About the Birds and the Bees
4247 Maplewood Dr.
Saturday, November 13, 1993
“Twenty five, sideline, twenty,” the sports announcer said—Lee could hear the growing excitement in the man’s voice—the same excitement he was feeling himself as he watched the quarterback run down the field, ball in hand. “Fifteen, ten—and it’s a touchdown for Adrian Jarrell!”
“Yeah—that’s the way to do it!” Lee’s fist pumped the air. This had been billed as the ‘Game of the Century’ by both NBC and ESPN—only forty-five minutes in and it was already living up to its name. He reached over towards the coffee table and grabbed for his beer—
“Daddy?” the small voice startled him. Hastily putting the beer can back on the coaster Lee turned to see his daughter standing there, dressed in her nightgown and robe. One hand held her cabbage patch doll Bella—her other hand rubbed at her eyes as she regarded him curiously.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked him.
“I was just—I was just talking to the television,” he explained.
“Talking to the TV?” Her dark eyes widened. “But why?”
Why—she would have to ask that, wouldn’t she? “Well sometimes I do that when I’m watching football,” he explained. “It’s only because I get excited.”
“Oh.” Either the reason satisfied Jenna, or she couldn’t think of anything else to ask him. She gave a little sniffle, wiping at her nose with the sleeve of her robe. Looking over at her Lee noted that her cheeks were still a bit pinker than normal, damp tendrils of blond hair clinging to her forehead.
“What are you doing up, munchkin?” he rose from the sofa and walked over to her. “Hmm? Aren’t you supposed to be resting in bed?”
“I can’t—Bella’s scared.”
“Bella’s scared?” Lee asked. Jenna nodded solemnly. Lee decided to play along with her game. “Well what is Bella scared of?”
“A bad dream.” Jenna looked up at him. “Can we sit with you?”
“Sure you can—come here.” Scooping her up into his arms he carried her over to the sofa.
“I can walk, Daddy.” she reminded him.
“Well I know that,” he told her, “But this is express sofa service.”
Jenna giggled. He lowered her onto the sofa and sat back down. She curled up against him, her head resting against his shoulder. Her small body felt warm against his—silently Lee prayed that her fever hadn’t risen any higher.
“Munchkin, where are your slippers?”
“Oh those,” Jenna looked down at her bare feet, as if noticing them for the very first time. “I kicked them off—they got too hot.”
“Lee Stetson, don’t you dare come down here with bare feet—don’t you know you can catch cold that way?” His mother’s voice rang in his ears—funny how he could still remember that after all this time—the sound of her voice—the feel of her arms when she would lift him into the air. So many memories, he thought. Now he was a grown man with a wife and child of his own.
“I know your feet get hot,” he told Jenna. “But you need to keep them warm so you can get better. Here.” Grabbing the afghan from the top of the sofa he tucked it around her feet. “How’s that?”
“Want to tell me what the bad dream was about?”
“Oh—” a little frown creased between her eyebrows. “I dreamed about a leprechaun—he put me in a bag and ran around the room with me.”
“A leprechaun?” Lee repeated.
“Uh-huh.” She looked up at him. “He put Bella in there too, Daddy. And he laughed. It was a scary laugh.”
Jenna and her imagination sometimes—Lee shook his head reflexively. “Leprechauns aren’t real, munchkin.”
“I know,” she replied. “They’re only pretend. Right?”
He could hear the anxiety in her voice. Reassurance was what she needed—he’d seen Amanda do this a dozen times at least. “Right—they’re only pretend.”
“But it seemed really real.”
“Yeah, I know,” he hugged her briefly. “But everything’s fine now—I promise. I’m here and you’re safe.”
“And Bella?” she held the doll up. Lee looked down at the chubby-cheeked object. Not the most attractive doll in the world, he thought. Still it beat Barney by a mile—he was so glad she was past that phase.
“Bella’s safe too.” He kissed the doll.
Jenna smiled. “Good—she’s not scared anymore.”
“Well I’m very glad to hear it.” He said. “So, do you want to go back to bed?”
“Can we stay here with you instead?” Jenna asked.
Lee looked longingly towards the television—noting that Notre Dame had scored yet another touchdown against Florida State—game of the century and he’d missed a crucial play—
Then he thought of his daughter—still sick, having nightmares—
“Of course you can,” he said out loud. “You can stay here as long as you want.”
