This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any existing people is coincidental. If a story involving sexual contact with minors bothers you or is illegal where you live, stop reading now. This is a very slow build and not hard core. If this will frustrate or disappoint you, it may not be the story for you.

This is Part 3. Please start with Part 1, which can be found here: Family Changing Room - 1

Family Changing Room, Part 3

Chapter XI (Carol)

I love my husband. I truly do. He's smart and charming and kind and goofy. I appreciate the goofy part especially sometimes, since it's just what I need to lift my mood. He seems to be able to sense when goofy is becoming annoying and he kisses me at precisely the right time and in exactly the right way. Nobody's perfect, but he really tries and I adore him for it. Now if he would only try harder to keep his hair off the soap in the shower... well, we can all dream, can't we?

I never loved Rick more than when I told him that I wanted to return to my law practice. I'd had the completely blissful luxury of being a full-time Mom for the past five years, since Caroline had been born. Rick and I had been able to manage as two working parents with just Stephanie, but with two kids it just felt like too much. Rick offered to leave his beloved teaching position and take the higher-paying engineering job an old colleague of his had been pestering him about. This left me free to stay home with the girls. I was anxious about falling off the corporate ladder, but every day that I woke up knowing I'd be with my daughters felt like a gift to be treasured.

Of course I overdid it at first. As an attorney I'm in the habit of tracking my time and making the most of every billable minute. As a parent this translated into a relentless schedule of activities. Gymboree, bilingual immersion play-dates, pre-ballet before the girls could even properly walk, the full range of Baby Genius videos... you get the idea. As they got older it was ice skating and soccer and science camp and gymnastics and chess club. At one point Rick gave me one of his thoughtful looks and asked one of his typically simple but insightful questions. "Do they ever get to... you know... play?" The expression on his face said a lot. It wasn't just about me over-parenting. I also sensed that he was feeling disconnected. His work had become more intense and he was spending long hours away from home.

When Caroline entered kindergarten, things changed pretty significantly. With the house empty for most of the day, my brain wouldn't stay still. At first I used the time to plan even more family activities, and tried to get Rick more involved when he was home. But I also started sneaking looks at law journals. It was inevitable that I get caught. My husband is too clever.

"Let's take the girls to the park tomorrow," I ventured. "Just let them run. We can sit under a tree and worry when then fall down, but resist the urge to tell them to be careful." Rick was holding me against his chest in bed. I was relishing the feel of his breathing and the gentle thump of his heart.

He smiled at my tacit acknowledgement of his point about letting them play. "'The Free Range Parent enables more confident and self-actualizing future citizens,'" he intoned. I recognized the quote as the marketing blurb from a website I'd been looking at. Though I intuitively knew that letting the kids just play was a good thing, I still wanted the well-founded sociological research to back it up.

"You... are a snoop, and not to be trusted." I sighed and nestled my head into the crook of his arm. "I'll teach you how to delete your browser history. Your secrets will be safe." When he teased, which was often, it was always gently. He went on casually. "Oh. And I can't agree with your position on Sarbanes-Oxley. It's just too easy for corporate governance to fall back into old habits." Crap. I reached down and pinched his leg, hard enough to actually hurt. "No fair," I protested. "Email is supposed to be private." He looked wounded. "You left it open. I think you wanted me to see it. And owwwwww my leg!"

I thought about this for a long moment. "Maybe." I felt his warm hand slip into the front of my underpants. "Maybe I did want you to see it." I squirmed with annoyance and pleasure. He often tried to diffuse difficult situations by distracting me. "Rick... we should talk about this. I guess I have been thinking about it pretty seriously."

His fingers began working in the lovely and relentless way that he knew I couldn't resist. "I'm claiming habeas corpus, Carol. Say fancy legal stuff... you know how hard it makes me when you speak Latin." I couldn't help but giggle, but I wouldn't be put off the topic.

"Do you think it's ok, Rick? I mean, really ok?"

He smiled and kissed my neck. "I knew you'd want to go back, Carol. I didn't just marry you for your smoking hotness, you know. I love your passion for your work. It inspires me, and I can't imagine you being without it forever." I was listening so intently that I didn't notice he'd gotten my panties down to my ankles. Damn him. And bless him.

