It's always at bedtime, when my resistance is lowered. I'm already fantasizing about the possibility of bad reality television, raiding the kids' forgotten Valentine candy and time alone with my sweet husband when bam, Reese hits me straight between the eyes with the tough questions.
Luckily, it's dark. I'm hoping she can't see me squirming.
Is there really a Santa, Mama? Promise me, pinky swear, that it's not the parents leaving the presents under the tree?
When are you going to die Mama? Not until I'm 100, right? What happens when you die?
And last week this one:
How does the baby get inside the Mommy's tummy?
I didn't panic at first -- we've been here before. I tried my usual just answer the question, truth-without-unnecessary-details route:
The baby is created from the love of its parents.
That doesn't make sense, Mama. Babies and love aren't the same thing.
I flash forward to her sixteen-year old self confessing her love for Bobby-what's-his-name who drives too fast and wears black all the time. I quickly respond:
Yes, that's true babies and love are NOT the same thing.
A pause. I can hear her brain whirring.
Then how does the baby really get in the Mommy's tummy? Exactly how?
I am pinned against the wall, in the dark, a prisoner in her tiny bed, my head wedged between her stuffed animals and my rising panic. You really want to know, I ask my precocious seven-year-old daughter.
Yes, I really want to know.
So I tell her.
I can feel my face flushing in the dark. My free-to-be-you-and-me, I-can-talk-about-anything-face is red as the Valentine candy I had just been dreaming about only a few carefree moments before.
She is amazed. In fact, in the telling of it, I too am amazed. A sperm and an egg make a person? This is more outlandish than the Santa thing.
So you have to touch privates?
Yes, I say, trying to sound confident and adult-like, but not until you're at least thirty and married and ready to have babies and drive a Volvo. Or something like that - something I hope sounds like a warning and a prayer, something that will not draw her like a moth to the flame but instead, like my mom did with me, put the secret out there -- the knowledge taking all the wind out of it, the power.
So you and Daddy had to do that to get us?
Yes, I squeak from underneath her bed.
I am already thinking of how we will be that family: THEY'RE THE ONES WHO TOLD THEIR SEVEN-YEAR OLD ABOUT S-E-X. How we will be banned from Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties and bounce houses and carnival rides.
I think momentarily that it doesn't seem like a completely awful fate actually, but pride gets the best of me -- on my lips are the words maybe you should keep this between us, but then I don't let them out, thinking they will undo what I hope I have done, which is eliminate the shame and open the doors of communication. I can't open the door between she and I while simultaneously closing it between her and the rest of the world, can I?
So instead, I don't say anything else. I just rub her back and do what I always do every night as my children drift off to sleep: I hope for the best, the very best.
Then I eat the Valentine candy. A lot of it.
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