“I think a baby is too big to come out of a belly button,” Finn remarked as we stood in the checkout line at the grocery store. I ignored him and pushed the cart to the parking lot and commanded him to unload the groceries.
“If babies come out of belly buttons, then why do I have one?” he asked a few weeks later.
His repeated questions made it clear to Bill and me that it was time to educate him about the facts of human reproduction. Third grade seemed young, but it had to happen eventually unless we were going to let the stoner across the street handle the job for us.
Before we summoned Finn, I told Bill, “Look, I know I’m the talker in this family, but you’re the man. You need to take an active role and give the male perspective on the process.”
“That’s why I’m here, honey,” he replied coolly.
“And we have to make this quick so we can go eat dinner,” I added.
“I understand,” he said, patting me on the back, and he called Finn into the kitchen for a chat.
We all sat there for a minute, and when Bill didn’t say anything, I decided to start.
“I bet you have a lot of questions about how babies are made,” I said by way of introduction.
“Not really,” Finn said.
“In that case, I’ll just go ahead and fill you in on some things you need to know, because we’d rather you hear this from us than from someone at school,” I continued. “If you have any questions, you just stop us and ask.”
“It’s very important that you feel comfortable talking to us about these things,” Bill said.
“Whatever,” Finn said.
I took a deep breath, and plunged in. I said that what we’ve told him before is true: when a mom and a dad want to have a baby, they do have to pray to God and ask him to bless them with one. But there’s more to it than that– you have to take some affirmative action, and that involves getting in the bed together and taking off all your clothes. Alternatively, you can take off your clothes and then get in the bed.
Finn was unmoved. I looked at Bill, who gave me a thumbs up sign, so I kept going.
“And then the mom and the dad make love, which is also called having sex, or sexual intercourse,” I said. “Basically the mom and the dad kiss and make googly eyes at each other and then they have sex.”
I realized about this time that I was unprepared for the speech. I had not made an outline, nor had I Googled possible approaches. Clearly the next part was to explain exactly what sex was, so I backed up a bit.
“So, let me back up a little. To make a baby, you have to have an egg and some fertilizer. Every month, moms make an egg.”
Finn stared at me in amazement. “Do you lay it?”
“No, I just make the egg inside my stomach, but that’s a good question,” I said, deciding to skip the whole menses part of the talk. “But you should know that it is very hard to make an egg. Sometimes it makes women crotchety. So if I’m in a bad mood you should be sweet to me because inside I am probably working very diligently to make an egg.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mom, but it seems to me like maybe you’ve been making an egg today,” Finn commented.
“You’re right. But the trick to keeping women happy is that you never ask them if they are making an egg. If you think they are, you say something like, ‘Do you need me to bring you a chocolate chip cookie?’ or ‘How would you like a back rub?’”
“That sounds easy,” Finn said, nodding.
“I wish my mother had told me that,” Bill said. “Are we going to talk about women, or are we going to talk about what we came here to talk about?”
I glared at him. “Do you want to take over?”
“No, honey, you’re doing just fine,” he said, backing off.
“Anyway,” I went on, “the mom has the egg, and it needs to be fertilized. The man has the fertilizer. So the egg and the fertilizer have to get together. Any idea how that happens?” I asked, hoping he’d know and save me the trouble of explaining.
“Not a clue,” Finn said. He was swinging his feet so that they hit the bottom of his chair over and over: THUD…THUD…THUD…THUD.
“COULD YOU CUT THAT OUT?”
“That sound you’re making with your feet. It must STOP,” I said.
I took off my glasses, cleaned them as a stalling tactic, and continued.
“Well, as it turns out, your willy is not just a cool thing to pee out of. It’s also where you carry your fertilizer. So the dad uses his willy, his penis, to get his fertilizer to the egg.”
“I thought the egg was inside you,” Finn pointed out.
Damn. He was making this excruciatingly hard. I looked at Bill. He was staring intently out the window at the back yard.
