I thought I’d dodged a bullet. I thought Liam’s question about “why does a mommy have another baby” question was only a thinly veiled complaint: why did you visit this fresh hell called Caleb on my heretofore idyllic existence?
I was wrong. I hadn’t dodged a bullet, I’d only delayed being hit. After I told him that people often had more than one child and that sometimes only children were lonely, he got to the heart of things:
Liam: How? How does the baby get inside her?
Me (dammit): Well, the woman has eggs inside her–
Liam, hysterically laughing: Like she’s a chicken?
Me: Well, no, not with a shell or anything.
L: Wouldn’t that be funny if in a million years or so there were invaders from space and they ate only human eggs, wouldn’t that be funny? I mean, sort of funny but really pretty bad, too?
Me: Funny? I don’t know about that –
L: Where is the egg?
Me (deep breath): In the uterus, which is inside the woman, sort of lower than her tummy–
L: What’s a woombah?
Me: What? Oh, a w-o-m-b?
I explain–very briefly–that wombs and uteruses (uteri?) are both part of the baby-growing process, and realize that my knowledge of my own anatomy is shockingly–shockingly–vague.
Liam: What happens to the egg?
Me (persistent little bugger, isn’t he?): Well, the egg is fertilized with sperm from a man and then the baby grows inside.
Wait for it, wait for it…
Shit … here we go…
Me: Well, when the people love each other very much it can feel very good to be close to each other and then sometimes they decide to make a baby together, but not always.
Yes, yes, that’s right, I did a TOTAL END RUN around the key details.
Liam, thoughtful, sinks under the water in the tub and blows some bubbles. Emerges: Where does the sperm come from?
I am exhausted. This is the longest bath ever in the history of baths.
Me: It comes from a man’s penis–
Liam, panicked: WHAT?? WHAT DO YOU MEAN???
Me (confused): Well, sperm is inside the man’s body, when you get older, and it comes out – sort of like pee, you know?
Liam, calmer: Oh. Okay. I thought you had to get it off the penis or cut the penis off or something-
Nice job, mom. let’s get that therapist lined up, shall we? Can you say castration anxiety?
Me: No, no, when you’re older–then you’ll have sperm. And sometimes it will come out even when you’re sleeping, like during a dream. It’s just part of your body getting ready to be a grownup.
This detail led to some technical discussion about penile plumbing that I shan’t go into here–suffice it to say that there were analogies to garden hoses without water and garden hoses with water, and then we pressed onward, into literally murkier waters (it was a LONG bath).
Liam, laughing: What if you don’t have an egg? Do you get a mad scientist to concoct one?
Me: Well, actually, yes–I mean, not a mad scientist but–
Liam: Wow. Do you need a man and a woman to have a baby?
Me: Um…you need the sperm, but that can happen in lots of different ways. So if a man loves a man, or a woman loves a woman, or a man and a woman love each other, they can have a baby; or if just a man or just a woman want to have a baby, that can happen too.
(Desperately inventorying all the families we know: have I included all the various permutations of parenthood and familyhood? This conversation was a hell of a lot easier in the Betty Draper era, when families pretty much came in only one basic model.)
Liam finally climbs out of the bath, demurely covering himself in a towel. I take a deep breath, figuring we’re on the other side of the difficult bits of the conversation.
Liam: Mommy? What does gay mean?
You’re killing me, kid. I explain what gay means and then say that people often use the word as an insult and he nods, names a kid who is a bit of a bully and uses the word all the time, to be nasty.
Liam: But why would anyone care about gayness, mommy?
Me: I don’t know, sweetie, they just do.
Liam: I think I would like to have a baby. When I’m older, I mean. I mean, kids are fun, right?
Me: Mmmm, yep, just loads of fun.
Liam leans close to me and I reach to hug him, sure that he’s feeling all listened to and supported and understood after our Deep and Important Conversation.
Mommy, he whispers, can I use the computer now?