I totally stole the idea from a professor.
With three children (including two boys) working through adolescence at relatively the same time, he had to come up with a strategy that would allow for a lengthy awkward conversation with a natural pressure valve built into the destination.
So he chose ice cream.
Stopping at every yellow light, it could take almost 30 minutes from his house to the Braum’s across town, providing plenty of time to have “the talk” with his child, then a merciful pause including an ice cream of the kid’s choice, then the return journey (hitting conspicuously less lights) for any follow up discussion or music.
When we realized our oldest son, Cadence, though only 7, was already hearing some interesting things on the bus, we decided it was time to have “the talk” 1.0. Or really, 1.1, since we had already spoken a couple times about respecting physical boundaries (his and others), and about the need to talk with us if anyone (especially adults) ever touched him inappropriately or just made him uncomfortable. Mikala and I have also never shied away from basic physical affection in front of our children, and have sought to create a safe space for any dialogue or questions he might have.
But this was different. He was starting to hear about sex, to take more note of physiological differences – and differences in sexual orientation. He had already said – totally unbidden – that he knew sometimes men liked men and women liked women. Not only had he encountered pieces of this from older schoolmates, but we went to an affirming church where clergy are often openly gay or transsexual, and live in a relatively progressive town with many examples of non-heteronormative lifestyles. Plus, Bloomington’s Pride Festival was that weekend, and we had been discussing if we should attend as family.
It was time to lay out some of the basics, and to address the things he had already noticed. But, while I may love ice cream, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so we chose an appointment-free morning and together we slowly drove across town to Chick-Fil-A for some chicken biscuits.1 En route, I brought up the morning a couple months back when he had said he “knew what sex was.” I asked if he remembered saying that, and if he could tell me what he knew. I affirmed (probably ad nauseum that morning) that above all, we wanted he and his siblings to know that no topic was ever off-limits; that anything they had questions or thoughts on could be brought to the table.
The “knowing about sex” was a non-issue, a fifth grader’s idle talk, but provided the opening I needed both to explain that his friends would probably say many things that sounded secretly cool or even weird, but would likely not actually be true. And it gave me a chance to tell the truth.
We talked about the basics of human sexuality, from the physical differences in men and women and how those (generally) apply to heterosexual intercourse and birth. I offered to tell him more or answer questions (he had a couple) and promised to continue that part of the discussion over time. Then I brought up his other comment, that he knew some people liked others of the same sex. Again, he remembered the words (and knew the right term was “gay”) so we began talking about it . . .
No, not the physical details of homosexual intimacy, but the point of sexual love.
“Look,” I said, “sex is weird, but it’s wonderful. It feels great and is a totally natural thing to do with someone – but especially someone you love. The point isn’t just to feel good, but to feel close. To share something special with another person, to give part of yourself to them – to show how much you love and care for them.”
“Sex isn’t the point of loving relationships, but it’s the best way of taking our feelings and words (you know all the times Mommy and I say, ‘I love you’?) and making them real. Mommy and I do all sorts of things for each other, things that show we want to take care of each other and you, but sex is a special way to make our love real . . . and one of the results of that was you.
“Because the point of love is to bring Life into the world, to make the world better through our love of each other. And that includes sex. Do you understand?”
“Ummm, not really.”
“Okay. Well, because Mommy and Daddy love each other, we wanted our love to bring something more into the world that we love; we wanted it to be alive, different, bigger than us. So we had you, your brother, and sister.”
“But Daddy, two men that love each other can’t have babies.”
“No they can’t – and that’s the point! Because as wonderful as you and your siblings are, our love is bigger than you. And if we’re doing it right, it brings even more aliveness into the world than just more people. If our love is really like Jesus’ love, it will overflow onto every person we meet, making them feel more free and beautiful and alive than before they met us.
“Sex is amazing, but it’s only a way for me to show Mommy I love her. Jesus’ love, the kind of love I married Mommy to try and get better at, is meant for everyone. And any two people can come together and learn to love each other and give themselves to each other and sacrifice and help and hope and make their world more beautiful. You don’t have to be a man and woman or be making babies for that to happen. That’s the sort of love and Life Jesus came to show us.
“We’ll keep talking more about this in the future. But we wanted to talk about this now, not only because you’ll probably hear . . . interesting . . . things from your friends, but also because you’ll start to notice that some people don’t agree with this. Some people will say that only men and women can love each other and have sex and bring life into the world through this kind of love. Mommy and Daddy don’t agree with them, but we love them and you need to know it’s okay to think differently but we still need to love the people we disagree with – we’re still supposed to make their lives better. But it’s even more important to show people who are gay that we love them and that Jesus loves them just like they are. Their love can be just as beautiful as your Mommy and Daddy’s if they’re also trying to make the world and the people they meet more alive.”
(A long silence.)
“I know that’s a lot. Does that make any sense?”
“I think so.”
“Don’t be afraid to ever ask a question or tell us anything, okay?”
“Can we go in and get our chicken now?”
1. No, the irony is not lost on me.↩