‘But how are babies made?’
I admit I am not expecting this question while stuck in traffic on Raya Ubud. I’m caught, crunching through the gears, and for the first time probably ever I’m speechless. Given I’ve had 5.5 years to think on it, and given also that this is a question all parents know they’re going to face at some point, you’d think I’d have an answer prepared. Except I don’t.
‘Well, you see…’ I stammer, buying for time. I’m half-giggling and half trying to work out in my head what the correct answer is. I mean, I know the correct answer but I’m not sure how much of it to explain. What’s appropriate for a five year old to know? I don’t want to traumatize her.
Dual visions assault me. In the first, Alula runs into school and starts telling all her school-friends in graphic detail about erections and penises and I receive angry phone calls from parents outraged at their own child’s loss of innocence thanks to my daughter. In the second I see Alula running into school and telling all her school-friends that babies are grown in little pots of compost and watered regularly. I see her being socially shunned for fifteen years of her life, at seventeen still being teased on her lack of reproductive knowledge.
‘What?’ Alula interrupts my desperate imaginings.
Daddy sticks his willy inside mummy and plants a seed doesn’t quite sound right, but it’s also the first thing that pops into my head.
I weigh up the drier; ‘Daddy’s penis inserts into mummy’s vagina.’ This only makes me giggle some more, imagining Alula’s response (it will be something like: ‘What’s a vagina?’ I’ll say, ‘Your lady bits, your front bottom, you know.’ She’ll pause, then ask, ‘But where does the willy go?’)
I suddenly recall this book I had as a child. It was all about a boy called Thomas and a girl called Sarah, who were brother and sister. I thought this book was therefore written just for me, given that my own brother was called Thomas. Imagine my wonder! Thomas and Sarah’s mum was having a baby and the book explained how babies were made and born in just the right amount of detail to satisfy my five year old self and also just enough to keep me pouring over the pages, still intrigued.
I cannot though for the life of me, sitting in the car twenty eight years on, remember the exact wording of this book. Which is a great shame.
‘But mummy how?’ Alula demands again.
I’m getting close to hysterical , wishing John was there to add his thoughts to the fray. I try the clichéd route, laughing even as I say it; ‘When a mummy and a daddy love each other very much…’
‘Yes,’ Alula interrupts impatiently, ‘But how do they make a baby?’
‘They make love,’ I say, thinking how euphemistically lovely and vague this sounds and hoping it will satisfy her fairytale-rich imagination.
‘What does that mean? Making love? What’s that?’
‘How about,’ I say, ‘we wait until we get home and then we call daddy and get him to explain?’
She sits back in her seat and after a moment agrees to my suggestion. Holy hell, I think, making a mental note NOT to prime John.