My six-year-old flopped on the bed with no indication whatsoever she was about to drop a bombshell.

“So, Mama, can I have a baby before I’m married?”

I had to think for a minute. These questions are never what they seem, like the time the big horrid bad word she heard at school, that started with “s,” turned out to be “stupid.” My big anti-censorship lecture, wasted.

I decided the best tactic was to answer the question with another question.

“Do you think it’s happened already?”

“NO!” She laughed at me.

“Then clarify, please.”

“What if you have a baby in your tummy, but you aren’t married?”

I’m about to wax poetic on how one does not need to marry someone just because he fathered a child, when she went on. “I mean, does it get stuck in there until you’re married? Can it not come out?”

I feigned a coughing fit so I could compose myself. AND figure out how to answer.

“Well,” I began, with no idea where I was going to take it. “No. The baby will come out whether you get married or not.”

She looked puzzled at this. “But how?”

“Well there are two ways a baby can come out–”

“No!” Exasperation. “Does it have to stay in there longer? How does it stay in there?” 

“Are you asking me how a baby gets INTO the mother?” Please, please say no. I can’t manage this in first grade terminology. I suddenly remembered the infamous line from Kindergarten Cop, “Boys have a penis, and a girls have a vagina!”

“NO!” She gripped the blankets on my bed, frustrated.

“I know this is a real mystery,” I said. “It’s hard to understand.”

“So I can have a baby before I’m married?” Back to square one.

“Yes,” I said. “It might be harder, being a single mom, but people do it all the time.” I gave examples of friends whose moms were raising them, dads gone or moved away.

“But the dad was there when the baby came out.” This is still a sticking point.

“The dad really only has to be there when it goes in,” I said. Although actually, with sperm banks, even that might be optional.

“The dad puts the baby in?” She seems shocked, and I can see her mental image of the dad somehow inserting an infant.

Enough. Bring on the mom cop out. “Time for bed,” I said. “We can talk about this some more tomorrow.”

I herded her to the bedroom. Hopefully tomorrow she’d have easier questions. Like the cost effectiveness of the bank bailout and the economic flow of the stimulus package. Or tips on a successful exit strategy in Iraq.

Quite possibly, it won’t come up again until her wedding day. Or when she tells me I’m going to be a grandma. Whichever comes first.

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