Last Sunday night, Sasha was eating her dinner—noodles!—at the little coffee table in the living room, and I was sitting behind her, on the couch, in my underwear. (Yeah, I lounge around the house in my underwear. So?) All of a sudden, Sasha turned around and pointed at my crotch.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“What’s in there?” she asked again—and poked me. There.
“Uh, that’s Daddy’s penis,” I said, figuring honesty was best.
“I have a penis too!” Sasha said.
“Well, no, you don’t.”
“I have a penis too! I have a penis too!” By now she was standing up and pulling down her undies and pointing at where, if she had one, her penis would be. “Look! Sasha has a penis too!”
“No, you don’t,” I said, helping her pull her undies. “You’re a girl. Girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. Girls have vaginas.”
“Girls have vaginas?” she asked.
Sasha turned back to her dinner and continued eating.
All week long, Jean has been away on a business trip, meaning I’m doing things I wouldn’t normally, like waking up early and taking the kid to school. On Wednesday morning, Sasha and I were beginning the tedious descent of the three flights of stairs in our building, when all of a sudden she stopped.
“Daddy,” she said, “girls have vaginas!”
“Oh?” I said. What else could I say?
She took a couple of steps down, then said: “Girls have vaginas!”
“I know,” I said. Why was she bringing this up now, a day and a half after our impromptu anatomy lesson?
“Girls have vaginas, Daddy!”
“That’s right.” Had she been mulling it over all this time, and only now understood it well enough to repeat it?
“Daddy! Daddy! Girls have vaginas!”
“Uh-huh.” Or had there been a lesson at school? Had she seen one of the boys peeing in the potty and been reminded of what I’d told her?
“Girls have vaginas! Girls have vaginas! Girls have vaginas! Girls have vaginas!”
Now, if I could, I’d insert a third anecdote here that would tie everything together, but it’s been almost a week and nothing more has happened. Sometimes life just works out that way.
But what I will mention here is Theodore’s reaction any time I tell him about this kind of thing. Here’s what he always says: “You’re going to jail, man! You’re going to jail!” Which is a funny enough response, but it’s also the response of a guy who, up till recently, has only had a son to deal with—and thus hasn’t had to face the question of difference. Which is, after all, a very natural question: Boys and girls look different, and at the toddler age, when they begin to notice, they’re going to ask why. You can answer in different ways, with different vocabulary, and it’s always uncomfortable to varying degrees (many of them hilarious degrees), but you’ve got to answer.
And so, Theodore, two years from now, when Ellie’s poking at your junk, and you’re facing the same awkward questions and responses, I will have myself a nice, long laugh at your expense. In my jail cell.