“Okay.” Jenna replied. For a few minutes she just sat there quietly, her head tucked against his shoulder. For a moment Lee thought she might go back to sleep.
“Is this a football game?” Jenna asked.
“That’s what it is,” Lee replied.
Jenna pointed. “What are they doing on there?”
Trying to explain football to a four year old. Lee tried to think of the best way to do this. “Well,” he began. “There are two teams—each team tries to win and score touchdowns and whoever scores the most points wins.”
“Oh.” She looked at the TV screen. “But all they do is run and fall down.”
“Well, I know it might look like that, munchkin—but it’s a little more complicated,” Lee said. “See the offense tries to get the football into the endzone and that’s six points and then if you kick the ball through the goalposts that’s another point—and a field goal is worth three points—the defense tries to keep the offense from scoring—and well, that’s basically it,” he finished lamely.
Jenna sighed. “It sounds very copulated to me.”
Copulated? Lee stared at his child in shock before he realized what she was trying to say. “You mean complicated,” he told her. “Not copulated. Complicated means something is not easy.”
“What does copulated mean?”
“Well—ahh—” He knew his face must be fire-engine red at this point. “That’s something you’ll learn when you get older.”
“I’ll be five in January,” Jenna reminded him.
“Older than that,” Lee said. Much, much older, he replied silently. The reply seemed to have satisfied Jenna for the time being, however. Crisis happily averted, he watched as Florida State made its first touchdown—the way things were shaping up this was definitely going to be a close one.
“Daddy?” Jenna’s voice broke him out of his reverie. “Can we maybe watch something else?”
“Jenna, this is a really good football game,” Lee told her. “Your Daddy likes football a lot—” his voice broke off as Jenna began to cough—her hand covering her mouth. He rubbed her back until the coughing fit subsided.
“Here,” he said. “Just stay right here and I’ll get you some juice to drink, okay?”
“Okay.” Lee went into the kitchen and grabbed one of the juice boxes that Amanda kept in the fridge, pulling the plastic straw off the back of the box and pushing it through the foil hole on the top. He went back into the family room. Jenna was curled up on her side, wiping her nose with her sleeve.
‘She really doesn’t look like she feels well.’ Both Amanda and Dotty had assured him it really was nothing more than a simple head cold.
But what if it wasn’t?
Suddenly the game of the century didn’t seem that important anymore. He sat back own beside Jenna.
“Here you go, munchkin,” he handed her the juice box. “Sit up and drink this—it should help you feel better.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” Wrapping her hands around the box Jenna took a few sips before putting it down on the coffee table.
“You’re welcome,” he ruffled her hair lightly. “Now what would you like to watch—we can watch anything you want.”
“Umm—can we watch the Aristocats?”
“The Aristocats?” Lee had vague memories of a Disney movie with cartoon cats jumping around—lots of singing—there was always singing in those movies.
Still, at least it wasn’t Mary Poppins with those dancing penguins, he reminded himself. Or even worse, Barney.
“The Aristocats it is.”
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“You’re not a lady—you’re nothing but a sister!” Lee watched as the cartoon kitten tugged on the white kitten’s tail, pulling her backwards. The three cats began to run—leaping over the furniture. He stifled a yawn with the back of his hand as he watched—ten minutes in and already he was fighting to stay awake.
“She is so a lady,” Jenna looked up at him. “Isn’t she?”
“She definitely is, munchkin.”
“I’m a lady too.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Yes, you definitely are.” Jenna snuggled up against his side and Lee allowed his eyes to close as a pleasant weariness stole over him—
“They don’t climb on top of each other like Lisa’s kitties do when they make babies.”
Climb on top—making babies—suddenly Lee was wide awake. He looked down at Jenna. “What did you see Lisa’s kitties do?” he fought to keep his voice as calm as possible.
“Well—one kitty—I think it was the boy,” Jenna said. “He climbed on top of the other kitty and bit her neck and then they sort of walked around like that. They were making really funny noises. Lisa said they were trying to make babies but one of them couldn’t because he was paid.”
“You mean spayed,” Lee corrected her.
“Yes. It didn’t look fun,” Jenna replied. “I think that someone biting you on your neck would hurt, don’t you?”
How on earth to answer this? “It’s just—it’s what cats do, munchkin.”
“So they can have babies?”
“I like baby kittens,” Jenna looked up at him. “They’re cute.”
