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"Mama, are you still having your period?"
Violet's delicately asking me why I just took so long in the bathroom.
"No, honey, I'm done now."
"Why do women have their period every month?" she asks, clear-eyed. I love that she doesn't shuffle or look away when she asks about this stuff!
"It's your body, building up a lining in your uterus, which is where the baby grows. It's saying, 'Hey, you want a baby this month?' And if the answer is 'No,' your body gets rid of the blood and the tissue this way."
"So you could make a baby every month?" She's wide-eyed. New thought!
"Yep, you sure can. If you want to, and once you're old enough to get your period. It's weird, isn't it? A lot of animals only mate and have babies once a year."
"How old will I be when I get mine?" she asks.
"No one can say, honey, that's your body's decision," I sit down on the couch with her and start rubbing her feet. It looks like this is going to be a longer conversation.
"You know, I told you about periods last year, because I told you, some girls in third grade, fourth grade, they get their periods and I didn't want you to be surprised. But you could be 14 or older, and that's normal too. Just when you look in your underwear and there's blood, don't be afraid, you know what it is. You can come to me, you can come to Daddy, you can go to your teacher or any lady, and they will know what to do and they can help you."
"And then I can have a baby?" she asks.
"Yes! If you want to. I hope you will want to when you're older, and married and settled, because that's a nice safe place to bring a new life into. And I hope when you have sex, it will be when you're older, and in love, and ready to share something very special with the person you love," I'm struggling for words now.
I want to say, "But don't let it be when you're 12!" I haven't figured out the age I'd prefer her to be when she has sex. It's not really my problem to figure out anyway. She's not likely to ask permission. And I'm not dumb enough to think I could stop her from doing what she wants.
I picture a far-away, much older Violet who will somehow mystically know when it's the right time and the right person. I hope this Violet will know what to do! Because I'm not sure what to tell her. Maybe as she gets older, I'll know what to say.
Luckily, she directs the conversation in an area where I feel more comfortable. "So if you don't want to have a baby, are there ways to stop it from happening?"
"Yep. You can not have sex. Or, if you want to have sex and not have a baby, it's called birth control." Much more comfortable now. This is just information. I can give her information, no problem!
We first start talking about seed-and-egg when she was in preschool and started wondering where the new siblings of classmates were coming from. Later, we explained penises, vaginas and the mechanics of sex. This is just one more step down the road we built a long, long time ago. I'm so glad, because it means this feels comfortable now.
"Some ladies take a pill," I begin.
"Like, a suppository? In your butt?" Violet gasps.
"No, in your mouth, like a vitamin. You take a pill every day. Or there are things the woman can wear inside her vagina, they're called sponges or diaphragms. You remember babies are made when the sperm goes into the egg, pop?" I show her my wriggling fingers, going POP! into my looming fist.
"Those keep the sperm from being able to meet the egg. There are things the man can wear on his penis, called condoms, that keep the sperm from going into the vagina. There are things called IUDs where you put a piece of...something, plastic or metal or something, into a woman's uterus and it somehow magically keeps the sperm away from the egg in a voodoo way that I don't understand, Violet, we'd better look that one up."
"I think I'll want to take the pill," she says, wide-eyed.
"Yeah, well, there are downsides to that, too. You have to take it every day, you forget, I forgot all the time! And it has hormones in it...ugh, I don't think I can explain that to you yet. Anyway, it's not a magic pill," I tell her, patting her little round shoulder. "We'll talk more about this when you need to know more."
"What do you and Daddy use?" she asks suddenly. "Do you still have sex?"
Careful, now. I want to flinch. Or giggle. But more than that, I want a daughter who's not ashamed of her own sexuality, of her body, of seeking or feeling pleasure.
"Yep! We sure do!" I say, cheerfully and evenly. "But you know what? That feels kind of personal, to tell you more about that, or what we use for birth control. Maybe when you're older, I'll feel differently. Right now it feels personal. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she says, wrinkling her nose. "I don't really want to think about it. Sorry."
We laugh together. "That's okay. Most kids don't want to think about their parents having sex."
And there's a moment of silence. "So, wanna let's see if that mango is ripe and we can have a mango lassi for breakfast?" I ask her. She does. We do. It is! The mango that, is. Ripe. The lassi is delicious.
That's the thing about these conversations; they never seem to happen when you're braced and ready. It's always after coming out of the bathroom and before making breakfast, or in the car in between ordinary things. They ask you things, you have to be ready. And it builds – one idea leads to another, and they understand more the older you get, and you have to have the right answer.
It's hard, but it's beautiful. I love being her mom. I hope I'm doing a good job. I hope I said the right things today. I wonder if I'll ever know.
Image credit PDImages.com
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