We recently came across two pigs mating at a farmer’s market. They were snorting and grunting under a beach umbrella in a small pen. The pen was attached to the stall of an old man who sold ugly things fashioned from driftwood. The old man ignored his pigs. Adults smiled nervously and tried to hurry past but children stopped dead and stared.
“Are they getting married?” my daughter Annie asked.
She was seven. She knew about males and females and seeds and growth but we’d never gone into the mechanics of it.
The boar struggled to stay on top of the sow as she tried to walk away.
“Look!” Annie cried. “She doesn’t want to get married.”
Her brother, thankfully, had run ahead to a pizza stall and was missing all of this.
“Come,” I tried, “let’s go and see where JD is.”
“Who’s the boy and who’s the girl?” Annie asked without budging.
“The boy,” my wife said with some reluctance, “is the one on top.”
“Why’s he pushing the girl around?”
“What do you mean?” I asked to buy us time.
Annie looked at me in a way I knew was merely a sample of the looks I’d get in her teenage years.
“Why,” she said carefully, “is the boy pig bullying the girl pig?”
There was another little girl of Annie’s age. Her father, a tall and gaunt man, smiled nervously at me.
“Good luck,” he mouthed.
“Well,” I answered Annie, “he’s not bullying her. He’s just on top.”
The gaunt father began to hurry his daughter along.
“Why?” Annie insisted and folded her arms.
Under the umbrella the boar groaned and heaved while the sow chewed on something.
“Don’t insert knob A into hole B,” my wife warned cryptically.
Annie looked at her mother and then at me.
“What’s knob A?” she asked.
“Come Lisa—” the gaunt father said with a hint of panic in his voice.
I knelt beside Annie.
“The boy has to be on top,” I said, “because it wouldn’t work otherwise.”
“Don’t do it—” my wife warned again.
Annie scowled at the grownups around her and asked, “Why not?”
“Well,” I said, taking the plunge, “because his willy is at the bottom, see? That’s why.”
“You’re on your own now,” my wife declared.
Annie carefully considered the pigs.
“Is that his willy?” she asked after a few long moments. “That thing?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “Don’t point.”
“Is that her fanny?” Annie asked with surprising calm.
There was no way out now.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yech!” one of the other children exclaimed.
“What’s hole B?” Annie pressed on.
“This is your fault,” I said to my wife. “You—”
“Don’t even think about it,” she cut me short.
The gaunt father was still attempting to coax Little Lisa away, but she refused to move. He had the wild look of someone who knew that every second mattered.
The sow squealed loudly.
“He’s a bully!” Annie said.
“Boys are bossy!” Little Lisa agreed.
At this her father gave up and fled to a safe distance. I wanted to go with him but I couldn’t.
“This is how big pigs make baby pigs,” I said.
“I know,” Annie said flatly and dismissed my little trick. “Are they married now,” she asked, “like you and Mamma?”
For a moment I considered explaining the difference between sex and marriage but then the old man, who had come to lean on the fence, spoke up.
“The boy pig is Hansel,” he said, “and the girl pig is Gretel.”
He smiled at Annie.
“They’re not married,” he added.
I was stunned. It wasn’t clear why the pigs were at the market in the first place. It was even less clear why we needed this morsel of additional information.
“Is he her brother?” Annie asked.
“Yes,” the old man laughed and scratched in his beard. “They shouldn’t be doing that.”
“Are you Mamma’s brother?” Annie asked, unconcerned.
“No,” I said, “of course not.”
The pigs scuffled and grunted while Annie glared at the old man. After a few moments she turned to us.
“Did you get married like this?” she asked.
“Not like this,” I blurted.
It was too late.
“How?” she asked.
The old man smiled to himself.
“Well—” I began.
“Did you push Mamma around?” Annie asked.
The two little feminists looked at me and folded their arms. Thinking back on it now it’s clear that the truth was not as important as I thought it was.
“Not always,” I said.
“And never again,” my wife muttered in the background.
The gaunt father had snuck back and was trying to pull Little Lisa away. She gripped the fence and wailed until he hurried off.
“Did Mamma push you?” Annie asked.
I was out of options.
“Sometimes,” I said. “It’s different for people.”
Annie gazed at the pigs while she considered this.
“Show me,” she said.
The old man chuckled.
“You can make me a sister,” she added.
“Let’s go and find JD,” my wife said and began to steer Annie away. “He’s got pizza!”
“I’m never getting married,” Annie announced.
“Neither am I,” Little Lisa agreed.
As we walked off in search of her brother, Annie turned to look at the pigs one last time. Then she addressed us.
“There’s JD and me,” she said in disgust. “You got married twice!”