“They certainly are.” Praying that this was the end of the conversation Lee watched the screen as the butler, who had taken the kittens and put them in a basket, drove up to a large forbidding looking house—
“Marissa says her mommy is having a baby,” Jenna said suddenly. “She says her tummy is really big.”
Marissa’s mommy—he should’ve known it wouldn’t end with kitties—that would’ve been way too simple. “That—that’s nice.” Lee replied.
“Did Marissa’s daddy climb on top of her and bite her neck?”
Was it just him or was it growing hot in here? “No,” Lee replied. “That’s what kitties do. Not people.”
“Then how do people get babies?”
“They—” Lee struggled to think. He tugged at the neck of his t-shirt. If only Amanda was here—this would be so much easier. “Well,” he began. “They get them from—”
“They get them from where?”
She was relentless; the KGB’s best interrogators would’ve given cut him a little more slack. He had to tell her something. As he looked down at Jenna’s doll a sudden burst of inspiration hit.
“Well you remember when we went to Georgia to see your uncle and we got you your Cabbage Patch Doll?”
Jenna nodded. “I remember. From the cabbage patch.”
“Right,” Lee said. “And actually the cabbage patch is part of how mommies and daddies get babies too. Let me explain….”
Wednesday, November 17, 1993
“There we go.” Holding a frosting bag, Amanda carefully piped a layer of chocolate frosting along the outer edge of half of each cookie. That task completed she picked up a bag of candy corn, pressing the candy into the frosting. Beautiful, she thought. They made the perfect turkey’s feathers for her Thanksgiving cookies. Tomorrow morning she’d personally deliver them to Jenna’s class when she dropped her off.
“Mommy, can I help?” Jenna piped up. She sat at the kitchen table with her coloring book and crayons. “I love candy corns.”
“I know you do, sweetheart,” Amanda said. “Do you think you could put some of these on the cookies without eating too many?”
“Um—” Jenna hesitated, biting down on her lower lip. “Well I can try really hard.”
“Okay—well here, you can help me with some of them.” Amanda arranged three of the iced cookies on a small plate along with a handful of candy corns. Moving Jenna’s coloring book to the side she placed the cookies. “Now just press the candy corns into the frosting, just like I’m doing.” she demonstrated as she spoke. “Do you see?”
“With the triangles upside down?”
“That’s exactly right. But first let’s get your hands nice and clean.” She lifted Jenna into her arms and carried her over to the sink.
Jenna held her hands up to her face, turning them over as she studied them. “They look clean,” she announced.
“Well we’ll get them extra clean,” Amanda said. It was at that moment that the phone rang.
Hastily she took Jenna back to the kitchen table and deposited her in the chair.
“Stay right there,” Amanda ordered. She picked up the cordless on the countertop. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Stetson, do you mind telling me just what on earth you think you’re doing?”
The woman’s voice on the other end fairly trembled with indignation. “I’m sorry, but who is this?” Amanda asked.
“This is Debbie Morgan—Terri’s mom. And you still haven’t answered my question.”
Terri’s mom, of course. The woman was vice-chair of the PTA. Amanda had dealt with her quite a few times. She drew in a deep breath, mentally counting to ten before continuing. “Mrs. Morgan, what exactly was your question?”
“I want to know why your daughter is spreading these ridiculous stories at school.”
Amanda cast a glance over at Jenna. Her head was down as she busily colored, humming tunelessly under her breath. “Ridiculous stories?” she repeated.
“Don’t play innocent with me!” the woman huffed. “You know what I’m talking about. I want you to know that my Terri is positively traumatized about this.”
Traumatized—based on what Amanda knew about Terri she tended to doubt that. “Mrs. Morgan I’m very sorry,” she replied. “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Whatever,” Mrs. Morgan said. “I want you to know that this isn’t over—the school board and the PTA are definitely going to hear about this.” A loud click and the phone went dead.
Just what had that been about? Shaking her head, Amanda placed the receiver back in the charger. Maybe she should call Jenna’s teacher Mrs. Fraser—she might know what was going on.
The phone rang again.
“Phone!” Jenna called out.
“Yes, I know, sweetheart.” Amanda picked up the receiver, a feeling of foreboding growing in her gut. “Hello?”
“Amanda, this is Edna Crais, Jaime’s mom. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Amanda said. “Just baking some cookies for the Thanksgiving party tomorrow.”
“You do make some wonderful cookies,” Edna said. “I keep meaning to get the recipe from you—Jaime adores your cookies.”
