this is one of those drop-everything moments when the question at hand is too important to let slip by. Also, it was just a few days ago that an anonymous commenter asked if I'd do a post on this very topic, so secretly I was delighted to get more material for what had been looking like it would be a skimpy post. The anonymous commenter speculated that I had a lot of experience with this, but in fact I'd only discussed the Whole Scoop with Rob so far.
I've read funny anecdotes about parents who panic and tell the entire story, complete with tangents about the Kama Sutra and birth control options and sex for love / not for love, only to find that the child wanted to know something more like "Babies are usually born in hospitals." So my approach when a child asks a question is to answer it in a distant, general way and work toward specifics as the child keeps asking. The first time Rob asked me a question, what he wanted was reassurance that the baby was not growing in the same tummy where food went, and when that matter was settled he was contented. The next time, he was curious about how the baby grew, but he was looking for information about the umbilical cord and the breathing/dining/peeing conditions, and wasn't yet looking for specifics about conception. I think he was five when he wanted access to the classified files.
William has been present for some of my conversations with Rob, but I wasn't sure how much he'd listened to. He's six years old, and I think of that as old enough to hear the whole truth if he wants it, but it's still young enough that he might not want to know yet. I asked if he remembered about sperm and eggs, and he said he did but I reviewed it anyway at the "sperm comes from the daddy, eggs come from the mommy, and a sperm and an egg combine to start a baby" level to see if that was all he needed, but no. He said, "But how DO they GET to combine?" and that's when I realized I was going to have to use words like penis at 8:00 in the morning.
I have a book I like to use to brush up on the basics before I explain it to a child. You'd think all this information would be clear to me by now (unless you were one of the many people who greeted the news of this pregnancy with a cautious "You know how this keeps happening, right?"), but it can be helpful to review it in simplified terms. This is the same book my mom used when she was explaining the truth to Young Swistle: Where Did I Come From?, by Peter Mayle. The illustrations show the whole naked thing, but in a friendly way that isn't too embarrassing for those among us who might feel a little embarrassed. It's a good book to use for your own education before you have to explain elements of the process, and a good book to read aloud to a child who's ready for the whole story.
For older children like Rob, who can read to themselves and might be starting to feel embarrassed about asking questions, I like It's So Amazing!, by Robie H. Harris. This book goes into a lot more detail than Where Did I Come From?, including topics such as adoption, different kinds of families, and good/bad touches. It sticks mostly to boy parts and girl parts and reproduction, though. The format is comic-book style, with a bird and a bee who have different feelings about learning more about this topic (the bird is interested, the bee would rather not know). There are some good diagrams of internal reproductive systems; I don't like to admit it, but I learned a thing or two myself.
Gift ideas for an 8-year-old, part 2 of 2 - Last week I talked about the gifts we were getting/considering for Edward, who is turning 8 next month. This week it’s Elizabeth’s turn: not “girl gifts,” ...