We’d hit the open road, more or less on time, and deeply puzzled by how the van had become so overflowing. Car trips with children, are at best, an exercise in hope and delusion. Yet there is no better way for a family to bond, laugh, discover together once stripped of schedules, routines, and creature comforts. Families grow together on road trips, and growing isn’t always pain free.
Our 2 kids were still small on this trip. Our oldest only six or seven. And we had just begun to understand just how much he (like every child) is capable of understanding. I am an educator but the wisdom and capability of children never ceases to amaze me. Overall our parenting style could best be described as a mix of ‘crash position’ and ‘going on gut instinct and figuring out how to pay for the therapy later’ So when his little voice, still so high and sweet and ringing out like bells, asked “Mommy, where did I come from?” I was caught off guard. I was flooded with bittersweet emotions. Wasn’t he still too young to hear this? Is lying about this a kindness meant to create wonder and joy, like Santa or the Tooth Fairy? We had never held back, he knew about pregnancy, he knew there was no stork, he knew the vocabulary like penis and vagina ….. he was obviously searching for more. I looked over at my husband, this man I loved so much, to find him trying hard to suppress a grin and pretend he hadn’t heard the question.
“Well” I stammered, “you know a man fertilizes an egg in a woman’s body and if conditions are right that fertilized egg can grow into a baby.”
“Yes” he said.
“OK, so a man and a woman can have sex, that’s what they do to fertilize the egg, and have a baby. It takes about 38 weeks to grow a baby in a woman’s uterus and then it is born through her vagina or sometimes a Dr has to cut into her body and take the baby out, that’s how you were born.” I was failing him, I knew it. There was so much more to say, so much more to ensure he understood the world as it is and could venture into it kindly and with empathy. “But when people don’t want to have a baby, there’s things they can do so they can still have sex and not have a baby. Because it’s nice to have sex. It feels nice. So people don’t just have sex to have babies.”
“Okaaaaay” he says.
I am now outside my body looking down at this woman trying so hard to impart a meaningful lesson to this boy’s earnest question. She continued on “but if someone wants to have a baby but can’t, or doesn't want to make one in their own body, they can adopt a baby. We have many friends and relatives who are adopted. Sometime a couple can’t have a baby, or sometimes a man or a woman would like to have a baby but don’t have a partner they want to create a baby with. Sometimes two men are a couple, and love each other, but their bodies aren’t able to make a baby together so they adopt a baby. Sometimes two women love each other and do the same thing, or they find a man to help them have a baby from one of their bodies. There’s so very many ways to make a family. Some families have one parent, some have two, some have step parents too. Some families have two moms or two dads, and some families are just grown ups and they don’t want children. There are MANY ways to make a family. But YOU, and your family …. We made you and your brother with our bodies. That’s how we made our family. I just really want you to understand that is not the only way to make a family.” I have poured as much love and honestly into these words as I could muster. I wish we had had a book, or a website, or a big cozy couch to curl up on as I shared all this, but we were in the car and this now and forever would be the place he took this step in his understanding. I hoped I had ‘nailed it’.
I looked over at my husband, this man I love, and he turned his face to me with the same perplexed, stunned, horrified look he gave me when our son, this same boy, first filled his little yellow sleeper full of poop all up the back and out the neck, and all down the left leg into the toes. His eyes, however, I’m pretty sure said “you nailed it.”
And what of my son? Had I overwhelmed him? Had I said too much? Enough? Was he understanding the over arching truth I was trying to convey? Was he ready to carry all this?
“Umm, Mom.” He said, in that sweet, light voice which still rang like bells. “Mom, Thank you. But what I meant was …….. I mean what I was wondering was ……. WHERE was I born?”
“Oh” I said. I am back in my body now and it weighs 9000 pounds. I am registering my husband’s laugh that he is trying to pass of as coughing and choosing not to hear or even look at him. “Victoria, honey. You were born in Victoria.”
“OK, thanks. I couldn’t remember.” He replied. His face so sweet, his heart so light, his world so unchanged ………… maybe I had managed to teach him all that, without saying all that, after all? My pride was only slightly bruised, and my heart was very full. Road trips are a place for growing together, or maybe just realizing you have already been growing that way all along.