“Well thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome,” Edna replied. A brief pause. “Speaking of Jaime, I just wanted to let you know that we have been talking to her about the little story that Jenna’s been telling.”
Amanda’s mind was racing. “Well that’s—that’s certainly good to know,” she said. “But Edna, would you mind telling me exactly what—”
“Stories are all well and good,” the woman continued. “And Jenna’s story is certainly creative. However it is 1993, and we prefer Jaime to know the truth instead of fantasies. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
‘Not a single, solitary thing,’ Amanda thought. Out loud she said. “Well yes, I’ve always preferred the truth myself.”
“Really?” Edna Crais sounded surprised.
“Yes, really,” Amanda replied. “In fact, I would like to ask you what Jenna has been—”
“Amanda I’m sorry, I’ve got a call on the other line,” Edna said. “We’ll talk later, all right?”
“All right, goodbye.” Once again Amanda hung up the phone—wondering if she’d entered the Twilight Zone by mistake.
Only in this case the Twilight Zone might make a little more sense.
Amanda stared at her daughter; the key to the entire mystery, who now leaned across the table, arms outstretched as she grabbed one cookie with each hand—
Time to find out what was going on. She walked over to the table.
Wednesday, November 17, 1993
“Good to see you, Stetson,” Amanda greeted him at the door with a kiss. “How were things at work?”
“Boring without you,” Lee wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. “No new cases at the moment—spent the day doing expense reports until I was practically seeing double.”
Amanda’s lips curved upward into a smile. “Well, we’ll just have to see if we can’t do something about that later on.”
“Sounds promising,” Lee murmured. “Where’s Jenna, by the way? She usually runs right out here to see me.” At that Amanda fell silent, her smile fading. Lee felt a stirring of uneasiness deep in his gut. “Nothing’s wrong, is it? Jenna’s not—”
“No, Jenna’s just fine,” Amanda said quickly. “She’s upstairs with Mother. I just thought you and I should have a little talk.”
“A talk about what?”
“About something that’s been happening at school,” Amanda led him over to the sofa. “Let’s sit down over here, okay?”
Lee’s mind raced as he sat facing his wife. What could possibly be happening at school? Jenna had only just started kindergarten. Surely there wasn’t much that could happen in kindergarten—was there? A brief recollection from his own childhood entered his mind—building a fort and throwing graham crackers to defend it from his classmates— though somehow he couldn’t picture his daughter doing that.
But there was definitely something and it wasn’t good—he could read that in Amanda’s expression.
“Just tell me,” he urged her. “What’s going on?”
“This afternoon I had two calls from mothers who have children in Jenna’s class,” Amanda began. “They wanted to talk to me about a little story that Jenna’s been telling everyone.”
“A little story?” Lee repeated. Amanda nodded. Now he was starting to get an inkling as to what this might be about—though part of him desperately hoped he was wrong. “What kind of a little story are we talking about here?”
“You should know, Lee—it’s one that you told her,” Amanda replied. “I believe it concerns the facts of life?”
“Oh—that,” Lee ran both hands back through his hair. “Well, actually I—”
“Stetson, did you honestly tell our daughter that she came from a cabbage patch?” Amanda asked.
“Look, I didn’t know what else to say, all right? ” Lee said. “I mean she was sick, we were watching that movie The Aristocats and she started talking about seeing kittles making babies over at Lisa’s— incidentally I’m not so sure if that’s the kind of thing she should be seeing at her age—”
“—then she asked me if that’s the way people made babies and it worked itself into asking how people made babies and where they come from. After that I was kind of stuck.” As he finished his ramble Lee let out a sigh. “I had to tell her something.”
“I can understand that,” Amanda said. “But why not just tell her the truth?”
“The what??” Lee stared at his wife in shock. “She’s only four. There’s no way she’s even close to being ready for all that.” No way I’m ready for all that, he added silently. Amanda fell silent for a moment, her dark eyes looking into his.
“So what do we do, then?” She asked him. “Do we let Jenna keep telling her classmates about the cabbage patch?”
“No,” Lee replied. “Now, the one thing I can do is end this little lecture circuit. I’ll have a little talk with her, okay?”
“I think you should talk to her,” Amanda said. “And while you’re at it, you can tell her where babies really come from.”
“A-man-da, I’m not—”Lee spluttered. “I mean, she’s not—I can’t.”
