"Hey mum! Look at those ducks!"
I turned round to see what had caught my seven year old's attention and then immediately wished I hadn't. On the grass to the right of us were two ducks, the male trying, in time honoured fashion, to have his wicked way with the female who was doing her best to shrug him off.
I didn't know what to say. So I said nothing.
"The boy one is going to keep chasing the girl one and when he catches her, he's going to love her," carried on my daughter, showing a depth of knowledge that I didn't know she had, even if her terminology was a bit off. By this point my youngest was engaged, interested and full of questions about the ducks' activities as well.
Now I know that I am supposed to be open and honest and answer all questions with as much truth as the context demands but she caught me off guard. I could see another woman who had clearly heard what had been said. She was staring at me, almost challenging me. "So," her look clearly said, "How are you going to deal with that then?" What is this, I thought, a spectator sport?!
I didn't deal with it. I changed the subject, ignored the copulating ducks and continued on our journey feeling deeply inadequate in the certain knowledge that I had broken all the parenting rules. Again.
So this week, when there was a talk at the high school about how they teach these things to the kids I went along, hoping to learn a thing or two.
There were three of us there together with two members of staff and a very young looking woman from the PCT who was hoping to deliver a ten week course on how to talk to your children about embarrassing things. Notwithstanding the poor turnout, she began by telling us how important it was not be dismissive of our children's questions but to answer them as openly as possible. I confessed my duck story to the group. The group leaded trotted out three or four stock phrases to be used when the question is posed at an inopportune moments. I tried hard to remember them.
We left an hour later having agreed that there was no need for a ten week course but a further night to look at how to deal with peer pressure and drug taking might be useful. Of this more later.
Generally I think I am quite good at dealing with difficult issues but there haven't been many. My elder two went through two pregnancies with me without ever once asking how the babies got in there in the first place. And now, whilst child number two would be quite private if it were left up to her, she isn't given a chance to be because her sister is happy to ask the most intimate questions at the tea table.
I think where I went wrong with the ducks was lack of preparation. Because her siblings showed no interest in procreation at her age, it never crossed my mind that my youngest daughter would. But she is a different child with a different mind and a different set of friends, several of whom have older brothers.
So next time I'll be ready. I know the questions may come, I have my strategies if she asks at an embarrassing moment and if I get really stuck I can always tell her to go and quiz her sisters. And when my son starts asking awkward questions I have my answer all ready - Go ask your dad!