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My son was all of eight years when he asked me an unexpected question – unexpected, not because the question was complex or tricky but because I had hoped I wouldn’t have to hear anything of it till he was eighteen. We’d all like to think that our babies will remain just that – babies, till they transform into young, dynamic and free-thinking adults 'someday' in the distant future. But, I learnt quite quickly that ‘someday’ could be any day of the week, including today.
As we walked back from school that day, he seemed quite pensive. The usual questions such as ‘How was your day?’ and ‘What did you learn today?’ were met with a disinterested ‘Okay’ and ‘Nothing much’. We walked the rest of the way in silence and I decided to give him some time to open up. However, I gently conveyed to him that I was happy to talk about anything under the sun if he wanted to.
“I’m just confused, that’s all,” he confessed. “We studied the various systems of the human body today and when we reached the last system, the reproductive system, my class teacher said that the system was responsible for reproduction… which means to have babies,” he clarified to me just in case I was unsure of what reproduction meant.
“But when I asked her a question about where babies come from, she wouldn’t explain anything. She told me that we would learn about it when we were older, in secondary school. But why do we have to wait that long to know where babies come from?”
I remained silent hoping that the question wasn’t for me and was a rhetorical question of sorts.
He paused for a few seconds and continued. “I know that the reproductive system has something to do with the private point,” he whispered, pointing to his shorts. “My partner told me that. His brother is in the 7th grade, in the secondary, so he knows everything,” he informed me.
Alarm bells were ringing in my head by now as I prepped myself for all sorts of questions on the subject. I was starting to panic and fervently wished that my husband, who was always on tour, had been around to answer this one.
“So Mamma, what does the reproductive system do?” he asked, his voice brimming with curiosity. I bought some time till we got home by buying him candy along the way so that I could assimilate my thoughts. Any hope that he would forget about the subject were dashed when we reached home. He began to change his clothes and prodded me once more. “Tell me about the system, mamma.”
I relented. I believed I could give him a satisfactory explanation without divulging too much information and I knew the perfect analogy to make it simple.
“Well, it prepares the body to produce a baby, like your teacher said,” I stated.
“How?” he asked.
“Well, you know how a bird egg hatches and a baby comes out?” I asked and he nodded vigorously, remembering the pigeon that had built its nest on our window AC and had hatched two eggs there, raising up a stink and creating a racket early in the morning which acted as my alarm for a few months.
“Well, when you decide to have a baby, for example, when we had you, Papa gave me something from his reproductive system, like a key, that hatched the egg and you were born,” I said, speaking very generically.
He took a few minutes to digest what I had said. He had stopped changing and was standing in front of the mirror repeating my words slowly.
After it had sunk in, he asked, “So everyone has an egg in them. And anyone can give anyone the key to the egg,” he continued, “if they are ready to have a baby?”
I was pretty sure I had nailed it by then and I was distracted by an email that popped into my inbox. “Uh huh! Sure, when you grow up, you get an egg inside you and the egg hatches in the reproductive system,” I said, forgetting to mention that the egg was only found in the female reproductive system.
“And then where does the baby come out from?” he asked, appearing quite concerned.
I figured that if I had told him this much I could tell him the whole truth and not spin a yarn. “Alright, so I’m going to be honest with you. Some say that the stork brings the baby and some say that the baby comes from the mother’s tummy, which does happen in some cases when the doctor operates and removes the baby, but babies comes out naturally from the private point,” I said, in a very serious tone. The words were out before I could rephrase them appropriately.
As an afterthought, I added, “But, please don’t repeat this to any of your friends, because they may not understand everything as well as you do.”
I was hoping that I hadn’t given too much away but I sighed with relief, now that it was all out in the open. I had managed to talk about the birds and the bees, albeit in an indirect way, to an eight year old and I was quite proud of myself.
He was standing in his underwear, looking quite aghast, as he looked down at his miniature unmentionables and asked, "The baby comes out from this?”
“No, no, silly. Only mummies can have babies,” I clarified to him, too late, apparently, to repair the damage I had done. He looked completely traumatized. Eventually, the contorted look on his face faded and relief swept over it as he collapsed on to the bed.
“Thank God! Otherwise, I’m never going to get married and have babies,” he claimed.