“Listen,” Amanda took her hands in his. “No one said you had to tell her every detail—she doesn’t need to know everything right now. Just as much as she can handle.”
As much as she can handle, Lee thought. “Exactly how much is that?” he asked.
Amanda squeezed his hands. “I’ll just go get her—that’ll give you some time to think.” She rose from the sofa.
“No—wait—” Lee said. But by that time she’d already gone upstairs.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“Okay here goes nothing,” Lee muttered to himself. He sat on the sofa, facing Jenna’s cabbage patch doll. The chubby cheeked object stared back at him with a vacant smile—why the hell did kids like these things so much, anyway?
“The thing is, Jenna,” he told the doll. “When I—I mean, the stuff we talked about earlier—you know, about babies? Well, I’m afraid I wasn’t one-hundred percent accurate—” no he couldn’t say that. She wouldn’t even know what ‘accurate’ meant. “Jenna—” he began again. “What I said about babies, it wasn’t really the whole entire story it—” that didn’t work either. Letting out a long sigh, Lee raked his hands back through his hair. This was not going to be easy.
“Jenna.” He picked up the doll. “The thing I’m trying to say, is—”
“Daddy?” Jenna’s voice. Lee turned to see her standing there with Amanda.
“That’s not me,” his daughter reminded him. “That’s Bella, remember?”
“Yeah, I know that, munchkin.” Hastily Lee put the doll aside. “But why don’t you come and sit down here, okay? Sit next to Daddy.” Jenna sat down on the sofa beside him. “There’s something we need to talk about.”
“’Bout what?”” she asked, looking up at him.
“Umm—” He looked over at Amanda, who gave him an encouraging smile. “Remember when we talked about babies? About where they come from?”
Jenna nodded. “Yeah—I told all my friends too.”
“I know you did,” Lee said. “The thing is, when I told you about the cabbage patch, I wasn’t exactly telling you the whole truth.”
“What is the whole truth?”
“Well babies—they sort of grow inside mommies—inside their bodies.”
Jenna’s eyes grew wide. “Is that why their tummies get so big?”
“Well yeah, that’s the reason,” Lee replied. “You see, there needs to be room for the baby to grow.”
Jenna stared at her Mom. “Is there a whole cabbage patch in there?”
Amanda bit her lower lip as a little giggle escaped. Lee shot her a warning glance before continuing. “Not a cabbage patch, no—but there is a special place for the baby.”
“But no cabbage patch, right?” Jenna asked.
“Right, munchkin. No cabbage patch.”
“A special place? Is the special place in the stomach?”
“Ahh—no—not in the stomach.” Lee wondered if Jenna could hear how hard his heart was pounding now.”It’s a place called— it’s called a uterus.”
“Uterus?” Jenna repeated.
“Are there any seeds?”
Lee knew his face had to be bright red at this point. “Sort of—let’s just say that when the mommy and daddy love each other they make the baby together and then it grows inside the Mommy—Jenna, what are you doing?” Jenna had pulled her shirt up and she was poking at her belly button with her finger.
“Just trying to figure out how the baby comes out,” she said.
She doesn’t need to know every detail, that’s what Amanda had just told him. Lee took Jenna’s hand and put her shirt back down. “Well it doesn’t come out of the belly button,” he told her.”But when the baby is big enough and ready to come out it will. Does that make sense?”
Jenna nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Is that how I was born?”
“That’s how you were born.”
“I’ve seen pictures,” Jenna looked up at him. “I was really little then, huh?”
“Yes, you were really little then.” Lee hugged her close. “And you were a beautiful baby, munchkin. But listen—now that you know the truth just try to keep it a secret, okay? Don’t tell your friends? ”
“Well because this is something that their mommies and daddies should tell them,” Lee told her. “And no more stories about the cabbage patch either. Okay?”
“Okay—it’s a secret.” Jenna said.
“That’s absolutely right. Do you have any other questions?”
“Not anymore.” Lee let out his breath in a sigh of relief.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Amanda said. “We can help Grandma set the table.”
“Okay,” Jenna scrambled down from the sofa. “There is one more question, Mommy.”
“What’s that?’ Amanda asked.
“Is Daddy going to get a time-out for telling a story before?”
*The usual disclaimers apply. A special thanks to Cheryl, Lynda, Ermintrude , Jan and others for all of the brainstorming help with this in various chats. Scarecrow and Mrs. King is the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Enterprises. All other characters and situations are the property of the author and may not be used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended*