Mother was fidgety. She had been fidgety for a couple of months. She would call me to her, get flustered and then say, “Never mind.” Then one evening she gathered me up on her lap and read a children’s book to me. It was about dragonflies. Then we went out onto the front porch.
“Look, see here on the screen door? See all those dragonflies?”
Some summers were dragonfly summers; some were not. Some summers were giant beetles summers; some were not. This was a dragonfly summer and there were about five dragonflies on the screen door.
“Un huh,” I nodded my head.
She talked to me about the dragonflies. I stood there nodding my head but honestly everything she said was going right over the top of it. I thought the dragonflies were pretty, clutched to the screen door with their tiny feet. She kept saying that there was nothing to be afraid of. I wasn’t afraid but she kept saying, “Don’t be afraid,” so often I wondered if I should be afraid.
After our book reading and her little talk—on the porch, with live examples —Mom calmed down. For about three or four years she relaxed and then she started to get fidgety again.
One day I was in the bathroom, washing my hands. Mom barged in. “Sit down,” she said, pointing to the toilet seat. That was weird, but I sat down. I wiped my wet hands on my pants. Then Mom did something weirder. She locked the bathroom door. No one in our house locked the bathroom door. She sat down on the bathtub.
“We need to have a little talk,” she said. Then she told me some vague version of "the birds and the bee’s.” So vague I didn’t get it.
“Remember when I read you the book about the dragonflies?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, this is the same thing. Only with people.”
I still didn’t get it but she was agitated and we were locked in the bathroom and I wanted out, so I said, “Okay.”
Mom let out a huge sigh; I think the toilet paper fluttered in the breeze of her sighing.
“Well, then,” she said. "I'm glad we had this little talk."
She unlocked the door, gave me a hug—more of a quick pushing my face into her bosom, and then she rushed into the kitchen and started banging pots and pans around.
My cousin Holly called me later that afternoon. “I’ve got something to tell you,” she said in a stage whisper. “I’ll be right there.”
We sat at the kitchen table and Holly gave me her mother’s version of the “birds and the bees.” Holly’s mother’s version was more thorough than my mother’s version. Holly’s mother’s version was graphic, even. My eyes widened so much I thought my eyeballs might fall out.
“Nuh, uh,” I shook my head.
“Uh, huh,” she nodded her head. “Honest, that’s how it’s done. And then you get a baby. It grows inside your stomach and then…” She proceeded to tell me how babies were born.
Now we lived in a small town. Everyone had some kind of animals. Cows, chickens, sheep, horses, some people even raised mink. We had dogs and cats but neither one of us had ever seen “the deed” being done nor did we know how baby cows got here or baby kittens or baby babies. We were backward children with no curiosity.
Holly and I made a pact. We were never going to do "that one thing.” Not ever. But we both wanted to be married and have kids. “We’ll adopt,” she said.
“Yes, we’ll adopt.”
And then we grew up. And fell in love. And got married. Even though I never quite forgot our pact it was Holly who broke it first and I always did what Holly did. She was my leader.
And I bless her. I have five wonderful children, whom I adore. But, sadly, I could never figure out how to have the “birds and the bee’s” conversation with any of them. In that area of motherhood I am a failure. I didn’t have a book on dragonflies—not that it was much help but it made my mother feel better. I would love to have had a book that made me feel better.
Hillary, my darling daughter, says, “Yes, you were a miserable failure as a mother. I had to learn about sex,”—I cringed when she said the word, “sex”—“from my friends.”
If I had been a smart mother, I would have referred her to Holly because Holly knew how to explain things in eye-popping detail. Hillary would have gotten an educational experience she would never forget. When she was old she could have written the experience for her personal history and posted it on the Internet. Then she would have felt better. Maybe.