Sunday, 11 July 2010
There is a question that strikes fear and terror into the hearts of most parents today. That question is:
Where do I come from?
Many parents will stare at their five year old cherub, whose innocent, beatific face is beaming at them, and feel the urge to run screaming from the room. Most people will react instinctively and blurt out a veiled explanation involving birds, bees and storks. Others will stutter and stumble and then blind their child with science. Some will probably say “Mind your own business” and walk out of the room.
And there are those that will invent a preposterous tale about fantasy creatures.
When I consider the miracle that is the creation of life, I am simply shocked that parents tell their children such lies about this beautiful concept. I heard a few of these bizarre untruths when I was an innocent five year old and frankly one or two of them scared me to death.
The first lie I was told was “the stork brought you”.
“What’s a stork?” was my next question.
If you think about it, telling a child that they were carried to their parents by a big bird is an awful thing to do.
Just think about it for a second.
When my mother told me that I was delivered by a bird, I asked my granddad what a stork looked like when I next saw him. This was a relatively easy question for him and one that wasn’t accompanied by the embarrassment that sex invoked – he didn’t know what had prompted this strange question.
My granddad loved my inquisitive nature and so he took my hand and led me to his bookcase, full of dusty old tomes on a variety of subjects. He selected an encyclopaedia of birds, lifting it from the shelf, blowing away the cobwebs before opening it on the table. With me perched on his knee, he flicked through the book and opened it at a page with a picture of a huge ugly bird.
A stork is a big wading bird that can grow up to five feet tall and has a wing span of six to seven feet. To a five year old child that is absolutely huge. Even worse, it has a huge pointed bill and long skinny legs.
So imagine how that hideous, winged brute looked to a young child like me. Something like this:
I recoiled in horror, particularly when I saw the sharpness of the bill. I had visions of an enormous bird flying over me, staring at me with its black eye, before swooping down towards my naked and helpless form with its monstrous sword like beak ready to pierce my flesh. My imagination ran amok.
Would I be stabbed?
Would it open its mouth and swallow me before somehow regurgitating me into my mother’s stomach?
“What’s wrong?” asked my granddad.
I told him what my mother had said and suddenly his enthusiasm for my questions vanished, only to be replaced by the primeval fear that had gripped my mother when I asked that first fateful question. So what did my granddad do? What did this wonderful old man, whom I loved and depended on say to me to appease the situation?
He lied to me. This was the second lie.
“The stork brings you wrapped in a sheet,” he said. “It’s just like a postman. It flies along and delivers you to your mother. It drops you down the chimney.”
His lie had made the situation far worse. My weird imagination, which was almost as crazy as it is today, flew into overdrive, carrying me into new realms of horror. The massive revolting bird in the book, somehow smothered me into a sheet as a baby, and then whisked me up in the air, carrying me to my mother’s house. When it arrived, instead of soaring down, knocking on the door and handing me to my mother, the feathered beast simply dropped me from a great height, into the chimney.
What if it had missed the chimney?
What if the chimney hadn’t been wide enough and I had got stuck?
What it I had bounced off the chimney and rolled down the roof?
Would my mother be there at the bottom of the chimney to catch me?
What if she forgot and I landed in the fireplace?
Would the stork have warned her that I was coming?
What if there was a roaring great fire waiting to incinerate me when I reached the bottom?
I was distraught. My poor granddad and mother wondered what happened. Both of them had forgotten how children interpret the facts that bombard them in the first ten years of their lives. Imagination is a devious thing and each person on the planet interprets facts differently. And as I have said before – I have a very weird imagination.
As I stared at the stork and pictured myself being kidnapped by the thing, another question occurred to me:
Where did the stork get me from?
Surely I must have existed before the stork got me.
I asked my granddad and by now he was wading through a mine-filled quagmire of deep panic. My granddad was one of the most articulate men I have ever known, yet I had reduced him to a gibbering stuttering wreck.
I imagined a huge commune of babies lying there in blissful ignorance in a creepy location that was a bit like a postal sorting office, until an army of storks arrived and selected one each (or two or three if the poor parents were lucky enough to have twins or triplets). In my imagination, when the storks swooped down, I pictured babies putting up a fight but being subdued by white cloth.
And then I thought; who put the babies there in the first place?
My granddad had an ace up his sleeve for this one. His distraught face suddenly changed as dread evaporated. He smiled benignly and said: “Babies come from God.”
As far as I was concerned, that was it; question answered. My granddad was a strict Roman Catholic and managed to pat himself on the back for answering my question and also sew the seeds of religion in my mind in one fell swoop.
I’ve often wondered where the stork story originates. As a five year old child, I saw a stork as a monster; my opinion has changed.
Now that I have (sort of) grown up, I see them for what they are; graceful creatures and very beautiful. The stork depicted in cartoons carrying babies, is in fact the white stork, a pure white bird with black feathers on the wing. In flight it is a majestic sight, so the symbolism of this lovely bird carrying a fragile young baby in a sheet does conjure a charming and people image. Furthermore, the stork is seen as a symbol of happiness, luck and fidelity and, because they sometimes nest on chimneys, could easily lead to the popular tale that this wonderful bird is responsible for delivering a child to a mother.
Nevertheless, one question remains unanswered for me, even today:
Why would parents and grandparents go to such great lengths to avoid answering a very simple question?
I suppose, considering this for a second, that telling a young child exactly how a baby is created is probably enough to traumatise the poor blighter for a good few years.
Honesty, in this particular case, is definitely not the best policy.
I can imagine the look on a child’s face if a parent to go into the finer details of sexual intercourse, not to mention the next part, where you have to describe an army of tadpoles and an egg.
When I discovered for myself what happened, as a teenager, I was shocked but amazed.
The creation of a human being is a miracle. There is simply no other way to describe it. Let’s skip the act itself (for now at least), and move onto the aftermath of the sweaty, post-coital activities of the new players on the stage; the sperm and the egg.
During sex, a man unleashes an army of up to 200 million sperm. Think about that for a second.
200 million sperm.
A single sperm resembles a tadpole, complete with a head, a neck, a middle bit and a tail. As soon as this army of sperm are released, they enter a race to reach their ultimate goal, their Holy Grail if you like. Can you imagine 200 million tiny little tadpoles swimming through the cervix and into the uterus, battling away with each other until they reach the egg?
However, this is no ordinary race; it is a quest full of hurdles and dangers that Indiana Jones would think twice about embarking upon.
First of all, the female immunity defences immediately target the army that has just invaded the body, resulting in a huge number of them dying really quickly.
Eventually, as the army races towards its objective, the number is reduced further, so that by the time they reach the egg, there are only a couple of hundred left. That’s almost 200 million sperm that died on the way.
Finally, one lucky sperm manages to penetrate and fertilise the egg, presumably leaving a whole bunch of totally pissed off sperm hanging around outside waiting to die.
This means that you and I, dear reader, are created as the result of an epic struggle of one unbelievably heroic sperm winning a race of life and death against 200 million others.
How brilliant is that?
It makes me wonder what would have happened if the leading sperm had somehow tripped up or incapacitated on the way. Would I have been a different person? I would assume so; I would guess that perhaps my appearance and personality would be different in a subtle way.
I could have been a girl. Imagine that if my manly heroic sperm had lost the race to another equally heroic but altogether different sperm that turned me into a woman.
Basically what I’m saying is that it is an absolute miracle that you are the person you are and that I am the person that I am.
I could have been so much different; I might not even have made it. What would have happened if, for example, all of the sperm had faltered and failed on the occasion of my conception?
Perhaps I wouldn’t have existed at all. Perhaps you would be reading some other drivel instead of this post.
I can sort of understand that explaining the miracle of birth to a small child is not only a question of embarrassment. Most parents would struggle to cope with the mind-boggling enormity of it all.
I’m awestruck just thinking about it now. Any number of factors could have prevented my conception resulting in a different person being here – or no person at all.
Perhaps I might have been a handsome bulldog of a man with charm and intelligence, living a luxurious life in a colossal house on a sun drenched tropical beach, with so much money that I used it as wallpaper for my billiard room. I might even have started a blog called the Plastic Billionaire or the Plastic Hawaiian.
Knowing my luck, I would have ended up as a Jeremy Kyle contestant, pouring out my troubles to a drooling audience of car crash TV fans.
For that alone, I thank my lucky stars that the correct conditions prevailed to produce the author of this nonsense you are reading.
May the stork be with you.