"Nolo contendre, pater familius," I murmured. "Oh fuck," he said, entering me urgently from behind. In that moment it was an elegant response. "Volenti non fit injuria," I offered. Rick groaned deeply and sank himself deepest. He had me, body and soul.

**************************

As much as my husband was my other half, it was really my daughters who increasingly defined me. Stephanie and Caroline and I had been together almost constantly for the past five years and I'd seen them slowly become little people. The process was amazing and delightful, and of course challenging and scary too. Girls are noisy and messy and smelly and angry and impossible, just like their male counterparts. I'd had a chance to compare as I was growing up with my younger brother, and sometimes we'd actively compete to see who could shock or gross out our parents more. I usually won. My daughters and I had formed our own tiny tribe that made us feel a part of something bigger than us even when we were screaming at each other.

So, the thought of returning to work left me feeling both excited and empty. Knowing that Rick would have the chance to get closer to the girls made it much easier. He seemed more than ready to return to the relatively sedate roles of teacher and parent. His old school was glad to have him back to tame the high school science lab. I forced myself to trim the kids' extracurriculars down to a more reasonable schedule. Rick appreciated this, but clearly had some lingering uncertainty about his ability to re-engage with them. "What do you think they'll want to... you know... do with me?" he asked. "Just be with them, silly." As I said it, I realized that he probably didn't really know how to do this without me. "You're their Daddy and they miss you and they'll enjoy just being with you." That seemed to reassure him, but his concern was still in my mind when I saw the ad for the new local health and swim club. Swimming was something we hadn't done for lack of a decent pool, but drown-proofing the kids was high on my agenda and it had potential to be a great father-daughter bonding experience.

When we toured the club, I was really quite impressed. They were clearly focused on families, not just the hard-core yuppie athletes who seemed to dominate most gyms. In particular, I thought the Family Changing Room was a lovely idea. I didn't think twice about Rick and the girls using it. My quasi-hippie parents had a casual attitude about clothes around the house, and I'd shared a room with my brother until I was twelve. Seeing male anatomy had done me no harm. In fact, it made me mostly immune to the silly schoolgirl fascination with the subject until I was ready to understand the benefits such anatomy could bring to a girl.

At eight, Stephanie was just entering the inevitable shy phase. Until recently she'd enjoyed joining me in the bathtub from time to time, but lately had been insisting on her own showers. "Baths are for babies," she pronounced one day, looking pointedly at her younger sister. It was sad to see her begin to separate that way, since they'd been quite close for the most part. Of course they sometimes fought like wet cats in a sack, but the notion that "Caroline is a baby and I'm not" was a new part of the repertoire. "You'll both always be my babies," seemed to diffuse the situation, but Stephanie had begun to roll her eyes even at that. I had to content myself with Caroline's precious tush in my lap as I washed her very fine hair.

A girl's age is a relative thing. It operates within a range. Six years old can be three at times, and will try desperately to be twelve at others. Eight will be five when sleepy or scared, but will try on the airs of sixteen in the bright afternoon... especially at the Mall. God save us all, and especially our little girls, from the accursed Mall.

It was easy to project my unconcerned attitudes about family nudity onto the girls without really thinking. Rick reminded me that he hadn't been with them so much. They didn't have the benefit of a little brother who was unashamed to dangle about. And Rick seemed almost as shy as I expected Stephanie to be. It was cute. He blushed like a ten year old. I decided that some preemptive action was warranted before they started going to the club.

I love and hate the internet with equal intensity. Everything you'd ever want to know is at your fingertips, including things that you'll never be able to unsee however much you want to. As modern and liberated as I thought I was, I still felt unsure about having "The Talk" with my daughters without the support of an appropriate text. You have to be able to cite your sources! That had be thoroughly drummed into me in law school. So I gulped and Googled "sex ed for girls." After an awkward twenty minutes of avoid the porn and reading anxious and earnest blog posts by other mothers, I felt a little better prepared. I settled on a pretty basic book called "What's the Big Secret?" that seemed straightforward and not too detailed for my grade schoolers.

