My mouth was watering too much. My body somehow sensed that I might barf. My kid was asking me about sex.
There are times over the course of my career as a deputy prosecutor when I've felt so uncomfortable that I've had an actual physical response. Usually, it's sweating from the heat of my own burning insides. My shirts get pitted out and little beads form on my forehead and moisture gathers on my upper lip and the back of my neck.
But none, and I do mean none of those experiences compared to the sweating I experienced this month when my nine year old daughter started asking me questions about sex.
Did you hear me? I said my nine year old daughter. What in the hell is wrong with chasing puppies and blowing dandelions and bouncing around in a pink-striped dress and singing Jesus Loves Me? Huh? Why must my child do this? What I'd really like is to get five minutes alone with the fourth-grader that squealed this vital information a full year ahead of the "end of the innocence" schedule I had planned. It would be a very non-criminal, non-physical, non-permanently-scarring kind of confrontation. It would be memorable.
The moment came at night, in the dark, like a clandestine operation gone terribly wrong. It all started out so nicely. Sweet Pea and I rarely have the privilege of being alone because we find ourselves rushing from home to school to errands and we always have her little brother on board, in hot pursuit, or eavesdropping. But this night was different. Her brother had been banished to his room for committing a heinous deed which shall remain classified except to say that it involved a small plastic Middle Eastern dagger and protests of "Molon Labe!" as I stripped the offending weapon from his seven year-old grip. Her father was gone (of course he was) so my daughter was all snuggled in to my bed. The fan was humming a lullaby as we hunkered down under the billowy down comforter, the cold air blasting in and the drone of the motor creating the perfect amount of coolness and white noise for a fall slumber. I was just drifting off to sleep when her sweet little voice broke the silence.
"Mom, isn't it true that to make a baby a man puts his private parts into a woman's private parts?"
Photo by Matt Seppings. (Flickr)
I thought about fake-snoring. I thought if I kept quiet it might go away. I thought if I faked my own death ... and that's when the saliva started to build up under my tongue and I was forced to swallow.
"Mom? Is it really true?"
She seemed disturbed by this news more than inquisitive, which I completely understood. I remember the first time it was explained to me by a gaggle of 5th grade boys and referred to as "humping." I had already given her the basics over the summer, anticipating that she was starting to have questions that could no longer be explained by the phrase "you came from my tummy" when we went sports-bra shopping. But they were very basic basics. And now ... she wanted mechanics. And specifics.
Now, I consider myself a pretty highly educated, open-minded, worldly kind of "sex is a natural part of life" person, but I was unprepared to have this conversation at age nine. I covered the high points, trying to calmly remember the words used by my high school health teacher. I left out the part about fluid exchange, or really any bodily fluids of any kind. I wrapped it all up neatly instead with the all-important love and marriage bit, and released a completing sigh of relief. I intended that sound, in the dark, to signal an unspoken "the end" to her relatively benign line of questioning. Unfortunately, my daughter is a keen listener with an inquisitive mind and an attorney for a mother.
She queried, "So how exactly how do those little swimmers get inside the woman?" I had purposely been vague over this issue, skipping from confirmation of the existence and touching of body parts, (yes, naked) to the fertilization process. I was not interested in explaining those mechanics. "They just, come out. When it's time."
This led to another line of questioning which shall also remain confidential.
I was now officially sweating underneath the covers. I was praying. "God, would you please end this conversation by striking the house with lightning or making me suffer a heart attack?" In lieu of a natural disaster or fatal illness, I was evaluating Plan B: suggesting a late night trip to the basement freezer for a raid on the secret stash of peanut butter ice cream.
"OK Mom. So ... tell me this. Do you have to do this once, or every time you want a baby?"
I chuckled that even at age nine a female was using the phrase "have to" to inquire about the expected frequency of sex. She thought somehow from my description that you got married, had sex once, and then it opened some magic portal inside that allowed you to start popping out babies. I broke the news that you do in fact "do it" each time you want a baby, and even in the dark I could feel her grimacing in disgust.
"And so - you and Daddy. You've done this." It wasn't really a question and now she was making a leap from theoretical to personal. I decided to be direct and factual and brief. I wiped my wet forehead with the covers first.
Daughter: And you've done this more than once, then?
Daughter: More than twice?
At this point, her disgust was turning into incredulous disdain. She absolutely could not believe that her mother, her own mother, had participated in this awful practice.
Daughter: Since I've been born?
Daughter: Mom! Recently?
And then it was silent.
I heard her clammy hands wringing and her dry mouth crackling. She was in shock, probably wondering about the very spot where she was now laying. I sensed her eyes rolling back in her head, spinning like an endless slot machine.
I told her it was late and we should go to sleep and apparently she was too emotionally exhausted to continue with the assault and battery. I'm a firm believer in the slow leak of information, and what just happened was more like standing in front of an open fire hydrant, trying to take a drink. I hugged her and told her we could talk more whenever she wanted. In other words, I lied.
The only saving grace was what occurred the next day when I posted the fact of the exchange on my Facebook page. I quickly received over 50 comments from horror-stricken parents like myself. It was wonderful.
So, that's how it happened. That's how, in the dark, I admitted to my nine year old that I was having sex with her father. It was like that moment when, after ten years of marriage, I told my Daddy I was pregnant and we all had to recognize the obvious way it happened. But this was a lot sweatier.