By the time my day care friends enter school, we have a routine of discussing word origins, outer space and why worms need to be slimy, so questions are generously encouraged. There are two ticklish subjects that come up from time to time, one is “death” and the other is “having babies”. My default answer, when asked directly, is “You should ask mommy and daddy what they think.” But this is real life and those subjects have a way of coming up when I least expect them. Once in a while, I get zapped with zingers.
Just recently, it was “pick up” time and I was telling a parent about my desire to retire in 5 years. It was more of a speech than a conversation and I (even though I should know better) became focused on what I was saying, while ignoring the fact that kids were in the room.
“If my daughter decides not to have more children, I’ll be able to relax and feel freer to retire.” The parent nodded her understanding .
Then came a squeal from behind me, followed by a high-pitched, “People can decide NOT to have babies?!” I turn around and there stands a wide-eyed 6-year-old frozen with interest. The question is still hanging and my expression is like a deer caught in headlights. (Remember that scene from Jaws, when Roy Scheider sees a shark, and floats toward the screen, as the whole outside world races away from him?) That was me.
Meanwhile, the parent has turned away in a phony search for her child’s jacket. Her shoulders are shaking with a vigor that appears like early onset Parkinson’s, but I can tell, she’s trying to contain a belly laugh. I, also know, she didn’t find the question that funny, it was entirely about my predicament.
This was no time for too long of a pause because extra long pauses inspire the lengthiest of inquiries. The “I’ve got to fully explore this dangerous subject” kind.
“Oh yes dear, most babies come when parents want them.”
Then the child asks,”What about the others?”
At that, I can see out of the corner of my eye, that the parent’s shakes have turned into spasms.
“Well, sweetie, they are happy surprises.”
In that instant, one of the toddlers screeches from the other room…as I turn to “run” away, I shout,
“Uh-oh, Evelyn’s stuck in the shopping cart again! You should ask Mommy about this when you get home.”