“Mum, do you know what day it is tomorrow,” my 7-year old asks as I am saying goodnight to her.
“Thursday,” I answer.
“But mum, don’t you know it’s international women’s day!?”
“Yes, of course,” I say and tuck her in, but my daughter sits up in bed, her eyes wide open and her nose scrunched up, an indication that there’s something she’s not happy with.
“Why do we only get one day, mum? That’s so unfair! Every day should be women’s day because life is so much easier for boys than girls.”
“Really, how’s that?” I ask, sensing this conversation is going to last a while.
“Well, boys don’t get their pyramids.”
“Pyramids? Periods, you mean?” How she knows about women’s periods, I am not sure, because it’s not a conversation I’ve had with her yet, but then again, nothing seems to be private in this house.
As it were, I’ve just come back from a parents’ talk about ‘birds and bees’ at my daughters’ school, so I resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to be able to skip this conversation, even though it’s past my daughter’s bedtime.
I sit down on the edge of her bed and listen to what she has to say. What follows is a flood of questions:
“Why does it hurt when you give birth?”
“Why can’t men be pregnant instead?”
“Why don’t men bleed?”
“Why is it all so unfair?”
I try to answer as truthfully as I can because what I’ve just learned at the parents’ talk is the importance of building trust with my daughter. How else will she feel comfortable talking to me about the body, relationship, puberty when it comes and ultimately, sex when she’s old enough?
“Do you know how babies are made,” I ask her after a while when the conversation has moved on from the inherent unfairness of things in life to a more exciting topic in her view – why do mums and dads sometimes sleep naked?
“Of course, I know how babies are made!” she answers, clearly offended that I even had to ask. “The dad puts his willy into the mum’s vagina and the sperm and egg mix together to make a baby.”
We’ve never been much for using pet names for the more intimate parts of the body, and the way my daughter enunciates ‘vagina’ ought to make her old speech and language therapist proud. So, what if she still can’t say ‘s’ properly or ‘th’; ‘vagina‘ is a word she pronounces perfectly, and loudly.
After a minute’s silent contemplation, she asks,
“If I don’t want to marry a man, can I still have children?”
“Of course, you can,” I say.
“But how?” “What if I want to marry a woman instead? Women don’t have willies so how will we make a baby?”
Ouch, that’s a conversation for which I’m wholly unprepared at nine o’clock at night.
“There are ways,” I mumble and get up from her bed. “Time to sleep, sweetheart,” and ignoring her protests I turn off the light and leave.
Why is it that kids choose bedtime to ask all the complex questions of life? When I put that question to my mother, she laughs, “you were the same,” she says. “always coming into the bathroom while I was getting ready for bed, with questions that couldn’t wait ’till the morning.”
My 11-year old is no different. “Can we talk,” she says every evening when I come to say goodnight. So, I lie down next to her, and we talk. And I realise it’s one of the most precious moments of my day.
Happy International Women’s Day everyone – today, tomorrow, and always, if my daughter ruled the world.