by Risa Green
It used to be that when my kids asked me questions, I always had an answer at the ready. At a moment’s notice, I could launch into age-appropriate explanations of the evils of cigarettes, how babies are made, what the seven words are that you can’t say on television and why the bad guys in Home Alone 2 don’t die when bricks are thrown at their heads from ten stories above. But lately, the questions have been getting more complex, and I’ve found myself in the totally unfamiliar state of being at a total loss for words.
Take, for example, a weekend trip we recently took with the kids to Las Vegas. Now, let me just say that a) Las Vegas has lots of family-friendly activities and we had one of the most awesome family weekends we’ve ever had, and b) I know, it’s Las Vegas, what did I think was going to happen. But in Las Vegas, as we were crossing through the casino in Mandalay Bay to get to the restaurant we were eating in one night (aren’t casinos supposed to be off-limits to children?), we happened to walk by a sub-section of the casino called the Pussycat Dolls Casino, in which women in skimpy, sequined bikinis and four-inch stilettos were dancing on the blackjack tables. My son, who was staring at the floor in an attempt to jump on every single swirly pattern in the entire carpet, didn’t even notice. But my daughter certainly did. She stared at the strippers – I mean dancers – and then turned her little face up to me, her eyes horrified and yet mesmerized at the same time, and said, Mommy. What. Is. That? And it was at that point that I realized that she had not yet caught on to the fact that women in our society are objectified, and I was sure as hell not about to explain it to her. So I created a diversion by pretending to trip over an old lady in a wheelchair, and then told my daughter to just keep walking.
Similarly, we were at baggage claim in the airport, coming back from a spring break trip to Mexico last week, and my daughter pulled out the little pink camera that she got for Hanukkah, in order to take pictures of the drug sniffing dog. The drug sniffing dog I was able to explain, no problem. But then a customs official came over and whispered to me that she’d better put her camera away before one of the federal officers took it away, and oh, boy, did that start a whole string of questions that I just could not, for the life of me, find a way to answer in any way, shape or form that would not completely terrify my children and prevent them from ever getting on another airplane for the rest of their lives. So I did the only thing I could do. I lied, and I told her that you’re not allowed to take pictures because something in the camera interferes with the frequencies of the conveyor belts, much the same way that using your cell phone on a plane interferes with the radio frequencies. I think she believed me, but just barely.
I’ll tell you what, though, the combination of those two episodes sent me into a parenting tailspin. I mean, how are you supposed to know when it’s okay to tell your kids the truth? At what age is it acceptable to tell your daughter that women dance on tables half-naked because men will give them money for it? And when do you just casually mention to your kids that you can’t take pictures in a secure airport area because there are people in the world who have no qualms about blowing up a plane? That the reason they make you take off your shoes when you go through security is not because they want to make sure your feet don’t stink (a good one, I know) but because they think you might be hiding a bomb inside them? Is there an age when this will not completely freak them out? I think that there is not.
It’s funny, when I told my daughter how babies are made, I could just tell that she thought that she had heard it all. A daddy putting his penis inside of a mommy’s vagina? She was like, please people, show me what else you got, because you could not make up shit that would surprise me more than penises going inside vaginas. And I remember thinking the same thing; I remember feeling like, whew, I have just explained to my kid the most difficult thing that I will ever have to explain, and it is all just coasting from here on out. Well, all I can say is, wow. Were we both wrong or what?