Eventually, every kid wants to know the answer to the big question. I don’t remember when I first asked about it, but I’m sure my father supplied me with some vulgar hypothesis.
For Cousin #5 (one of the youngest of us) the question bolted out fully formed almost thirty years ago. She was a little girl, and we were riding in my mom’s car (probably on the way to church) when she blurted, “Where do babies come from?”
I was surprised at her inquiry, and as a teenager I had no idea how to tell a pixyish girl the traumatizing answer. I looked at my mother, who was driving. I expected her to say something like, “Your mother and father love each other very much, and one night…”
But instead she smiled as if she had been waiting all day for just the opportunity to talk about sex with a kindergartner. Without hesitation, she gave my cousin an honest answer steeped in rigorous scientific principles.
“Babies are made from flour, mixed in a bowl, and baked in the oven like cookies,” my mother said.
My cousin nodded at this. It made sense, of course. But a moment later, she upped the ante.
“But why are we different colors?” Cousin #5 asked.
Now we were on to racial issues.
Even Hispanics fall into the trap of thinking there are no other skin tones besides black and white. The history and clear dichotomy between those two colors supersedes everything else. So how was my mother going to explain our burnt-sienna existence now that she had committed to the cookie theory of creation?
Again, she smiled and spoke without pause.
“Babies are cooked at different temperatures for different amounts of time,” she said. “White babies aren’t in the oven too long, so they come out light. Black babies are in the oven longer, so they are darker. It depends what the mother and father want.”
Cousin #5 brightened at this perfectly logical explanation, and her enthusiasm increased when my mother added, “You are brown, so you were cooked just right.”
In one effortless movement, my mother had tackled existential quandaries, explained basic biology, bridged the racial divide, boosted a little girl’s self-esteem, and came up with one hell of a concept for a cooking show.
To this day, I’m still impressed.