Privacy, Please

What do you tell a 4-year-old after she busts in on you when you're having sex?
girl pushing open a door

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The important thing to know is that we are not sex addicts.

We are not cavalier about where or when we engage in sexual congress.

We have a door on our bedroom and we do, on occasion, close it. That said, let me try to set the stage for a night when our door was slightly ajar.

It was around 9 P.M. I'd been cuddling with my then 4-year-old daughter, having just read her a bedtime story. It's a lovely ritual that brings the day to a close in a warm, cozy fashion; in fact, nine times out of ten I pass out in her bed only to wake up sometime around 1 A.M. with the hardback version of Goodnight Moon splayed across my face and a Barbie-shaped dent in my shoulder. Most nights I stumble bleary-eyed out of her room like some sorority girl doing the walk of shame out of a frat house. Other nights my husband will rouse me and lead me back to our bedroom, sparing me permanent damage to my face and back.

On this night I awoke to his giving me a gentle shake/shove. When I staggered dead-eyed into the bedroom, he gave me a come-hither glance and whispered sweet nothings to me: "Wanna do some (euphemism for intercourse)-ing?"

It was no wonder he'd gotten turned on -- I was wearing my third-most flattering yoga pants and a T-shirt/sports-bra combo that squishes my breasts together into one long, ready-for-anything uniboob.

I shook the cobwebs from my head like a Looney Tunes cartoon character, then responded to his offer by purring, "Y'aright, let's go."

We commenced our foreplay routine. On that night we decided to go with #4A, though we did shake it up with a few added elements. Fast-forward maybe 12 minutes or so -- I'll spare you specifics, though I will say that my thigh muscles were being worked to capacity and that I was making good use of my balancing skills, while my husband was exercising his neck muscles and his ability to hyperextend his elbows.

Things were progressing fairly well and we were both poised to "complete our task," you might say, when I happened to turn my head and see our child standing at the bedroom door, rubbing her sleepy eyes.

"Momma?"

My husband and I froze for a split second before uncoupling with the force of a gasoline explosion. He somersaulted into a pile of laundry only to emerge fully clothed, wrapped in a pillowcase, my yoga pants, and a "Got Milk" baseball cap. I stood there, nude (save for socks; it was November in Chicago -- don't judge), babbling incoherently, and wondering if we'd just scarred our child for life.

Suddenly, the kid emitted a gleeful shriek, ran to the bed, climbed up onto it, and began jumping.

"Bounce time!" she squealed. "Bounce time!"

Clearly she was not disturbed by what she had seen. If anything, she was in a state of pure delight, having gleaned that we were in the middle of some hilariously fun, bouncy party game, and she wanted in on it too.

It took some delicate wrangling -- underscored by my saying "no" in every tone imaginable -- but I was finally able to usher my daughter into her own room for the night.

My husband and I crawled back into bed. By that point we were both too tired and too disturbed to even consider resuming our previously scheduled activities.

Several nights later, now mostly healed of the mortification, we endeavored to finish what we had started. This time we closed the door and were taking a no-nonsense, almost surgical approach to the finish line when I heard a slow click, looked up, and saw my kid standing in the doorway. This time she was holding an armful of dolls and giggling in a high creepy voice that, in movies, usually signals the arrival of the Antichrist.

It was even more shocking the second time around. It was as though she had developed some sort of pervy sixth sense that, combined with her 4-year-old fighting weight (which meant she was not quite heavy enough to make the floors creak), allowed her to simply materialize like the sex-murdering specter that she was.

One week later, we installed a lock on the door. It seemed a perfect solution -- and it was, in that it kept her out of eyeball's reach. But it also prompted her to sit outside our door and wail -- and FYI, it is darn near impossible to achieve any sense of "closure" when someone is pounding her tiny fists on your bedroom door and yelling, "No bounce! No bounce!"

Concerned that, were we to allow this to continue, my husband would suffer from permanent blue ballage, we realized that the time had come for us to have a conversation about privacy. I would take the lead, and he would stand by to add color commentary on an as-needed basis.

How to Establish a Bedtime Routine
How to Establish a Bedtime Routine

The Privacy Conversation

I opened the door and picked up the teary-eyed little party crasher.

"I wanna bounce on the bed."
"It's nighttime. We're going to sleep."

I carried her into her room and tucked her in. My husband stood in the doorway while I sat on the edge of the bed. "When Mommy and Daddy's bedroom door is closed, that means we are having special time together and we need our privacy."

"But that makes me sad." Her lower lip folded into a floppy pout.

"I know. But part of being a big girl is understanding that sometimes people need their privacy."
She stuck her thumb in her mouth and was quiet for a moment. Then:
"Momma?"
"Yes?"
"Why do you put that long thing in your bum?"
Now it was my turn to be quiet.
"What?"
"That long thing in your purse that fell out at the bank."

I quickly ascertained that she was referring to a tampon; those things leap out of my purse in public on a biweekly basis. (My husband clearly had not yet ascertained what she was referring to, as he was staring at me from the doorway, mouthing, "What the...?")

"That's called a tampon. And I don't put it in my bum."
Thumb in mouth.
I looked to my husband for moral support. I couldn't see his face, because it was in his hands. All I could see were his shoulders, quaking. He was either laughing hysterically, or crying uncontrollably, either of which would have been understandable (but totally unacceptable) at that moment.

Then I had a brainstorm. Songs! Our child responded very well to music. When washing her hands caused her to scream as though they were being dipped in battery acid, I came up with "The Hand-Washing Song." When potty training was going so slowly it seemed she would be wearing Cinderella diapers at her wedding, I improvised "The Pee-Pee on the Potty Song."

"Today I made a pee-pee on the potteeee
Today I made a pee-pee on the potteeee
Today I made a pee-pee on the potteeee
And now I get a sticker! Bing bong!"

(I never said I was Elton John. My point is that my songs did the trick.)
"I have an idea," I said. "Let's sing 'The Privacy Song.'"
"What's that?"

I immediately created a jaunty little tune, and I don't mean to brag but improvising songs for toddlers in the middle of the night is where I really shine.

"It's the privacy song!
It's the privacy song!
Asking for privacy is never wrong
It's the pri-va-cy sooooong!"

We sang it a few times until I was sure she had it.
"So what does it mean when Mommy and Daddy's door is closed?"
"Privacy," she said.
"Right. Any more questions?"
She shook her head, gave me a sleepy smile, then stuck her thumb in her mouth and rolled over.

And I must say, feeling awash with pride as I was, I may have strutted out of her bedroom -- and yes, as I passed my husband I may have even leaned in for a high five. I didn't get the high-five return, but the spirit of celebration was with us when we climbed back in the saddle, finally closing the deal that we had embarked upon, lo those many days ago.

We were both rounding the corner to home plate when we heard the unmistakable and terrifying sound of our doorknob being rattled. We paused and waited for the rattling to stop. And it did, only to be followed by the sound of a tiny voice whispering right outside the door.

"You're having privacy."

And then, as I suppose I really should have predicted, the little specter lay down, pressed her lips up to the crack between the floor and our door, and proceeded to serenade us:

"It's the privacy song!
It's the privacy song! ..."

Excerpted from How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane: And Other Lessons From a Highly Questionable Source, by Johanna Stein. Available from Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

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