She’s forced me to the razor’s edge.
I just wrote an article on how to talk to kids about sex.
The article includes how we, as adults and parents, deal with our own erotic energy and sexual histories. How do we feel about sex? How was our introduction to sex? What did we learn about it from our culture and our family?
We are passing on our own lived experience as much or more so as the ideas that we talk about. Our kids can feel our comfort or discomfort. They know just when the conversation turns to sex and we whisper, or shade our mouth with a back turned hand.
The article got more page views than anything I have ever written, so she heard me talking about the article all day. Its title: “Have Sex for Our Children.” As much as I try to have a degree of privacy, it’s one of my bigger challenges as a single mom to be alone and have a conversation. Not that I was trying to hide the subject, but I don’t feel like she needed to be bombarded either.
This girl is laser sharp.
I work with women, birth and sexuality, so my daughter is used to the subject. When she was four, she came home from preschool and cried that someone had “kicked her in the pubic bone.” She knows the difference between a doula and a midwife. She knows which hospitals allow doulas. She can give a pretty decent explanation of why women menstruate and how it works. Most of this she has picked up from overhearing conversations, not from overt educational efforts on my part.
We never know what information is infiltrating and how it is arranging itself inside of our children.
I had no idea what information she was picking up about the article that I wrote. She managed to take my breath away.
“Mom, have you ever been sexually abused?”
Internal recoil and disbelief. A split second was all my mind needed to sift through all possible responses. I don’t want to lie. I also don’t want her to feel she lives in a dangerous world. I don’t want her to relate to me as a victim. Will she feel safe knowing that I was vulnerable? How can I help her feel safe and secure in herself, while at the same time knowing that her mother, at one time, was not?
It’s as if she was born to challenge the depth of my integrity.
Am I going to look her in the face and lie? The question and her energy is too pointed and too direct to get around. This is the level of attunement I am dealing with. There is no way out, but through.
She is asking me who she is and who I am at the same time. I don’t feel at all ready for this. She is seven. I didn’t think this conversation would come so soon. But I am definitely on the hook. Now the woman who wrote the article has to show up and be what she wrote.
“Yes, I have.”
“Oooooh mom, what happened?”
“Well, Cece, it’s kinda hard for me to talk about.”
Then she asked the questions that so many have asked before. “Did I know him?” “Why did I go out with him when my instincts told me otherwise?” “Was I drinking a lot?” She was brave enough to ask me exactly what happened. Then I reached my limit. My heart started to race, and I felt a pull downward that I didn’t want to yield to. So I told her, “You know, I just can’t talk about this any more, and I don’t think it is important for you to know more.”
“Mom, did my dad sexually abuse you?”
“Did you like having sex with my dad?
“Yes, Cece. I loved it.”
“Did you like having sex with Tiago (a boyfriend I had)?”
“Yes, Cece. I loved it.”
Satiated, she rolled over and moments later, fell asleep.
I, however, did not.
I lay mesmerized about the way that life works. Just the night before, I wrote about ways to heal our sexual selves. So much of what I wrote is confronting and challenging for people. I have just been processing, talking about and working with the subject matter for a while, so I am more accustomed to it and it has become a little less confronting.
But I am not different from my readers, I still lower my voice sometimes when I say the “word with an X,” as my daughter deemed sex. I still have uninhibited talks with friends, and when I get to parts of the story, turn my back and mouth words.
I don’t have all the answers. I navigate these deep waters, along with all parents. How much is enough? How much is too much?
My daughter asked me about one of the most difficult, painful and defining experiences of my life. If I hadn’t spent so much of my life dedicated to re-establishing my boundaries and healing that wound, committed to having a healthy expansive and loving sexual life, I don’t know how I would have responded. But it may have been in a way that caused my daughter to contract and be afraid, instead of lead her to the answer she really wanted—that her mom had joyful, passionate sex with her dad and her boyfriend.
I know she could feel that.
Author: Kimberly Johnson
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: romana klee/Flickr