Oh, the shame of it. I think I’m a bad mother.
My son, who’s 5, is obsessed with cars and his X-Box 360, so of course driving games are his all-time favorite form of entertainment. One of them is Burnout Paradise (which, gods help us, has unfortunately graced our household with its theme song, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Paradise City,” WAY too many times). It includes several cars that adults can easily recognize as knockoffs of famous vehicles from movies and television shows: Kitt from KnightRider, the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, etc. It’s amusing.
One of them is a hovercar that’s an homage to the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future. I’m awfully fond of Back to the Future (and yeah Huey Lewis too—wanna make something of it?), and I realized that my son might enjoy watching the movie. Heck, I thought, I would enjoy watching the movie—it had been quite a while since I’d seen it.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t available on iTunes and wasn’t coming up anywhere on the TiVo schedule, so I figured we could pony up the money to get a copy. I was sure that if we owned it, the kidlet would watch it enough times to justify the purchase.
So we picked up the DVD and popped it in late Friday afternoon. Hubband was lying on the floor and the kid was lounging on the back of his legs, both of them tired out after a long afternoon at the go-kart track. I was nearby on the couch, dividing my attention between my laptop and the movie I knew so well that I only needed to pay partial attention to it.
Well…I thought I knew the movie well. And then…
Ooh, hello dere. I had forgotten there was swearing in the movie. And then…
“You’re gonna see some serious shit.”
Oops, there it was again.
And at that point I became a bad mother, and hubband a bad father. Because we both said, halfheartedly, “By the way, don’t say that word. It’ll give grandma a heart attack.”
“Son of a bitch!”
Twice. In quick succession.
“Don’t say that either, mmkay?”
And that was the extent of our parenting.
Well, we may have said something about how some words are for grown-ups only and blah blah blah. I forget.
But Junior didn’t seem particularly intrigued by the “bad words”—in fact, he didn’t notice them at all—so we went back to enjoying the movie with its cool time machine/car and crazy skateboarding stunts. (Oh yeah, we did also warn him not to hitch a ride by grabbing a car bumper, like Marty did a couple of times…even though Junior doesn’t even own a skateboard. An ounce of prevention and all that.)
So. Bad parenting? I started to wonder. I mean, were we too relaxed? Should we have done something more, like…oh, I don’t know…threatened bodily harm and a mouth permanently shaped like a bar of Lifebuoy (do they still make Lifebuoy?) if we ever caught our son uttering those terrible words? Or perhaps shouted over those parts so he couldn’t hear the words? Maybe turned the movie off after the first four-letter utterance out of fear that the dialogue would only get worse? Make a big fuss and “tut-tut” a lot, like my relatives used to, so everyone in the room was aware of the fact that they were shocked and appalled and did not approve? Ooh, maybe we should have let other watchdogs do the work for us—picked up one of those DVD players that edits out nasties for you, or perhaps an edited version of the movie (it’s out there). At the very least, I suppose, we could have done due diligence beforehand, renting the movie and scouring every minute of it after Junior was in bed to quantify and rank all the offensive words, phrases, images, and situations in order to determine whether our son should be allowed to watch it.
And if we had totted up all the offensive stuff ahead of time (in addition to the swearing, an underage girl takes a swig from a flask before a high school dance, and there was the Very Special Bonus Comment that the band at the school dance was smoking “reefer”) we technically should never have allowed the film into the house till our kid was of marriageable age.
But we didn’t. We made a passing comment about the swearing, ignored the other stuff because Junior didn’t notice it anyway, and we let it drop. But I did kind of wonder if maybe we should have handled it differently.
And then I accidentally listened to a commercial on the radio. Normally I’m a chronic button-pusher: If the radio isn’t playing a song I like, POOF, I’m off to another station. In my opinion, life’s too short to listen to the 10,000th airing of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” (does she know Romeo and Juliet kill themselves at the end?) or any annoying commercials. However, for some reason, the other day I was slow on the draw and didn’t immediately punch the presets when an ad started on one of the more popular radio stations in town.
The ad was touting the station’s morning show, bragging about its biggest selling point: that it’s “clean.” Apparently this is of major importance, because every morning, all over the listening area, mothers are driving at least four of their own kids, and most likely about half a dozen of their kids’ friends, to school in the minivan, and they wouldn’t want any of those virgin ears to hear…what? I’m not sure. But it’s something to fear, evidently.
Specifically, the ad said the station guaranteed “nothing to embarrass you in front of your kids!!!” And that got me wondering why parents would be embarrassed about whatever those other, “offensive” morning shows were talking about. Okay, I reasoned, this is FCC territory, so the wacky morning crews weren’t going to be spouting four-letter words. That leaves…sssh!
I can understand that parents wouldn’t want their minivanload of offspring to hear some banter about a topic that the kids might not be mature enough to hear. I get that. But I couldn’t help but think of my favorite overwrought, anguished cry…
“Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children!”
Indeed. Thank you, Mrs. Flanders.
But come on. It’s not about protecting the kids, not really. The ad said “nothing to embarrass you in front of your kids”—in other words, to protect the mommies from having to explain something that gives them the heebie jeebies. And why should facing something like that give aforementioned mommies said heebie jeebies? Because somewhere back in the mists of time, that taboo, that no-no, that shame, was attached to it by their parents, who got it from their parents. And so on and so on and so on (to quote a commercial from the age of dinosaurs, when I was young). These particular people who are mortified by uncomfortable topics have inherited generations of shame. As such, they would rather not deal with these things that give them an uncomfortable twitch, just as their forebears did. They would rather avoid them altogether, instead of acknowledging their existence and explaining them in a way that their children could understand.
Trouble is, it’s awfully hard to police the whole world and get it to conform to your preferences. And that makes twitchy mommies awfully, awfully nervous.
Trouble is, I’m not twitchy and awfully, awfully nervous. Well, I am, but not about that kind of nonsense.
So this is my dilemma: What am I supposed to do, when questionable grownup topics, like swearing and drinking and sex, come up when my kid is within earshot? Should I ignore it, casually acknowledge it, or cultivate my twitch by freaking out? More important, did my kid even notice? And if he noticed, did he care? Would my caring make him care more? …Am I asking too many questions?
Yes. I am asking too many questions, and asking too many questions makes mommy a twitchy girl. The reality is, when Marty McFly swore, my son didn’t care. He was admiring the DeLorean. And he doesn’t even know what “reefer” means. Am I going to address these topics and confuse his 5-year-old brain? Of course not. My plan is to talk to him a lot about other things that he does notice. My plan is also to talk to him about mundane topics as much as possible. And when he gets old enough to notice adult things on the radio and in movies, I hope that by then he’s gotten so used to talking to me about anything and everything that he can ask me about those uncomfortable topics too.
And my main goal is to remain “untwitchy” enough to give him an intelligent response, fearmongering by fellow parents be damned.
Hey kid, don’t say that word either, okay?