I'd love to tell you that I bucked up my courage and sat down with both of the girls for a serious but unashamed discussion about their bodies, and Daddy's body, and all that. I wish I was the Mom that can do that. With Stephanie though, I was pretty sure she'd flee from the room as soon as the topic came up. So, I chickened out. I left the book on Stephanie's nightstand one day when she was at school. I didn't say anything at dinner, trying subtly to read her facial expressions to see... I don't know what, exactly... that she looked enlightened? thankful? embarrassed?

After work the next day I felt a little defeated when I found the book under my pillow. I quietly knocked on Stephanie's door, book in hand, bracing myself. As soon as she saw me the eye rolling started. I tried to play along. "I know, I know... but... it's important you know some things, Steph, however totally awkward."

She looked daggers. "Mommmmmm... that book... it's for babies!"

I should have known that was coming. But at least she'd looked at it. "Ok, ok, but... well... do you have any, you know... questions?" She didn't hesitate for even a second before saying "When can I have an iPhone?" My turn for eye rolling.

I'm a bit prouder of how I did with Caroline. She's a curious child and so far seems uninfected by her sister's reserve or peevishness. I still read to her regularly, so that same night we tucked in with the book and went through it page by page. She made some faces, and actually did ask some questions ("You... and Daddy... did... THAT?"). By the end she was sleepy, her head on my chest and sucking her thumb, apparently untraumatized. I felt like a real mother, something that was rarer now that I was back at work. I'd prepared my precious daughters for their journeys into womanhood. Or at least made it a little less likely that they'd think their father had some strange deformity between his legs. Maybe I should start a blog flashed through my mind for just an instant, but I'm clearly not earnest enough.

Chapter XII (Carol)

I had to prod Rick to get him to take the girls to the pool. He was still settling into his fuller-time fatherhood and seemed a little uneasy about the club. Perhaps he'd actually thought about things a bit more than I had. This became clear when at dinner after their first swim Caroline casually announced that among other accomplishments that day she'd seen Daddy's penis. Stephanie's horrified reaction was predictable, but I was proud of how Caroline had correctly treated it as not a big deal. We had a good laugh. Caroline's shrug and my calm reaction appeared to dispel Rick's concerns.

It did occur to me that Caroline's innocent openness was perfect at home but probably not something we should share with (say) her teachers at school. Her newfound knowledge of anatomy didn't need to be this week's Show and Tell topic. That night when I tucked her in I took the opportunity to fine tune her boundaries.

"You had fun at the pool today with Daddy, lovebug?" She nodded quickly as I lay beside her and tucked her under my arm. "I can't wait to go with you too." I kissed her hair. It hadn't been easy to find the right language, because I didn't want to scare her or make her feel that there was something bad happening. I went on carefully. "You remember that we don't go outside without clothes on, right?"

Caroline looked a little confused. "We weren't outside, Mommy... we were in that room," she explained.

"That's right, sweetpea... it was ok to be undressed because you were in the room with just your family." Caroline looked thoughtful and popped her thumb into her mouth. "So, just like we only get undressed with our family, we also only talk about being undressed with our family." Caroline nodded a little but still had a perplexed expression. I felt I had to be more direct. "We don't talk about Daddy's penis with anyone except us. It's not... well, polite... outside of the family." I waited, feeling myself blushing. She appeared to process what I'd said.

"Ok Mommy," she said quietly, eyelids fluttering. I kissed her cheek with a wet smack and tucked her in snug. Another Real Mom moment, I thought.

Looking back on that moment now, I realize the obvious. What I'd communicated to Caroline was that there are things that happen in families that you aren't to talk about outside of the family. It gave me a sense of comfort, knowing that we had established a little sphere of privacy around us. After all, there was nothing to be worried about. We hadn't created the Family Changing Room. We were using it exactly as it was intended. We just didn't want anyone to misunderstand.

Rick told me about Stephanie's refusal to change with him in the room. I was disappointed in her, though not too surprised. I'd been raised a bit differently and she hadn't been around her father all that much for the last few years. When I went to tuck her in she had her guns already loaded.

"I won't, Mommy. I'm not a baby. It's weird." Her lower lip was fixed.

I played The Adult. "Actually, the way you're acting right now is just like a baby."

She looked hurt, but I stood my ground. "Don't you think it's awful to make your father and sister stand outside just because you're too precious for them to see you undressed?" I'd told myself I wasn't going to say the next part, but I found the words coming out anyway. "Your father changed your diapers, you know." An appeal to her sense of fairness. I forgot for a moment that she was eight.

