Storks and the Biological Facts of Life

Many years ago, I got into the good habit of keeping a journal while my kids were growing up. Here’s one of my favorite entries. 

My daughter, who is in the first grade, went to an art museum with her class today. She told her Mom that lots of statues were showing their private parts. In the morning she had also showered with her mother, so not surprisingly, my daughter came out of it saying she wants breasts.

284613678011211Kids, of course, occasionally think of precocious thoughts that simply float away. But I cannot help contrast her childhood to mine. I never showered with the parent of my own sex; in fact, luckily, I have yet to see my parents naked. When my mother was pregnant with my brother, I was my daughter’s age, and I had seen a picture of a stork that held, from its beak, a sling with a baby. There were fluffy clouds in the background, and that’s where my brother was coming from—the sky.

One day, our tenant’s daughter, Manon, claimed that my baby brother was in my mother’s belly. I remember exactly what crack of the sidewalk I was about to step on when she said that. Manon had made the world stop. I recall looking across the street at the front entrance, expecting my mother to magically open the door and promptly deny the absurdity. It was like being told that the milk came out of the milkman’s ear.

Luckily, later that evening, after laughing and realizing that I was not ready for the truth, my mother assured me that a stork would indeed bring the baby home. Astonishingly, even though I know from recent accounts that my mother had apparently remained relatively thin throughout the pregnancy, I had never noticed her belly. My brother was not exactly born hamster-sized, so I must have never looked below her face.

Five years later in the sixth grade, my friend, whose first name was the same as mine, came to school with a shocking piece of news. As we walked past the nun’s residence, he quoted a World Book Encyclopaedia article on reproduction. It claimed the process started when a male part of the anatomy was placed in the female counterpart. How could that lead to a baby? Could unscrewing the back of a TV and sticking a prosciutto ( ham) into it create a cooking show? But half the boys in our class seemed to confirm what was in print, and the encyclopaedia had never lied to me. I wrestled with the idea for a week, considering the possibility that a secret had been kept from me. But accepting the idea became more difficult when the same friend had concluded that this was only one way of reproducing. Surely, our parents had used some other means.

A few weeks ago my daughter, who has a fascination with bones, was looking at some anatomy drawings in one of our medical books. She turned the pages and came across a diagram of a scrotum and asked what it was for. It produces seed needed to make a baby, I told her. “That’s how babies are made?” she asked, grimacing. I realized that I had told her too much.

Our children need their childhood.


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