The talk, chapter 4

We have had “facts of life” talks at least three or four times before. This time I was the one who brought it up, noting that if Mookie’s school is like mine, this is the year when the girls have a session on menstruation, which Mookie may miss since she won’t be back until after Christmas. Mookie was stunned that this comes along at such an early age, but I explained that while it’s not likely that she’ll get her period when she’s nine, some girls do, so we don’t want them to go to the bathroom one day and be terrified. She got all that, and has in fact known for several years that monthly “bleeding” is normal and painless. (Explaining cramps can come later.) So that launched another conversation. Mookie wanted to know why on earth this happens when she has no intention of having a baby for a looooong time. Actually, she is quite firm on “never,” but she does grasp that some women would like to be ready for this project eventually–but why at 9, or even 14?

I think I should produce an animated film using my approach, since it amused Mookie, especially when I offered a comparison with the usual way these things are explained.

Usual way, in pamphlet from Playtex with a soft pink cover:

Meg and her mom had a long talk over a cup of cocoa. . . . “But why does it happen?” said Meg. Her mom said, “When a girl is becoming a woman, her body makes a special place for a baby to grow” . . . “This is called a sanitary napkin, or ‘pad’ . . . ” (They’re always big on pads, which no woman outside the Playtex marketing department has ever called a “napkin.”) “Thanks, Mom!” said Meg, hugging her.

Feh. My way:

We’re animals, right? And one of the things animals are geared to do is . . . make more animals. Cats: Let’s make more cats! Jellyfish: Let’s make more jellyfish! [Producer’s note: Can’t you envision the animation here? Very Finding Nemo, right?] Humans: Let’s make more humans! So when it’s mature enough, your body says, “Okay, time to make some more humans! Uterine lining . . . ready to go! Whoa, no baby this month? Okay, out it goes. We’ll do it again next month. It’s next month now, still no baby? Okay, bye bye lining!” You’re right, it’s completely crazy. There really ought to be an on/off switch. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I only wanted one baby in all that time! And you’re it–no more babies–and it’s still happening! Yeesh!

Mookie asked a very reasonable question that’s on everyone’s mind but that the pamphlet doesn’t think a fourth grader needs to hear about: What do you do if you don’t want to have a baby? The abstinence-education-only folks would be pleased to know that the first thing I said was that if you don’t have sex, you won’t get pregnant. They would be less pleased to know that I included the all-important phrase, “with a man,” and that the conversation went on from there. Not with a lot of detail; we didn’t figure she was really interested in the full list of Ways People Keep from Getting Pregnant, and sure enough, she was content with the basic fact that there are a bunch of different ways.

Joy joined in to explain abstinence-only education. Even Mookie, who is nine and thinks the whole idea of wanting to do this stuff is a little odd, grasped that other people do want to do it and that telling them “just don’t” is about as helpful as saying “just don’t eat chocolate.” She also understands something the abstinence-until-marriage “educators” don’t: that once married, people still need to know how to keep from having babies. Unless they take the easy route and marry someone of the same sex.

Monster management

Yesterday Mookie was putting the clean dishes away, which required her to be in the kitchen alone. She came out and said, “Mama, there are scary monsters in the kitchen.”

I sighed and yelled into the kitchen, “If there are any scary monsters in there, you’d better be helping put the dishes away. If not, get out!”

She went back in and we could hear her instructing the monsters on where the various kinds of dishes go. I swear, this child raises herself.


We had a day of serendipity today. The Guelaguetza, Oaxaca’s huge, multi-week annual fiesta, is underway. Joy and I had planned on picking Mookie up at her day camp and going on to a mole festival–that’s the distinctive sauce for which Oaxaca is famous, not the small burrowing rodent–and carried on with the plan even though it was starting to drizzle. But the festival was sold out. Instead, we tried out a Chinese restaurant (rating: adequate enough that we’ll go back), visited a couple dozen artisans’ booths, saw a couple of things we might not be able to resist buying even though they’re expensive–an alebrije of La Catrina, a really gorgeous traditional dress for Mookie–and happened on a terrific parade, with floats on flatbeds and people throwing candy, plastic toys, gourd bowls, and olives into the crowd. We know about the olives because Mookie was tossed a bag of them.

And in the Friday market in El Llano, a.k.a. Juarez Park, there was a booth selling jewelry and henna tattoos. Mookie and I both said “ooh!” Three years ago, when I got one at a fair, she didn’t like it at all–she disapproved of my changing something about myself, the way she does when I henna my hair–but this time she led the way. She chose a twining vine with butterflies and I chose a lizard. They’re not actually blurry, but this was attempt #17 with my left hand and enough was enough.

