At dinner, I announced, "Tonight we will be discussing our uteri."
My husband rolled his eyes. My 12-year-old son said, "What about your uteri?" And my 10-year-old daughter, the one for whom I initiated this conversation, put her hands over her ears as she said, "You're making my butt hurt!" This is a recurring problem; anything that "tastes, sounds, feels or smells gross," according to her, makes her butt hurt.
"Are you sure it's your butt that hurts?" my husband asked. "It could be your uterus. Since you have no idea where it is."
My son detailed exactly what happens to the uterus lining when an egg isn't fertilized, and my daughter ran screaming from the table.
Our neighbor's son is four years older than ours. Over the years, I watched as he slowly pulled away from his mother, not wanting to discuss personal matters. Aha! I thought. I will get to my son early! And so I did, starting when he was in preschool with how babies are made and working our way up to wet dreams, descending testicles and "no means no" before he hit middle school. We looked at a tampon. We opened up a condom. By talking to him before he knew enough to be embarrassed, I was able to give him all the facts he needed. And it worked.
Not so much for my daughter. I have a clear memory of my daughter complaining in preschool that her friend Ava was dropped off by her father, and why couldn’t she also be dropped off by her dad?
"Your father has to be at his office before you go to school. Ava's father clearly has a different schedule."
"It's not fair," she said in that piercing whine only a 3-year-old can muster. "Ava's daddy always drops her off! And then she gets to have another daddy pick her up."
I apologized for being boringly heterosexual and giving her just one father who couldn’t do driving duty, but then listened carefully as the conversation naturally turned.
"So," she asked. "How do two daddies have a baby?"
My then 5-year-old son jumped right in. "It's easy!"
I bit my tongue and waited for his response.
"When two mommies want to have a baby," he said, "they go to the sperm bank. So when two men want to have a baby, they go to the egg bank."
My son and I easily cleared up his misconceptions, and he was one of the few kindergartners well versed on surrogacy versus adoption. I realized, though, it was time to educate my daughter. That night I began the "how babies are made" conversation, but within minutes, she cut me off, handing me a more interesting book — "Pinkalicious," I think it was -- shutting down “the talk.” I wasn't worried, though. She was my girl. We'd have plenty of time.
Seven years later, we still haven't talked. My daughter, whose baby face is starting to dot with acne, and whose lean body is, ever so slightly, softening, refuses to discuss the matter. I've left books. I've tried to bring up the topic at the relevant points during movies. And now I've resorted to bringing it up at the dinner table.
That conversation didn't get far. My son detailed exactly what happens to the uterus lining when an egg isn't fertilized, and my daughter ran screaming from the table. I am confident she understands the essentials — she did read the American Girl basic book on the care of the body — but I don't have confidence she'll know what to do when her period comes.
Why did it never occur to me that my gregarious daughter might be the one to be shy about the body? That I shouldn’t have assumed that, just because we’d be having “girl talk,” she wouldn’t become embarrassed by the topic? That, while my son is still happy to prance about naked, she'll hide in the closet to change when I'm in the room? I respect her right to privacy, but it's my duty as her mother to supply her with the facts.
By talking to [my son] before he knew enough to be embarrassed, I was able to give him all the facts he needed. And it worked.
So I walk that fine line, disputing myths as we see them on TV: "Sex in this movie is nothing like real life; it's sweatier and louder and I don’t know anyone in real life who has broken a lamp in the process." And casually expounding on ads in magazines: "Having your period isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s a necessary part of maturing and what enables you to become a mother someday." I drop books by her bedside — "Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret" -- and hope she reads them, and I make announcements à propos of nothing: "If you get your period at school, the nurse will be able to help you. She's completely prepared for that." Such helpful asides generally get me an eye roll and a “Mo-om!”
The mistake is mine. A girl would never be embarrassed talking with her mom, right? Wrong. I regret not insisting on a dialogue when she was younger. But by drips and drabbles, I'll make sure she has the information she needs when she needs it.
And if not, we'll have a lot more dinner time conversation about our uteri. Hurting butts, be damned.