“Yes, the egg is inside the woman, and the fertilizer is in the man’s penis, so what happens is that the mom and dad kiss a little–“
“And make googly eyes at each other,” Finn said impatiently–
“Yes, don’t forget the googly eyes– and then, and then… and then…”
I looked at Bill, who continued to focus on the swing set, and suddenly I lost control of my hands and arms. As if from far away, I saw myself forming a circle with my left hand and poking my right index finger in and out of the circle, in the universal symbol for coitus as I explained, “and then the dad’s willy gets hard like a stick and he puts his penis into her vagina and the fertilizer comes out and he fertilizes the egg.”
I heard a door slam and noticed Bill had vanished.
“Mom,” Finn whispered, “Daddy just ran to the bathroom and I’m pretty sure he didn’t have to pee.”
Together we tiptoed to the door and listened. We could hear Bill gasping for air as he tried to stop laughing.
“Let’s go back to the table,” I said. “We can finish this talk without your Daddy.”
“I have a question,” Finn said. “Why did you say the dad’s willy has to get as hard as a stick?”
Good Lord, did I say that? Why did I say that? Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bill, red faced, returning from the bathroom as I tried to formulate an answer.
“You see,” I began, “you can’t have sex, I mean, a dad can’t have sex with that floppy kind of willy you walk around with all the time. For some reason it won’t work. So the willy has to get hard like a stick to have sex.”
Just as I remembered where I was going with this thought, Bill’s face started to turn purple and he headed for the bathroom again.
“So, sometimes willys practice getting hard like a stick so they’ll be ready when it’s time to have sex. That’s why sometimes you wake up and your willy is sticking out in front of you instead of hanging down. Or later when you get a little older, you might see a pretty girl and your penis might get hard as a stick. That’s perfectly normal,” I stressed. “It just means your willy is preparing for when you’re grown up and want to make a baby.”
Finn listened carefully.
The talk didn’t stop there, although as far as Bill was concerned, it was over. He came back to the table and sat stiffly in his chair with a tortured look on his face.
I explained exactly where the penis goes, and shocked Finn by explaining that babies come out of that same hole. That opened the door for me to stress the fact that whether the baby comes out your vagina or your stomach, it hurts really, really bad to have a baby, so you should be sure and buy your wife a nice present when she gives birth.
“I would think you’d want to get her something very expensive,” Finn agreed.
“Well, it doesn’t have to be expensive, as long as it’s meaningful. But a ring or bracelet is nice.”
Bill rolled his eyes.
While we were at it, I decided to dispel a widely held rumor in the Glamore household.
“You should also know that women have a special place to pee from. It’s not nearly as exciting as your willy, but women do not pee from their butts. This is the only part of our talk that you can discuss with your brothers, okay?”
“Okay,” Finn said. “Is it almost time for dinner?”
Thankfully, it was, so we headed out to eat. I ate all my pasta and a huge slice of flourless chocolate cake.
That night, after we tucked Finn, Bill got in bed and started writing.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Usually he gets in bed, pretends to read Triathlete magazine for a few minutes, and then falls asleep.
“Honey, that was a fabulous talk,” he said. “You do realize that we have to give that talk two more times, so I thought I’d make some notes so we wouldn’t forget how it goes.”
“WE have to give that talk again?” I asked incredulously. “You tell me exactly where in the conversation the ‘we’ came into it. As I recall, you were pondering the swings or trembling in the bathroom while I was telling your son about erections, despite the fact I’ve never personally had one. There was no ‘we’ there; that was ME giving that talk.”
“Well, you’re right,” Bill admitted. “It’s just that I didn’t expect it to get so technical. I never could have given it as well as you. For the sake of our family, I think you should be in charge of the procreation talk from here on out,” he said.
“I will,” I said, “since apparently I’m the only one with the balls to use plain language and put it down where the goats can get it.”
“You’re right. You win,” Bill said. “Can I give you a back rub?”
And he did.