Of course it backfired. "Yah he did. When I was a BABY." Arms crossed. Face red. This wasn't going as I'd hoped, so I resorted to shameless emotional manipulation.

"You've hurt your father's feelings badly, Stephanie. He thinks that you don't like him. I know he's been away a lot, but he's at home now and he wants nothing more than to be closer to you."

It was true that Rick was feeling the price of his time away, and this appeared to sink in with Stephanie. Her eyes dropped and her face softened. She stammered a little. "I t-thought... I thought maybe he was away so much because he didn't like... us." I could tell that she'd almost said "me." There it was... the real issue. I should have known. My heart melted for her and I hugged her to my chest. She let me.

"That's the farthest thing from the truth there can be, Steph. He adores us and was trying to do the best thing for the family, working so hard so we'd have everything we need, and so that I could be at home with you all the time. And he misses you terribly. So you need to give him a chance. And don't be silly... wear a towel if you feel like you have to." I hoped to end on an easier note. She nodded and wiped her eyes surreptitiously, trying to pretend that she wasn't crying. I didn't let on that I'd seen.

"It's not weird?" she said quietly. Still not completely letting go.

"It's family, Stephanie. The Family Changing Room. It's why they made it. Only a baby would think it's weird." Gotcha. She slowly withdrew her lower lip.

I didn't tell Rick about Stephanie's feelings of abandonment. He didn't deserve to feel any worse than he already did about being absent so much. And deep inside, I was afraid that the girls would be saying the same things about me if I didn't keep some kind of balance. To say that I was feeling separation anxiety would be putting it mildly. I ached every day to be at home with my precious little ones, but it just wouldn't have been fair to saddle Rick with that all over again. I vowed to make it work regardless, to be Mommy and Lawyer in equal measures.

Chapter XIII (Carol)

I was happy to see that Rick and Stephanie showed every sign of bonding over the next few weeks. Rick was visibly more relaxed. He appreciated being back in his preferred profession and playing a meaningful role in the kids' lives. Stephanie appeared happy and seemed to let go of her excessive modesty. The pool became a regular part of the routine, and The Family Changing Room proved to be a Godsend. My one experimental visit to the Ladies' locker room with the girls showed beyond doubt that they weren't ready to be left to their own devices there.

Saturdays were soccer days, and often we had to divide and conquer to get to both girls' games. When it was Rick's turn to take Stephanie, it often left me some precious time alone with Caroline. It was a particularly muddy Saturday when Caroline and I got back from her early game to find that the other half of the family had already departed. We were both a mess, her more than me as all the kids had been slipping and sliding on the wet field. Fortunately six year-olds are low to the ground and the falling became more a source of giggles than of injuries.

I felt an urgent need to be clean and a desperate need to snuggle my youngest child. It had been a long week at work. "We need an emergency bath, love bug. I don't even want these clothes in the house. Let's just leave them in the laundry room."

Caroline kicked her sneakers off onto the unruly shoe pile in the hall. My sandals followed and we padded off to the nearby laundry room. Her dripping clothes were in a pile on the floor before I had my top off. I smiled at her perfect little round face, filthy though it was. I slid off my shorts and discovered that I was wet to the skin. It felt natural to shed the rest too, and I had a moment of pride in the comfort my daughter and I had in our bodies. Hers, a picture of innocence, unblemished and soft, with a tummy that still rounded out just a bit. Mine, a mother's body, far from perfect to begin with (though Rick always corrected me when I said such things) and still bearing the signs of giving birth... but well-maintained, at least. Going to the pool regularly had lots of benefits, and I felt as toned as I had been since college. I scooped up my youngest daughter and carried her bare bottom in the crook of my arm up the stairs to the bathroom.

We stood in the tub and I rinsed us off with the shower head before filling it with water hot enough to tingle. I felt a deep sigh release from my chest as we settled in up to our necks, Caroline laying against me on her side. One small hand fell naturally onto my left breast. I was thankful that mine were small. Seeing what happened to the big ones as they aged wasn't appealing to me and I couldn't help but imagine that it wouldn't appeal to Rick, either. My mother's had been much larger and when I was little they'd made her seem like something of a different species to me, rather than something I would grow up to be. Mine didn't seem to intimidate the girls, and I found that to be a good thing. The fact that I kept fully shaved from the waist down had similar benefits. It was easier for my young daughters to identify with me. Rick seemed to like it too, which led to some very nice extended episodes appreciating his lovely tongue with my fingers tangled in his hair.

