"Mommy, you always keep me safe," said Addie, as she snuggled into bed tonight.
"Yep," I said, lying through my teeth. "That's what mommies and daddies do. I'll always keep you safe."
I took Addie to the pediatrician Friday for her three-year check-up. She was such a big girl, getting weighed on the scale and standing up straight to get measured. They did an eye test with shapes instead of letters, and she stood at the line, covered one eye, and, in a very serious tone of voice, identified the shapes: moon, star, teacup. But when she got to the bottom line, she started to giggle. "Little moon! Little star!" she said.
Then the doctor got down to the physical examination and asked all of the questions about development. Which I think is really just a test to see how bad they can make you feel as a parent. Can Addie long jump over objects? Uh...I don't know. Can Addie hop back and forth from one foot to the other? Not sure. Can she pat her head and rub her belly at the same time? Got me. Basically, we had to run through all the skills in the office because I apparently pay no attention to my daughter and don't know anything about her physical development. Great.
Then the doc popped her up to the examining table, her body naked and shivering, covered only in saggy little underwear and socks. If you have kids, you know that seeing your child's naked, vulnerable little body is just about the most heartbreaking, wonderful thing in the world. They are all translucent skin and softness, or brown wiriness, or downy and round, and you just want to scoop their squirming bodies up in your arms and protect them forever.
"Now, Addie," the doctor began, "I'm going to check your lungs and your heart and your tummy. And then I'm going to look in your underwear. And you know," he said, looking at me especially hard, "that not anybody but your mommy or daddy should look under your underwear or touch you there, unless mommy or daddy says it's okay, right?"
Right, I was thinking. The stranger talk.
I don't know why we haven't had it yet. We're pretty on the ball with stuff like that, I think, and Addie is so verbal that she could have understood the idea of it a long time ago. But I think maybe we've been afraid to scare her, didn't want her to feel extra shy around other people yet. And there seemed so little opportunity for her to be approached by strangers: she doesn't play in the yard alone, doesn't go over to friend's houses, is never really out of our or a teacher's sight. Maybe, too, we were a little worried that talking about it might invite it in, make it real.
But she's getting older now, and says hello to every last Joe she sees on the street. I figured it's time. So, last night, as I was putting her into her jammies, we talked again about how nobody but mommy or daddy should touch her vagina (which I also called "private area" and "special place" as I was fumbling about like an idiot for the right words) or her "boobies," (jesus, is there not a better word? Chest, I guess. Duh.)
Addie nodded solemnly and did her pat, "I promise, I promise, I promise," which is always accompanied by a back and forth of her finger, like she's simultaneously promising something and scolding you. It's hard to know how much she really comprehended. I get the sense it's something we'll need to talk about a number of times before we find out what she really understands.
It's terrifying to think you might not be able to keep your kid safe. That sooner or later, the world comes in and changes them in some way, and you can't be protector, but can only begin to accompany them as they fight and figure their way through experiences, good and bad. I know that's what we signed up for, but it scares me still. I'd like to keep her safe, untouched and innocent, for as long as I can.