By: Shannon Ralph
This past weekend, my eight-year-old son, Lucas, asked me the question. That’s right. The question. That most dreaded, cringe-worthy of all childhood questions. That question that makes parents all over the world—even progressive, hip, lesbian parents—shudder with dread. It went a little something like this.
Saturday evening, Ruanita and I loaded the kids into the minivan to brave the frigid cold and head to the burbs to meet my mom and sister for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. A couple of blocks from our house, we pulled into a gas station to fill up. Ruanita hopped out and began pumping gas, leaving me in the car with the children. Ruanita warns me all of the time about engaging my children in the car. I have a bad habit of initiating conversations with them while driving. It never ends pretty. As a matter of fact, it usually ends with Ruanita shaking her head at me pitifully and muttering, “Why? Why oh why do you feel the need to engage them? Can’t you just listen to the radio like normal people?” You would think I would have learned my lesson by now. However, I am apparently a slow learner.
As Ruanita was dutifully pumping gas and I was thinking how happy I was that she was the one outside in the subzero cold instead of me, I overheard Lucas talking to Nicholas from the far recesses of his third row seat. I heard him ask Nicholas if he thought there were more boys or more girls in the world. Innocent enough question, right? Practically scientific, in nature. As I sat there smugly applauding my son’s inquisitive little brain, I heard Lucas respond to his own question. He concluded that there were probably more boys on Earth because God was a boy and, therefore, boys must be more important. Lucas went on to explain to his impressionable little brother (who was hanging on every single word he uttered) that God would make more boys because, apparently, boys were more valuable than girls. Hmm. Interesting. Never mind the whole “God is a boy” thing. That was a conversation for another day. But “boys are more important than girls?” Really? He’s lucky his little sister was ignoring his inane chatter. I am afraid my little beast of a daughter may have clawed his eyes out at that comment.
Ruanita’s words echoed in my head. Do not engage the children. I tried to suppress the desire to butt in on their conversation. I really did. But come on. Seriously? Do you think I could just sit there and not engage my son after hearing that comment? So I chimed in, earnestly explaining to all three of my children that both boys and girls are important and that neither one is better than the other. I assumed that would put the subject to rest. Of course, as is often the case where my children are concerned, I was dead wrong.
Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Lucas warped into defensive mode. Tears sprang to his eyes and he practically shouted, “Girls get to do everything! Girls can have babies. Boys can’t have babies. What can boys do? Nothing!” I was a bit taken aback, to say the least. Apparently, I had hit a nerve with my well-meaning comment. Is it possible that my sweet little boy, being raised in a lesbian household with a definite “feminist” leaning, was feeling a bit unappreciated? In our diligent efforts to teach our children that women are equal to men and can do anything men can do, was my son feeling that his masculinity was being undervalued? Was his decidedly sexist comment merely a means to boost his own dwindling self-confidence? And why in the HELL was it taking Ruanita so long to pump gas?!
I took a deep breath and attempted to explain. “Yes, Lucas,” I said, “Girls have babies. But they can’t have a baby without a boy. It takes a boy AND a girl to have a baby. So boys play an extremely important role, too.” I knew I was treading into dangerous territory. I could feel the conversation headed in an exceedingly precarious direction. As karma would have it, my son (whose inquisitiveness I was quietly lauding a few moments earlier), responded with…that’s right…wait for it…“So how did you and mom have me?” Ugh. There it was. THE question. The question I had been dreading for years. Not only did I need to explain to Lucas how babies are made (a terrifying task on its own), but I needed to go one step further and explain that his conception was a bit out of the norm. I needed to explain the birds and the bees…and then the birds and the birds.
Up to that point, I had happily enjoyed my children’s relative ignorance. I have had the luxury of my children not knowing the term “donor.” Perhaps we should have introduced the term to them when they were younger. As a matter of fact, I am certain we should have introduced the term earlier. However, it has always been a non-issue to them. It is still a non-issue to them. They have two mommies and have never considered that out of the norm or questioned it in any way. As far as we have always been concerned, our anonymous donor played an important part in their conception, but has no role in their childhood. They are our children, plain and simple. Unfortunately, however, it is not plain, nor simple. It is complex and convoluted. Of course our children would eventually need to understand the mechanics and logistics of it all. Of course they would have questions. Of course they would need answers. I suppose the time has finally come to explain to Lucas how he came to be. I am a firm believer in answering my children’s questions as honestly as I can.
Unfortunately, as is his usual protocol, Lucas asks these difficult life-altering questions at the most inopportune of moments. (He first asked about God in a McDonalds drive-thru.) So I did the only thing I could think of in the moment. I put him off. That’s right. I delayed. I deferred the discussion. With five people crammed into a minivan—and Lucas all the way back in the third row seat—on our way to dinner, it was not the time to discuss the facts of life. So I told him to ask me later when we got home and I promised I would answer all of his questions. He seemed satisfied in the moment and began chattering about video games with his brother. I felt a twinge of guilt for putting him off. However, I must admit, I also felt a huge wave of relief when he never mentioned it again that night. Yes, it is time to have that discussion with Lucas. However, I need a little bit of time to form an approach in my head. I need to figure out how I am going to talk to my young son about donors and sex and lesbians and penises and sperm and eggs and childbirth and….oh God, I think I am going to pass out.
The next time I try to engage my children in the car, will someone please slap me unconscious?