This is a serious post, because yesterday my daughter asked me a serious question.
Kayton, my eight year old, stayed home from school yesterday- supposedly, because she was sick, but despite the moderate temperature (does 99.3 even count as a temperature? It wouldn't have to my mom!) and the complaints of aches and pains, I think she was more just emotional and tired and dreading a bad day at school (like she had Monday). I've become much more lenient about missing school since becoming a stay-at-home mother. Had I a full time job to go to, you'd better believe she'd have been in school until the school nurse called me to come get her.
So, after enforcing a nap and then forcing her to finish reading her book (I thought PollyAnna may give her some perspective on being sick), I allowed her to watch television. But Kayton watches tv the way my husband does-- channel hopping through the commercials, always looking for something more interesting. And in the midst of this channel hopping, she came across a talk show of some sorts with the bold words running across the bottom of the screen: I WAS RAPED.
And, Kayton being an inquisitive child, immediately asked me the question I'd honestly never before given thought to answering for her: "Mommy, what is rape?"
I guess I should count my blessings that she had no idea. Unfortunately, we all know that some eight year old girls know this word only too well. But I found myself speechless for a few seconds as my mind rapidly spiraled through all the possible answers and potential scenarios those answers could create. My first response- "when a boy touches you when you don't want him to"-- immediately posed problems. The last thing I want is for her to run screaming across the playground at school screaming "he raped me!" when a little boy pulls her hair-- which I'm sure would result in a trip in to talk to the Principal and the Guidance Counselor and would probably, in this county, also involve a visit from the Child Protective Services. So I knew I had to go into a little more detail than that, but how much?
Maybe some of you reading this have already had this conversation, or have read parenting manuals on how to deal with this, or are relying on sex education in the public school system to deal with the issue for you, but I was not so prepared. I am lucky in that I didn't have to go into the whole birds and bees issue from the beginning. Kayton is already an expert on this, being the oldest of four children. I know, some of you may think eight is too young (or seven, when she found out), but again, I was not prepared to answer the questions as well as I thought I would be when the questions were asked, so I figured the truth was best. Granted, I tried to lie.
When I became pregnant with Kolbie, Kayton asked me how the baby got in my belly. She was five. Easy Answer. Well, Sweetheart, when Mommy was sleeping one night, Daddy sprinkled some magic daddy juice on her belly and a baby started to grow! Isn't that cool? (In light of this rape conversation, maybe Mommy shouldn't have been sleeping in that example, but that's what I said.) And that worked throughout that pregnancy. Then I got pregnant again. And at this point, my seven year old child looked at me and said "Mommy, that doesn't make sense- do you really expect me to believe that?" And what could I say? So, I told her a long, boring story about Mommy and Daddy loving each other so much that sometimes when they are kissing Daddy and Mommy like to... etc. Her response was, quite accurately, "gross!". The good news is that she was so disgusted by that notion that she has since that day sworn she will never have children. She has occasionally shown an interest in adoption, but is very adamant that she will never be pregnant. Perhaps that will be all the sex ed talk she needs until she's 26 and married, but I doubt it.
But that returns us to yesterday's question. It wasn't so much answering the question that bothered me, it was the thought processes behind the question. I wanted to make sure she understood the gravity of the situation while also not being overcome and terrified by it. She is only eight, after all; and I found that walking that balance between truth and security was very difficult for me to do. So, I kept it short and sweet. A quick recap on how mommy's and daddy's make babies, followed by a "when someone tries to do that", capped off with a "you scream, run, and tell me right away- no matter what they say- and you'll never get in trouble". I figured this was as good a time as any to reinforce the "no one touches your private parts" conversation since, essentially, that's what rape is.
And as I sat there, her hands in mine, watching her brain work as she processed this information-- terrified that yet another, more personal, question would spring from her lips and trying to forestall that by coming up with the age-appropriate answers to the question I knew was coming-- Do I lie? Do I tell her? How much truth does a child need to hear? If I lie now, when do I tell the truth?-- I was saved.
For Kayton's eagerness for answers is just like her tv watching- flipping channels, always looking for the next interesting thing. And the response that fell from her lips was a Godsend. "That's gross. Can I have some chicken noodle soup?"
<Sigh of relief> Yes, chicken noodle soup sounds great.
I know that this was just the first of many difficult conversations I will have to have with Kayton. And I highly doubt it will get any easier with each successive child as they ask the same questions asked by their older siblings. And some day I know I will have to initiate the difficult conversations, if they aren't initiated for me, sitting down a teenage child (Lord willing) on her bed, and unveiling the past, the pain, the things that you pray your own child will never have to go through. The things you cry over when you type, terrified that some day your dear child, so precious, so perfect, so unharmed will shed tears of her own over.
So maybe I was wrong to be so honest. Maybe I should have let the innocence and naivety remain a little bit longer. Or maybe, maybe I'm blessed that if a situation ever occurs where she needs to know, she will understand what's happening and know how to react, what to do, long before it's too late. And, in this blessing, if that day comes, she'll be prepared, but if you ask her what happened yesterday, the only thing she'll think to tell you is that she had chicken noodle soup for lunch.