My little girl is growing up fast. Each day brings a new question. At the moment she is preoccupied with life and death – natural things to be curious about but which probably present the most difficult questions for a parent to answer without rattling the foundations of innocence. Of course, it can be highly amusing and I’m sure that upon being asked “When are you going to die?” Nanna saw the comedy value rather than suddenly dwell on her mortality.
Given a choice between life and death, death is probably the easiest to explain. My explanation of it involves aspects that 3-year-olds can’t fail to enjoy – flying into the sky, living on a cloud, becoming a star. For the moment at least, it involves a suspension of disbelief that a child is willing to accept without too many objections. As an atheist, it often feels like it would be easier to have a ready-made religious solution to the question of what happens when we die. But given that at some point the myth of Father Christmas will be shattered, I’d rather not break my kids’ hearts twice.
So what about “Where do babies come from?” This one requires pause for though. If you’re not prepared then you risk providing a shoddy explanation. My explanation is an example in point:
Daughter: How are babies made?
Me: Well, a daddy has a seed and a mummy has a seed and when those two seeds get together a baby grows in the mummy’s tummy.
Daughter: But how does the seed get into mummy’s tummy? Do you eat it?
Me: No, you don’t eat it.
Daughter: Well how does it get there then?
Here I pause. I’m standing at a fork in the road. Do I try and approximate the truth without too much detail? Do I be honest and risk her relaying a half-understood and inevitably outlandish description of sexual intercourse to her nursery chums and teachers? Storks? Tooth fairies doing other jobs to supplement their main income? I do what all good parents would do – I backtrack and lie:
Me: Well, yes, actually you’re absolutely right. Mummies do eat the seed. Well done. Clever girl.
Since that conversation my daughter picks the seeds off the top of bread rolls and refuses to eat them. Tomatoes can present a bit of a problem. At least she understands the concept of contraception and for that I will be grateful one day.
She’s seems moderately satisfied for the moment. Yet still the baby questions come so yesterday I decided to defer any form of parental responsibility and buy her a book. Even better – we were due to visit Nanna after town so Nanna could read her the book. Excellent plan! However, the book is still in its bag, firmly hidden away and here I am praying my daughter doesn’t remember that we bought it. I didn’t flick through the book as carefully as I should have done before making the purchase. I just saw the page describing how babies start with a “special cuddle”. How lovely, I thought, that’ll do the job. What I didn’t do was flick to the next page where there was an illustration of mummy and daddy having that special cuddle. It was a step too far for what I could show my little girl without opening up a whole new raft of questions. (The daddy has a beard – it was all a bit too 1970s. I might as well give her a copy of The Joy of Sex. And it uses the word sperm where ‘tadpole’ would – for a 3-year-old – clearly suffice. Eww!)
And so the eating of the seed story lives to see another day. If that means no more granary toast – so be it. Well, at least until she’s 16.