G clamored onto my lap, her legs disappearing beneath her gray Catholic school jumper with its heinous red-checked pinafore. Her pale blue eyes looked into mine, deliberate pools of innocence.
“Can you just tell me how babies are made?” she asked.
G was nearly ten then but small for her age and still a tad baby-cheeked. I met her before she turned six. She’s the little sister I never had. One brisk day when I complained about the cold as we walked through Central Park, she smirked. “Well, stop being so vain and put on a jacket!” Such empathy. But I digress.
I refused to disclose the birds and bees. I had no idea what she heard at recess (or “roof,” they call it, since that’s where their playground is. Weird, no?) or what her parents wanted her to know. G said she was afraid her mom would be angry if she asked. I doubted it, so I let the mom know via phone while G stood nearby biting her lower lip.
We had a puberty conversation instead.
(“Breasts are SO GROSS!”
“They’re not gross – they’re natural. They feed babies.”
“I don’t want them.”
“You have two options: You can grow them at some point, or else you can be dead.”
That was severe, but I’m terrified by the idea that this perceptive, sensitive little sweetheart may experience some of the embattled hatred I’ve felt for my body. I want both of us to believe that bodies and minds are a team, and that sexuality is healthy, natural, and a legitimate part of the warp and woof of identity. There’s no shame in desiring – ice cream or another – and a mind is only at its best when one honors the whole. Anyone who’s ever felt their life stressors less severe after a work-out should know that.
G fell asleep shortly before her mom returned home.
“No one’s ever asked me that before,” I told her of her daughter’s query.
“No one’s ever asked me that before,” she said.
A few weeks later, G again curled herself into my lap to flip through a book on Botero. She skimmed past many cartoonishly voluptuous female forms as I did internal Art Hum-style critiques on them. She stopped on one where a couple in the background was going at it. She scrutinized the image without puzzlement. Guess they had that discussion.
“Isn’t this kind of gross?” she implored. “Aren’t you grossed out that you’ll have to do it once you get married?”