Well, the Boy Guinea Pig Gets on the Girl and Then …
Having the sex talk while your husband is deployed.
The ground beneath my feet seemed to shift again. I decided to take a hard-line approach. "Only a Mommy and a Daddy can do it when they're married, because they love each other."
Now Estee looked up, interested. "Can you do it if you hate the person?" she wanted to know.
It was my turn to be speechless. The Earthquake of Sexual Misunderstanding, sure to crater my children's emotional terra firma forever, seemed just seconds away. And I was on my own.
But there's one thing I have experience doing myself: talking about deployment with the children. And as it happens, talking to your kids about sex is a lot like talking to them about deployment. What you say matters less, almost, than how you say it. As long as the children sense that you're not overly emotional, or stressed out, or angry, they'll probably do all right. I spent many years trying to figure this out. Finally, I began to see that Ethan and Estee take their cues from me during Scott's absences. If I cry, they cry; the moment they tap into my weakness, they fall apart.
So, with this in mind, I straightened up and resumed the conversation. Reducing the discussion to clinical terms and details soon caused the kids to lose interest. We soon moved on to another topic.
It struck me as funny, and appropriate, that preparing for deployment readied me for one of the most unexpected things I had to do alone because of that deployment. It was very military spouse-ish, very you're-stronger-than-you-think-you-are. I don't have many moments like that. Usually, I'm counting my failures and cursing my inadequacies, begging for mercy.
This time, I found myself pleading for only one thing: birthday or not, no more pets.
Alison Buckholtz is the author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War (Tarcher/Penguin 2009), which will be released in paperback this spring with a new afterword and reader's guide.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel.