I teach biology, and I am a veterinarian. The latter means that I have been shoulder deep in many a cow’s rectum ineptly pawing around for her uterus (this can be felt through the wall of the rectum) and some evidence of a pregnancy. This never struck me as gross. It was quite fascinating, and when the temperature in the barn is about 10 degrees, the inside of a cow offers at least the palpating arm some welcome warmth. Work with animals, or teaching reproduction to college students, these things tend to leave one unfazed by the relatively tame questions a five year old might ask.
Last week, we were reading Poseidon, an excellent book in an excellent series of graphic novels called The Olympians. In it, a mortal woman sleeps with a mortal king and the god Poseidon both in the same night. In the coming months, it becomes clear she is pregnant, but unclear whose baby she carries. Malcolm picked up on this conundrum and I explained questionable paternity and a little on the nature of sperm competition.
This week, his buddy from kindergarten became a big brother once again when his mother had her third child. Malcolm received this news, thought for a moment, and said, “Why don’t you want to have three kids?” I told him I just don’t. Two’s good for me. And then he said, “So, if you don’t want another baby, do you just tell your body that and it’s controlled by your mind? Or not?” Contrary to the views of some cretinous conservative politicians, this is not, of course, the case, and I told Malcolm, “Oh no. If you don’t want to have a baby, you have to very definitely make sure it doesn’t happen.” Then I told him all about how my IUD works.
Sometimes, especially at the two and a half hour mark of a three hour biology lecture, I start to have out of body experiences. During these intervals, I feel myself exit my own body and I watch myself fluently and animatedly speaking about some biological topic. It’s a strange sensation, though brief, and thankfully ends right when I start to think, “Shouldn’t I get back in there? How long can she go on without me?” Parenting is like that sometimes too. As I explained IUDs and birth control pills to my riveted son, part of me was watching and thinking, “Is this it? Is this ‘the’ sex talk?” Nonsense, of course, since ‘the’ sex talk is really many talks and many of those are only partially about sex itself. But I thought how easy it was to do. To be guided by a child’s simple curiousity for now. Answering his questions completely, but simply, and stopping where his interest stops. In adolescence, of course, it will be different, since there will be no more un-self conscious questioning then. But I’d like to think that we will continue this way, respectfully, matter of factly and without hysteria (pardon the uterus pun) for a good long while yet. His 3 year old brother is currently fixated on death, so conversations in this house are profound these days. And for as long as they want to talk to me, I am grateful.