Back in November, Max’s grandmother passed away and I wasn’t quite sure what to tell Addy and Zack. A brief consultation with babycenter.com told me “Don’t dodge her [or his] questions,” “give brief, simple answers” and “avoid euphemisms.” Still thinking that a succinct “she moved to California” could do the trick and save me some discomfort, I asked someone I know who is a child psychologist. She also advised me to tell the truth. Making up stories to shield kids from things you think may be too scary or complex will only confuse them more later, she told me. Telling them the simple truth and not framing it as something to be afraid of is the way to go.
I’m still waiting for them to ask where Grandma Ann went (she lives three hours away in Boston so it hasn’t come up yet), but I feel totally prepared to tackle that question when it comes. What I wasn’t prepared for was the complete opposite question that came up a few weeks ago at breakfast. I was sitting at the table at 7:30 in the morning, sleepily eating my granola when Zack decided to smack me awake with one of his tough questions. No, he didn’t ask me why Santa doesn’t come to our house on Christmas. He didn’t ask why Bert and Ernie share a bedroom. He didn’t even ask what actually happened in the series finale of Lost. He ventured into the vortex of the birds and the bees and asked, “Mommy, how did you get us out of your belly when we were babies?”
Had I delivered vaginally, this would have been an awkward situation but not insurmountable. Unfortunately, I had a c-section. I sat there silently for a minute while my brain scanned its hard drive for a suitable response. I surveyed all the PG exit points through which I could say they vacated. Mouth? No. Ears? No. Nostrils? No. Belly button? Everyone knows that’s a doorbell and not a hole. I contemplated telling them that the pictures they had seen of me 34 weeks pregnant were really just the result of me swallowing a watermelon and that they actually arrived by Fedex. Then, I remembered the sage advice I found on the internet, which was subsequently verified by the child psychologist. Tell the truth. Hey, if that advice applied to death, why wouldn’t it apply to birth?
At the risk of giving them horrific nightmares about bodies being hacked open, I told Addy and Zack exactly how they came out of my belly. I said, “Dr. Goldman delivered you at the hospital. First he made a cut in my belly, then he pulled you guys out, then he sewed me back up.” “How did he sew up your belly?” they asked in response. “Just like I sew up hole in your shirt,” I told them. I conducted this conversation very calmly and matter-of-factly and my kids closed it out with a simple “oh” and then moved on to discussing which character they each wanted to be from the TV show Super Why. I escaped my first brush with awkward preschooler questioning unscathed, or so I thought.
Addy and Zack are in their first year of preschool and every day, their teachers email a one-page reflection highlighting something that the class did that morning. One of their teachers is eight months pregnant so the class is currently learning about babies and pregnancy. Last week, one of the daily reflections was a transcript of a conversation the class had about babies and bellies. Here is an excerpt:
Teacher: How did you get into your mom’s belly?
Kid #1: If you’re a grownup then a baby comes into you.
Kid #2: When I was a baby, I was in my mom’s belly.
Kid #3: When I was a baby I was in my dad’s belly, but my sister was in my mom’s belly.
Such sweet responses, right? Sweet it was, until my child decided to give the conversation a dose of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Zack: Daddy put me in my Mommy’s belly.
Zack: Someone cut Mommy open so Daddy could put me in and then they sewed her back up.
When I read the quote, I thought, “Good Lord, what have I done?” I immediately emailed the teacher to make sure she wasn’t angry with me for indirectly terrorizing the class. I saw the other moms at drop off the next day and was relieved to find out that they were amused by the comment and weren’t passing around a petition to ban me from motherhood. And while I know I will need to sit the kids down for a clarifying conversation, I’ve decided to take some time to think a little more about how to approach it. After all, this one’s going to require an explanation for how they got into my belly as well as how they got out. As much as I’d like to say osmosis, I’m going to have to tell the truth…but perhaps a little more delicately this time around.