Immersion in the warm tub brought some of these other warm thoughts to my mind. I'd been traveling the week before and hadn't had much alone time with Rick. I loved him and I needed him, especially when things got intense at work. His touch heals me in ways nothing else can. When he enters me it feels as though I've always been empty until that moment, that the fullness is something perfect, something intended. I've never thought it to be an admission of weakness or incompleteness on my part to say that I need his cock. Yin and Yang are meant to go together. They fulfill each other.

I felt Caroline's small hand move over my chest and I looked to see her tentatively extending a finger to touch my nipple. My wandering mind had evoked a physical response. "Pointy," my daughter astutely observed. I smiled, "Yes, sweetpea... sometimes they do that." She nodded a little, her smooth cheek against my shoulder. "That's cuz they make milk for babies." She remembered The Talk, at least most of it. "That's right, honey. They did, for you and for Stephanie."

Caroline nodded again. "Ya Mommy. I remember."

I was a little surprised. When Stephanie had been born, I'd still been at work. Nursing her was something I was committed to in spirit, but it was difficult. I was very sensitive and she wasn't gentle and I was always pressed for time, so we'd struggled through the first six months. I continued to express milk for her for a few months after that, but I was frankly relieved when she was fully weaned. I'd done my best.

When Caroline came along and I became a stay-at-home Mom it was very different. I had the time and patience for both she and I to learn how she could feed regularly and comfortably. It gradually became pleasurable for me. Oxytocin is a very nice drug indeed. Rick reaped major benefits as well because after I fed Caroline I would often shamelessly jump his bones. Of course I researched it. About half of women who breastfeed experience some level of arousal as a result. It's a natural thing. And regardless of the childbearing hormones, having my nipples sucked has always made me horny. My wonderful future husband discovered this about me when we were dating in high school and has exploited it ever since.

So I'd been in no hurry at all to wean Caroline. I fed her regularly until she was one, and allowed her to nurse when she liked after that. When she turned two the frequency had diminished quite a lot and I thought it was largely behind us. But then Stephanie started preschool and I found myself alone with Caroline for a few hours each day. I think we were both feeling the absence of her older sister, and it seemed to spur a need for more closeness. This manifested as Caroline wanting to nurse more often, and I wasn't adverse to it. She'd ask a few times a week until she was a little over three years old before she seemed to lose interest.

I guess I'd assumed that Caroline was still too little to form permanent memories from those times. Apparently not.

"What do you remember, love bug?" I ventured, not wanting to assume.

"I 'member that when Stephanie went to school that sometimes we did it and you said we can only do it at home." Her slender index finger was now gently poking at my stiffened nipple, innocently exploring as we talked.

I winced a little at the last part of this memory. I had said that to her. As much as I was an open-minded mother, I didn't trust the other mothers in our circle to be non-judgmental about my nursing a three-year-old. "If they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old to do it," I recall one of them saying in response to an article about breastfeeding beyond infancy. Seems I'd been promoting the idea of family secrets even then.

"I 'member it was nice," Caroline went on, simply.

I smiled down at my lovely daughter. "It was nice, wasn't it?" I gave her bottom a squeeze under the water.

I'm not really sure how to describe what happened that day. I honestly don't know if I encouraged her. If I nudged her head. If I smiled in the way I used to when inviting her to suckle. If I turned slightly to present myself to her. What I do know is that I felt her mouth close on me, on my right nipple that somehow was in just the right place. I looked down and found her eyes looking up to mine, an expression of curiosity and some doubt... and bliss, I think... a small flutter of her eyelids, her sleepy happy face from when she was three. It transported me, back in time and back to that bliss. I gasped and she looked worried... paused... but didn't withdraw.

I suppose I should have stopped her. I could have done it gently and not lose the closeness of the moment. I could have told her that she was being silly and kissed her forehead, and we would have had a nice giggle.

