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When Our Daughter Walked In on Us

One sunny Sunday morning, my husband and I were in bed, right in the middle of things, when he shouted and pulled the comforter over us. But it was too late: We’d been caught.

We don’t usually do it on top of the covers. My feet get cold and I like to feel all snuggled up. And the dog sleeps in our room and I don’t like him to see, so we usually stay under the sheets. But not that morning. That morning, my husband was feeling groovy.

Maybe because it was a Sunday and no one had to get to Korean martial arts or soccer practice or even down the street for a guitar lesson. Maybe it was because we didn’t have to meet the tree trimmers for an estimate on how to save our birch tree that was dying because of the drought or let in the electrician to fix the broken kitchen light or take our daughter to urgent care for her swollen tonsils (that would be the following weekend).

So when my husband pulled me over and kissed me sweetly on the lips, and because I am 49 and sweaty — always so sweaty! — I kicked off the covers (the dog was still asleep).

We were having a great time until suddenly my husband shouted and threw his arm behind me to grab for the covers. I didn’t know what happened until he said, “She saw us.”

“What?’ I said. “Who?!”

“What do you mean, who?” he asked. “Our 13-year-old daughter, the only daughter currently residing in this house. She walked in and I saw her and believe me, she saw us.”

“No,” I screamed. “No! No! No! No! No!”

“Yes,” he said. “You’d better go talk to her.”

My mind frantically reviewed all possible options. “Let’s pretend this never happened,” I said to my husband. “I won’t say anything and you won’t say anything and she definitely won’t say anything — ”

“No,” he said. “You have to go talk to her.”

Why couldn’t he talk to her? But I knew why. She was probably dying of embarrassment and would never want to discuss this with her dad.

I’d been a sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood in college. I had a master’s degree in public health from Columbia. I’d had The Talk with my kids many times over the years. I could face my own daughter. It was no big deal. Sex is healthy and normal. Sex is a beautiful thing, especially between middle-aged married people.

I could explain what she’d seen. I just wished it could have been missionary; it would have been so much easier. But fine, I could do it.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Oh, and by the way,” my husband added, “it was bad. I mean you might have been whispering some stuff when she walked in and you don’t whisper very quietly and — ”

“Shut up!” I said. “I get it!”

I went to talk to my daughter, but she was in the bathroom. I knocked on the door.

“I’m in the bathroom,” she said.

“I can see that,” I answered. “I want to talk to you.”

“Can we discuss this please?” I asked.

“No thanks,” she said. “I have no questions. I will never enter your room again without announcing my presence.”

I went back to my bedroom.

“Well?” my husband asked. I told him it went really well.

Later, I heard the clang of dishes and footsteps in the kitchen. I went to have a face-to-face with my daughter.

“Honey,” I started to say, but she cut me off.

“We don’t need to talk about it, Mom.” She poured herself some cereal. “Daaad,” she called, “It’s O.K. You can come out now. I’m not scarred for life or anything.”

I thought about the time, decades ago, when I walked in on my parents. My family was visiting my brother in his one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta. My brother let our parents stay in his room, and he and I were sleeping in the living room. The only bathroom in the apartment was through the bedroom. I got up late at night and went to the bathroom. When I came out, my parents were getting romantic.

What was I supposed to do? I flung myself across the bedroom to the safety of the living room. My brother was fast asleep on the couch. I was in college by then and I found the whole thing gross and unsettling.

With my three teenagers, we talk a lot about dating, relationships and how a long-term partnership lasts — we know that sex in a marriage is something to celebrate. But privately.

The day my husband and I were caught went by like any other day. My daughter walked the dog. My son went to a friend’s house. My oldest called from college to say she needed a microwave. We managed to raise three teenagers and had never been busted. Until that morning. And if not for perimenopause, at least we would have been under the covers like normal parents.

But I believed my daughter’s assurance that she was not scarred for life. She seemed unfazed by the whole thing. She turned down my offer to discuss The Incident, but when I told her I was writing about it, she read the essay and offered her own edits. I said, “Who are you? My daughter or my editor?” She just patted me on the arm and said, “It’s going to be O.K., Mom.”

Bottom line: She handled the whole thing way better than I did.

“I should have knocked,” she said. My husband nodded and said, “I guess you should have knocked.”

Next time, I bet she will.

Robin Finn is the founder of the L.A.-based writing course Heart. Soul. Pen., and is working on a memoir.

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