Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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My daughter discovers sex while watching
a documentary about elephants. One of the males
swells with excitement, and his penis, awkward
as a garden hose, begins to divine a way
toward a female he fancies. It is evening:
third-grade homework is finished, and we are cheerful
and sleepy in our pajamas. We have watched other animals
mate on our tour of the natural kingdom — meerkats,
whales, dogs — but she didn’t show much interest
in their unions. Perhaps it is the grand
scale of the elephant, the sheer size of his desire
that causes her to grow alert? She imagines first
that he is deformed: a useless fifth leg waving
from his abdomen. When I call it a “penis,”
she hears “peanut” and cannot stop laughing. Then,
when he mounts the female, she sees what he had in mind.
All mammals do this, I tell her, but she disagrees:
our male dog doesn’t suffer from such a prominent peanut.
Now the discussion becomes about size:
that oldest form of comparison. What she
has witnessed among the sweet, wrinkled elephants
is shocking, absurd. No wonder the girl elephants
kick the boys out when they grow up, she says.
They’re probably afraid of their peanuts. We don’t
speak anymore after this, and we don’t watch elephants
again for a long time. Africa, we agree, is big and wild and hot.