Instead my mind recalled a memory. Caroline was about one and I was feeding her in bed, lying on my side. She was half asleep and only suckling on and off. A perfectly peaceful moment, made even nicer by the feeling of Rick sliding into bed behind me. He drew back my hair and kissed my neck, his hands naturally wandering. I felt him caress my bottom. "You are the most beautiful mother there ever was," he whispered. "Say that to my stretch marks," I whined, reflexively. He pinched my butt, hard enough to hurt. I winced and squirmed, but I understood. He doesn't let me talk myself down.

His hand moved lower and probed between my legs. He felt my heat and wetness. I felt his breath quicken. In the next instant he was fully inside me, our bodies locked together seamlessly. I gasped. Caroline stirred. "Rick..." I began. He twisted my clit in his fingers in response. I trembled. I tried again. "Rick... we..." He withdrew his hardness a little. I closed my eyes and reached back for him, abandoning my protest... just then, emptiness was unthinkable. We fucked silently, breath catching in our throats. I came in waves that seemed to never stop, more intensely than anything I'd ever experienced. Caroline stirred again, eyelids open a slit as she dozed. With him still inside, I panted in a whisper. "You are a VERY bad man," I said. He looked at me, and over my shoulder at our daughter.

"I need you, Carol. And I want you. Completely and without limits. Nothing will change that and you're not allowed to forget it, not ever."

I nodded and sighed, and held Caroline close to my chest as he slowly softened within me. Needed and wanted. Bliss.

My attention returned to the present as a small tooth grazed my swollen nipple. Caroline's eyes were unfocused, her cheeks moving only slightly. I ran my fingers through her wet hair. I spoke very quietly. "Careful, sweetpea." And then, after a long moment. "You know there won't be any milk, honey... it's all gone." She looked a little disappointed. Still, in a few seconds, her suckling resumed. My free hand slipped under the water and down my tummy, feeling the lingering marks of motherhood in my flesh. And lower, warmth. Rick's fingers... my fingers. I let my eyes drift closed. We stayed in the tub until the water got chilly.

Chapter XIV (Carol)

Is it wrong to want closeness? I think it's a basic human need, maybe the most powerful of all.

I really was happy for Rick and how he'd re-engaged with the girls. In particular he and Stephanie seemed to have found each other. It was sweet to see how they joked and smiled now, more comfortable together than they'd ever been. She was definitely becoming Daddy's girl, and why shouldn't she? What girl doesn't go through that phase?

Being away from home for ten hours a day made me deeply appreciate the family time I'd had for the last five years. I missed it terribly, and it started to work on me in bad ways. Could it be that I was actually jealous of the relationship my eight year old daughter was forming with her father? That would be ridiculous, and dumb, and very unlike me. Still, I couldn't deny that those thoughts jabbed themselves into my brain at times, especially when I was tired and stressed from work.

That's how I rationalized my behavior with Caroline. It felt selfish and strange, but I told myself that I needed to be closer to her as the rest of my family seemed to be slipping further away. She was my baby, and I wanted her to be my baby forever. There are mothers who nurse their six year-olds. An increasing number. And my arousal, that's natural too. I hadn't let Caroline see anything... my hand was under the water. No harm done, and it made us both feel warm and cozy and happy.

The next morning was Sunday and we stayed lazy in bed as we woke up. Rick curled up around me and cupped my breasts from behind, as he was wont to do. It was always a most welcome source of warmth. This time though, I winced a little. I was sore.

Rick looked at the calendar. He knew my cycles as well as I did, bless him. He looked at me thoughtfully.

"It's not... yet, is it?" he asked, gently.

I shook my head. A little blush of guilt that I hoped he didn't see.

"You're not..." he started. I read his mind and quickly said, "No, it's not that." I was not pregnant, I was sure.

I lied. It wasn't the first time. Whenever I did it, I always told myself it would be the last. Rick looked concerned so I had to say something. I blamed it on work, which I told myself was true in a sense.

"It's the damn work clothes. I'm not used to them again yet. So be gentle with me, you barbarian." I meant it in many ways.

Rick nodded and kissed the back of my neck. He made a butchery of Arnold's Conan voice. "I miss you, my Amazon queen. Your conquests bring us honor and treasure, but you remain the sole object of our devotion." His head went under the covers and worked its way down my body with little kisses. I laughed and tried to push him away. He persisted... wedged my thighs apart with his scratchy chin. I gave myself over and rode his tongue like a Mongul girl astride a pony galloping on the steppe. (Goofy sexual metaphors can be hot when someone's licking you. Don't judge.)

