I became an Aunt for the first time when I was four years old. After my nephew was born, my mom drove my sister Sarah and I the six hours to my oldest sister's house in our wood paneled station wagon. At the one hour mark, Sarah and I saw the Coco's billboard on the west side of the 5 freeway and we knew we were at the halfway point. The second half of the trip always seemed so much longer than the first.
On the drive up, I didn't have a single question about where my nephew came from. His presence was a given. I figured it probably wasn't any of my business anyway. I watched out the window as we passed neatly lined fields, Vacation village, and the ocean as we steadily pushed our way north through California.
I felt warmth and excitement as we got off Kathy's exit and I tapped my foot nervously on the seat in front of mine. My black patent leather shoes making a gentle click click click against the fabric. I wondered whether Kathy would be excited to see me or would she only care about the new baby. My heart fluttered anxiously at the thought that she might not have enough room for me.
We pulled up to the curb next to the long driveway down which Kathy's house sat. As I tore out of the car, I shouted, "Kathy, Kathy, we're here!" I ran into her white stucco house and hopped up the stairs that led to the living room. Kathy was pacing softly up and down her living room. Her face lit up when she saw me.
"Oh, hello" she said in a gentle sing song whisper. Her hair was blown out and held securely in place with an entire can of hair spray. Her bangs a perfect wave over her small brow. On her shoulder, leaning over a small, blue blanket, lay my new, sleeping nephew. She brought her fingers to her lips.
"He's so cute!" I whispered and tiptoed over to her. Kathy beamed down at me with as much warmth and energy as she ever had. At that moment, Ryan's face scrunched up. A gentle squeal emitted from his throat and he let out a small fart right at my face level. I looked up at Kathy, mortified. Her mouth was a perfect "o" and her eyebrows shot up. We both laughed.
"Well, that's quite a howdy do, wouldn't you say," said Kathy as she adjusted Ryan, who was now awake, on her shoulder. "Want to help me change this guys diaper?"
Equal parts disgusted and intrigued, I said, "I think so" and followed her down to the nursery. She lay Ryan on the changing table and asked me to grab him a diaper. I skipped over to the drawer and pulled out a tiny diaper with Winnie the Pooh dancing around it. When I came back to hand her it, she had his diaper off.
I stopped. I didn't know what I was looking at. Between his small, kicking legs lay a small object that I had never seen before. I looked up at Kathy with worry. Was the baby sick? I wondered. Why is she acting like this is normal about this? One thing was certain, this baby was actually not as cute as I initially thought he was.
I mumbled, "I have to go to the bathroom" and ran out of the room. A lump was forming in my throat and I was ready to cry. I stood in the hallway, unable to decide whether I wanted to sit in the bathroom or hide under Kathy's bed until it was time to go home. Before I could decide, Kathy came out holding the grotesque child gently in her arms. His limbs flailed jerkily and he let out deep squeaks.
Kathy smiled at me until she saw my look of horror. "What happened? What's wrong?"
I tried to smile, but my eyes felt tight. "He has an ugly bottom" I choked out.
Kathy's face went from worried, to confused, to amused in a matter of seconds. She held back a laugh and said, "oh lizzy. He's just a boy. That's how is bottom is supposed to look."
Normal or not, I decided right then and there that I did not think boys had very nice bottoms. And that is the earliest memory I have of any sort of sex education. It was pretty much the only one I received until I read the natural birthing book Kathy had in her house when she was pregnant with my second nephew, Kevin. It was equally as horrific as Ryan's newborn bottom.
With Darla, I'm trying to make sex education a little less horrifying, which is why I was a bit more candid when she asked me where babies come from. I was in the mood to be a progressive parent that day. It was nearing Jude's bedtime and they both were showered and in clean pajamas. He was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt and basketball shorts. Darla, was, as per usual, in her underwear. They danced with heavy feet across the dirty rug in the center of their room. I cringed with each stomp, imagining the bits of ceiling falling on our downstairs neighbors head and onto his ramen noodles he had made for dinner.
