After school specials and TV movies really misled me. I thought when the day came that I had kids and needed to pass my wisdom or advice onto them about a particular subject, we would set aside a convenient time to make it happen. We’d all be well-dressed, fully fed, and not in a rush to be anywhere else, so the life lessons I’d spell out for them (as they sat with their hands folded and expectant faces turned up to me, no interruptions at all) would have time to germinate in their beautiful minds after I finished speaking. My words would blossom as they went about the rest of their day, and by the time the sun rose again, they’d have a full understanding of the topic we had discussed, which would likely never come up again.
Yeah. That’s not a thing in the real world.
I find that the bigger the topic — the more important or nuanced it is — the greater the chance my kids will bring it up at the most unexpected or inconvenient time (what is it with kids having existential questions when I need to use the bathroom?). This is the real reason parents are never fully rested: we always have to be ready to answer the most complicated of life’s questions without a moment’s notice, and fear doing such a poor job at it that our kids will become permanently damaged or terribly, irrevocably confused. So instead of sleeping, I study up on, well, pretty much everything there is to ever know about anything at all, and how to disseminate it to my offspring.
I’m really quite tired, and still have to wing it about 50 percent of the time.
Knowing that I need to always be prepared for anything is what prevented me from choking on my ice cream as my son casually asked me during dessert whether a man really did break into a school and kill a bunch of kids, not long after Sandy Hook, and whether that could happen to him and his little sister. It’s how I managed to not stammer some self-deprecating madness when my daughter asked me if she’ll have fat thighs like mine when she grows up, while I sat on the toilet in such a rush I had forgotten to lock the door. A breakdown of credit card debt and whether the size of one’s house reflects more than one’s wealth came during a ride to soccer practice. I was vacuuming when I was asked what the words, “pussy” and “sexual assault” (as overheard on the TV) meant. A viewing of the original Beauty and the Beast sparked a white privilege chat on our basement couch. An explanation of Nazism, hate crimes, and the holocaust happened on the walk home from school. Period talk happened when we saw someone at the mall with a stain on her pants and were surrounded by an audience of curious eavesdroppers waiting with bated breath to see how open I was about the female reproductive system with my young son.
Try as we might, there is no planning when it comes to having these kinds of important conversations. They happen in the moments in between the bigger things going on in our lives, like as we kiss them goodnight, or when we’re skipping past commercials on a rainy Saturday afternoon. But maybe that’s what’s good about them. They don’t need ceremony or spotlight: they’re big enough as they are. And when we address them in the same way as we do the sillier questions they throw at us (like what SpongeBob and Sandy’s baby would look like if they were to get married), it keeps that all-important door of communication open – even if only metaphorically, since I’ve gotten a lot better about locking that bathroom door when I’m in there.