Well, it took a week of nursery school, but Boo finally asked me about my sex life in front of all the other parents.
We were sitting in the schoolyard at pickup time, surrounded by a frothy mass of child and parent and stroller. As I witlessly pursued the usual post-school inquiries that kids universally loathe (“Did you do art? Really? You did?"), Boo interrupted with a question of her own.
“Daddy, when you and mommy are taking a shower at the same time…"
Oh, hell, I think. Furtively glancing around to see if anyone is paying attention, I plan my chuckling response of “Oh, we have two showers in the house, hee, hee, aren’t kids a riot!”
I’m also inwardly marveling at how early Boo has started to ask these serious “Questions About Life” that we all dread. She’s supposed to ask about treats or where she can find a really, really tiny baby shirt to wear. But then she’s all “Are the animals at the museum real or dead?” She’s not supposed to ask about life. Not yet, right?
Well, onward. “If you and mommy are taking a shower at the same time, I could take care of myself in my room, right?”
Aha. This isn’t going where I’d thought. Boo had taken care of herself and her baby sister that very morning for a good twenty minutes while I shaved and showered, so I said, “Well, sure! You’re good at taking care of yourself.”
Follow-up number one: “How about if mommy is at work and you are inside, I could be by myself in the backyard, right?”
I feel like a spy: I’m learning indirectly about what the kids’ conversations amongst themselves through the questions Boo is asking. Clearly, Boo’s been having the “How independent are you?” chat with her new friends. Fair enough: I’m game for some virtual eavesdropping.
“Sure, but I’d check on you a lot, because I can see you from the kitchen windows.”
A few moments of processing and then Boo delivers the coup de grâce. “So if you and mommy and Claudia go to London, can I stay here and take care of Carson?” (Carson is the cat.)
This escalation is surprising because Boo’s been talking incessantly about going to London herself — to meet Mary Poppins, natch. I’m a little taken aback that she’d be willing to miss the trip.
Anyway, I’d been doing too much explaining that day so I asked her what she thought about it.
“Maybe if Uncle K– and Aunt J– [who live in town] came over sometimes for dinner,” she began. “And A– [the neighbor teenager and potential babysitter] could play with me.” These weren’t improvised responses: she’d been thinking this out. Five days in preschool and the girl’s already individuating. Sheesh.
I totally get where it’s coming from: for her first three years Boo has had a designated adult “in charge” at all times; at school, it’s more a group thing. The twenty-ish kids go from station to station, inside and out, being minded variously by four teachers. We’ve always played a man-to-man defense and suddenly she’s facing a zone. (Sorry if I’m embarrassing myself by the sports metaphor: I’m hopeless at that stuff.) This is a level of freedom new to Boo: she gets to choose her own grownup, or can even avoid them entirely for a while. And for a kid who is already pretty independent — well, let’s just say that I suspect she’s already planning to get her own apartment next fall.
Fortunately, the key to answering unreasonable children’s requests is the ambiguous future tense. My reply runs roughly like this, inner voice highlighted: “Not now, but someday [when you’re 16] you’ll be able to stay by yourself for a while [45 minutes, tops] and take care of Carson [don’t turn off your phone, though].”
She seems satisfied with that answer; at any rate, she quickly changes the subject to something equally alluring, like the prospect of nicking some more Scooby snacks.
One more step: my little girl is getting so frikkin’ big.