**************************

Of course I knew that children have sexual feelings. I had them myself when I was young, but they were vague and distant and not understood until I was well past my tenth birthday. Perhaps things were different then, or I was a late bloomer. I shouldn't have been surprised by Stephanie's questions, but I was. The way she'd asked seemed a little odd... Can people have sex with themselves? She knew about sex, because I'd told her about it. Well, given her a book about it, at least. And girls talk. She and Andrea were in constant whispered giggles when they were together. I wondered if I should have a talk with Andrea's mother, and then quickly dismissed the idea. Best to keep this in the family.

When I told Rick, he was typically thoughtful and supportive. I think he was shocked too, but he seldom overreacted to things. Mainly he responded to my worries that I'd gone too far in explaining how to do it. It helped, but I was still concerned, especially when Stephanie started keeping her door closed for long stretches of time.

The thought of Stephanie masturbating disturbed me. As I examined my feelings, I realized that it was probably disturbing me more than it should. I went back to the internet with trepidation, typing in several variants of search terms before pressing Enter. Even so, I got it wrong on the first try. Googling 'daughter masturbates' gave me a page full of links to porn videos with titles like 'Daughter masturbates for Daddy.' That was just what I didn't need. 'Daughter asked about masturbation' was a better choice. The results were pretty much what I'd expected, mostly reassuring articles that it's all natural and important to talk about and how as a parent you have to treat it unemotionally. Easy for them to say.

It could have been worse. Stephanie had felt that she could ask me. That was a Real Parent moment and made me feel close to her all over again. Most kids would never ask, I imagine. Other moms faced even tougher questions ('Help! My eight year old asked me what a blowjob is'). Others had girls who were actively and openly masturbating as toddlers. Way more awkward than my situation.

In my mind I went over and over my conversation with her. Could I have handled it better? Maybe, but I think I did just fine. I didn't cross any lines, according to the 'experts.' Some said I should have used the opportunity to be more explicit ('Why I taught my daughter what a vibrator was when she was ten'), but she'd seemed satisfied with my answers and that felt like success.

Still, there was something niggling at me as I looked at Stephanie's closed door. It finally struck me... it was what she'd said about why people do it... Or if they love somebody but they can't have sex with them. Was Stephanie in love with someone? The thought of her masturbating bothered me, but the notion that she might have a crush on some boy and translate that into wanting to have sex with him was a whole different issue. This was something for which I was completely not prepared.

It was my turn to take Stephanie to soccer the next Saturday. On the way in the car, I tried what I thought was a subtle approach. "That boy in your class, you know... Ryan? The one with the blue eyes. I bet girls like him."

She looked at me like I had two heads. "Mom. Don't. Even."

I pressed on. "You don't think he's cute?" Eye rolling.

"He's a little less disgusting than the other boys, I guess," was the considered response. I found this reassuring. After a moment, something more helpful. "Andrea likes him." Another pause. "She likes his brother more though."

It turns out that Ryan's brother is 12, three years older than Andrea. Rick was three years older than me, and I'd discovered him when I was 11. I could relate a bit. "So when she was talking to you about... sex... was she talking about him, then?"

Stephanie shrugged, staring out of the car window, clearly embarrassed by the whole discussion. I took her next question as an attempt to change the subject. "Dad has blue eyes too. Is that why you liked him?"

I smiled as we arrived at the soccer field. "I liked everything there was about your father, sweetpea." She ran off to join her team without looking back at me.

Chapter XV (Carol)

Stephanie's classmates were starting to think about boys. Andrea at least was starting to think about them actively. Although Steph still seemed actively disinterested, I was sure it wouldn't be long until that changed. This contributed to my general sense that I was losing touch with my children. I was cooking up a thick gumbo of feelings with a pungent base stock distilled from guilt at being absent. I felt like I had to do something, change something, to regain some sense of relevance.

