St. Valentine notwithstanding, beneath the romance and roses of February fourteen, runs a warm chocolatey river of sexual expectations or at least tensions. In considering this, I was oddly reminded of a dinner table conversation when our three children were young — maybe 9, 6 1/2, and 4. One warm summer evening, they asked where babies came from. That is, one of them asked, glancing at Dan, and the others looked mildly interested.
I’d imagined that children asked this question when they were about five, as in, “Allison’s Mommy is going to the hospital to get a baby. How much do they cost and can we get one?” From which dear innocent query, appropriate sexual information would ensue. But our children had waited until this evening to cut to the chase. “Where do babies come from?”
How, you ask, did the older two get so old without being curious? Well, on our block there were no young mothers bursting with babies. There were a lot of 45 and 50-year-old mothers looking immensely relieved. Those fecund mothers who accompanied a child to the little school attended by our brood, were dismissed as grossly overweight.
And, remember, this was around 1974, and the Sullivan children were only allowed half an hour of television per evening, this on a 12-inch black and white screen — a half hour usually given over to something starring Bill Cosby or Dick van Dyke and containing precious little of a salacious and informative nature. By the time they were old enough for Benny Hill, it was too late.
When you have three or more smallish people hanging around the house, they gather in dimly lit corners, giggling and speaking in hoarse whispers behind hands held in front of their mouths, always keeping a sharp eye peeled.
In these Machiavellian sessions they determined which of them would ask the current hot question. But Dan and I had witnessed none of this usual hole-and-corner goings-on previous to the where-do-babies-come-from query.
Since it was Dan who’d been asked, he fell to with admirable aplomb, as if he’d long awaited this question and at the dinner table no less.
I wish I had taped what followed for it was masterful, beautiful, leaving nothing out, but handling each step with such tender poetry that personally I was moved to tears. My only fear was that he had made it all sound so attractive, they might get some pretty premature notions into their curly tops.
As his recitation drew to a hushed and reverent close, and Dan was at the point of asking, “Are there questions?” the three children, without a concordant glance passing between them, screamed, “Eeewwww!” jumped down from their chairs and ran from the dining room, through the living room, and out into the middle of the street, still screaming “Eeewww!” and now performing a kind of stomping dance of horror.
What passers-by who drove around them, or neighbors with open windows, made of them we’ll never know. But, for some time, the neighbors kept a polite yet watchful silence.
It’s my belief that, without even trying, Dan had postponed the children’s serious sexual experimentation by any number of years.