IMG_7097One day she will probably get a real tat, unless fashions have moved on and there’s some other form of body alteration that grabs her instead. And I will cry. (No, I’m not anti-tat; I just have a strong attachment to her body the way it is and don’t want to see it altered. It’s indefensible. Never mind me. Just hand me a hanky and move along.) But I will have only myself to blame.

Back in Mexico

When Mookie was three we lived in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, for six months. Now I have another sabbatical and we are doing it again, except living in Oaxaca this time.

As we were sorting through our belongings before coming here, Mookie released the beloved blue dress that she’s wearing in the cover photo of this blog. When she first got it, on our last Mexico trip, it was very long on her.

image 029

Three years old, San Miguel de Allende, 2010

Now it is not. So “new pretty Mexican dress for Mookie” was on our shopping list for our first weeks in Oaxaca, and here it is. She is posing in the courtyard of the beautiful short-term apartments where we stayed for the first two weeks.


















I’m pleased to notice that the water bottle in the background in the 2010 picture is still in her possession; she’s got it with her again on this trip. She also still has the beautiful yellow poncho that her guidemother Darcey made for her. Some things aren’t outgrown so fast.

On self-loathing, violence and children

One of the saddest things I learned in this sad week after the murder of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando was that the killer, despite his openly gay-hating rhetoric and his eventual massacre of a crowd of gay people, often went to the club and was on a gay dating site himself. Homophobia was well-named in his case. He was deathly afraid of something in himself and enraged by seeing it reflected in others. Earlier in the week, I accidentally referred to the “50 people” who were victims of this homophobic, homicidal rage, and a friend deftly reminded me that the number was 49. But my slip turns out to have been correct. All 50 were victims of a hatred of queer sexuality.

When I encounter adult homophobes, I admit I am without patience. Whatever they need to process is between them and their therapist–if only they had one, which would be good–and I don’t want to deal with it. But as out, queer parents of a school-aged child, we run into it from children more often, and it’s opened up patience and compassion in me. With them, I try to remember that when they say something like “You can’t have two moms!” or “That’s gross!” they are often begging for someone to say to them, calmly, “Yes, you can have two moms” or “There is nothing gross about two men who love each other,” because what is underneath the insults may be “I think I might be one of those. Is that wrong and bad and disgusting, the way some people think?”

I want these kids to hear, from me, from other adults, “You know LGBTQ people. You love them. I know and love them too. They’re good people.” In case their clumsy lashing out is the sign of the first stirrings of queer sexuality in them, as it may well be, I want them to know that the answer to the question they don’t dare to pose is “Yes, I accept you as you are.”

Our school is blessed with a wonderful social worker who takes homophobia seriously and responds in this loving way. When a kid wrote some homophobic graffiti and poked fun at Mookie last year, the social worker brought them in and said to him, “Do you know anyone who’s gay?” He said, “My cousin.” And she said, “When you say things like that, it hurts people like your cousin. We don’t want to do that.” I don’t know if this kid will turn out to be gay, but what he took away was surely a message that if he is, he already has friends and supporters. And if he keeps hearing that, then he will not pick up a gun to try to blow his homosexuality to smithereens and try to wash it away in a tide of blood.

Echidna fever

Mookie wrote a big report on echidnas and made this great diorama.


Ecihnas are monotremes, like platypuses–in fact, the only monotremes besides platypuses–which means that they lay eggs but are mammals in other respects. We have learned a lot about echidnas in the past few weeks, and I think the only reason we aren’t being begged for a pet echidna is that they live only in Australia and New Guinea and would be homesick.

Detail, so you can see the ants properly:


Echidnas love ants. I love the log. And the use of sushi grass, and the drawing of the echidna.

What animal are you?

The kids on the movie screen were being asked: “What animals are your family members like?” I asked Mookie what animal I was and she instantly answered, “You’re a giraffe.”

“Really? Why?”

“I’ve always thought of you as a giraffe,” she said. I have to say this was a surprise. I do not think of myself as remotely giraffelike.

“But in what way am I like a giraffe?”

She said, “Tall, thin…


I like the pause and the addition of -ish. I’m also not tall except in comparison to Mookie and Joy, but that’s enough to establish me as “the tall one.”

“You’re smart. You have freckles.
You had chicken pox twice.”

(This is true, and has clearly made quite an impression on Mookie.)

“Which makes you kind of have spots. And you’re almost a vegetarian.”

I’m moved to realize that since she was two, my daughter has thought of me as a mother giraffe. It’s sweet.