At the time, I was convinced that my talk with Rick about barring Stephanie from the Family Changing Room was entirely motivated by my concern for our daughter. Maybe I'd been wrong in pushing her to get over her modesty. If she really was masturbating, it was time for me to think of her as more grown up. Rick seemed to agree, though I could tell he was a little saddened. The pool had become an important part of their bonding, I knew. He too didn't want our little girl to grow up too fast and become distant.

I felt an odd sense of satisfaction after we'd decided. Thinking about it later, I had to ask myself if I'd made an issue of it for less noble reasons. Some part of me didn't want Rick to be closer to Stephanie than I was. If I had to be away, it was perversely comforting to keep some distance between them as well. I was revolted by this insight, but I couldn't deny it. It didn't help that when I'd talked to Stephanie about it that night she'd been very confused and hurt.

She was quiet for quite a while as she digested the decision. It was barely a whisper when she spoke. "Daddy will think I don't like him... again... like before." I saw the wetness build in her eyes and winced.

"No, Stephanie. We've talked about it. You're... growing up. He understands. It'll be fine, I promise. You can still go to the pool and do all the other things you do with him."

Another long pause. "It's soooo gross in the ladies, Mom." She meant it, but I could tell she was negotiating. The influence of her lawyer mother, I noted with pride.

"It's not. It's natural. It'll be good for you to know how different people are."

"I already know how different people are. They're gross." I raised my eyebrows and gave her a disappointed look. She looked away, relenting on this point at least.

"But I just... I mean... I just... got used to it... with Daddy. I don't mind it anymore, I mean."

"And I'm very proud of you for that, Steph. Your father is too. But we've agreed that this is the right decision."

Her shoulders shook a little. "It's not fair." She was looking down, her face very red. Sad? Angry? It was hard to tell.

I kissed her forehead and closed the door behind me on the way out of her room.

**************************

I let Rick take Stephanie to lunch and the Mall the next day. I wanted them to know that I wasn't trying to come between them. I had no indication that Rick was thinking that way, but I was painfully aware that I might be.

When they had left I curled up with Caroline on the couch and read to her for a bit. She was restless and squirmy. My suggestions of a sandwich, a movie, and coloring all met with a shake of her small blond head. She finally took her thumb from her mouth. "Bath please, Mommy." It was more of a statement than a request. I brushed back her fine hair. "You just had one last night, Caroline." She stuck out her lip. "I know." Sometimes six is four, or even three. I smiled. "Ok, love bug. Up we go then."

I carried her upstairs and turned on the water. As I started to undress, I saw her just standing and watching me. "What is it, sweetpea?" I asked. "Do mine too," she said. She was feeling very little that day, it seems. I finished stripping off and knelt by the tub. We tickled and giggled like we hadn't for years as I took off her clothes. I felt needed. I had my baby girl back, at least for these precious moments, and it was lovely.

We settled into the gently steaming water and I washed her hair slowly, laying her back to rinse. She nestled against my chest. I closed my eyes, my hand on her bottom, pulling her close. It wasn't long before I felt her mouth at my breast. In that instant I knew that I'd hoped for it, that I wanted it. I wouldn't have admitted it even to myself, but it was true. I shifted a bit to give her easier access, and trembled as she latched on and began to suckle. My entire body reacted with a powerful rush of warmth. I imagined that I felt my womb contract, a fleeting ghost of childbearing long past. I sighed deeply and let my free hand wander.

In a moment (how long? I don't know, but the water was still warm) I felt Caroline stir. I opened my eyes a little and smiled down at her. Her face was flushed and peaceful, cheeks caving gently. She moved again and her brow furrowed a bit. I let my eyes travel down her slender shiny arm to where it went beneath the water... and further... to see her hand. Her tiny, six year-old hand. The hand that held mine so tight when she was scared, the fingers too short to wrap around her glass of milk. Her perfect little hand was nestled between her legs... those legs parted just enough... the hand not still, but moving. The fingers moving, obscured by the soapy water but still clear to me. The fingers moving through the pale soft folds. Moving, and rubbing. Her bottom shifted against me... her face reddened more... she breathed in, broke her mouth's contact with my nipple... shut her eyes tight... trembled in my arms, her short legs stretching straight for just a moment, making a soft splash... held rigid there... shivered... and then very slowly relaxed, melting against me.

Her eyes opened halfway and she looked up. No words, from her or from me. Her face said all that was needed. It said bliss.

To be continued...

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