"shhhhhhh," I said. "Don't be rude. The downstairs guy isn't going to like this."
This had no effect on either of them as they tested out pirhouttes and basic spins. Darla's typical stream of consciousness song came out in a steady flow.
"If I were a lady, I'd dance until my feet stopped dancing. And when I fall, I will get up. Because I'm a queen. Who has a baby growing in my stomach. And I bring the baby home from the hospital. And we sing!"
She stopped to take a sip of water. She looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Mommy, when will I have boobs?" she asked.
I took a deep breath, resisting my urge to tell her "someday." I didn't want her to feel I wasn't open to discussing. Instead, I said, "We'll read a good book about it after Jude goes to bed."
She accepted my answer and went back to leaping across the room and destroying our downstairs neighbors ceiling.
Later, I brought down the book and sat down on our fluffy brown couch in the living room. I sunk down into it and closed my eyes. Ready for a moment of nothingness. I heard her raspy voice in the distance as she talked to herself about the toy she was going to bring to read about boobs. When she sat down on the couch next to me, fidgeting and rolling around, I opened my eyes. I fortified myself to dive into a factual explanation of human anatomy, pushing aside all the anxiety I felt. If I wanted my daughter to be confident of herself, I have to make her confident of her entire self.
The books starts off tame. Boys have penises. Girls have vaginas. I stay present as I read. I even edit out the heteronormative bits about a man and a woman falling in love. I leave out the "they get married" party, because I'd be quite the hypocrite if I say that's a necessary prelude to parenthood. I took out everything that could be limiting. I was feeling incredibly cocksure; I was proud of myself for being such a good parent. Darla wasn't going to be ashamed of her body. She was going to think all the stuff it could do was pretty cool.
Then I got to the part about "sperm meeting egg" and I started to sweat. I wasn't too sure about this as I slowly waded into the murky waters of inappropriate content for a five year old. The authors must know what they're doing, so I brushed aside doubt and kept going. The graphic of the little sperm, however, was too much for both of us to take.
"Eww," Darla said, as she pointed at the squiggly white worm smiling at the big circle.
"Yeah, ewwww," I said because it is pretty gross if you think about it.
We both laughed as I headed forward, really hoping that she doesn't ask too many questions about how the squiggly worm got there in the first place. I read the last part quickly and was proud of myself for making it to the end. As I finished, I smiled at her.
"Isn't that so interesting? Your body is very cool!"
She sat silently and looked down at her underwear. Then back at the book. Then back at her underwear. She was thinking deeply.
"So, the baby comes out of my vagina?" she asked.
"That's correct," I said slowly, knowing exactly where her mind was going.
"So, it comes out of there," she said as she pointed at her underwear.
"That's correct," I said, again. What had I done?
She immediately howled, fat tears pooling in her eyes. Her face red and contorted. "I don't want to have a baby!!!"
I was too tired to keep going, so I just said "It's not so bad. You can take medicine not to make it hurt." When I said this, half the mother's in Los Angeles must've gotten inexplicable nausea as that was one less child indoctrinated into the natural birth movement.
She seemed vaguely satisfied with that and I got her to go to bed. I felt proud of myself for acknowledging that she had a body.
The next morning, as she watched TV, we heard hew howling.
"Jude, stop it," she yelled and I came in to see her naked brother standing innocently in front of her.
My patience from the night before was shot. I didn't have time to help them negotiate the situation.
"Darla, stop complaining," I said. "Your brother is being nice."
"Don't be rude," her dad chimed in.
Darla started crying hysterically.
"But he was rubbing his penis on my foot," she cried.
Greg and I looked at each other. Oh shit. We switched gears quickly.
"Jude, that's inappropriate," I said as I whisked him off to his room to put on underwear. Whatever headway I'd made the night before, I definitely undid it all when we reprimanded her for complaining about her brother's penis on her foot. I made a vow to be better the next day. And so goes the daily guilt cycle in my house.