The boys were watching Superman III on television the other day. Superman walks in to some Alpine chalet and Lorelei Ambrosia is lounging about on a day-bed in pouty, peroxide glory. After a few exchanges, she pulls Superman down to the bed, and the camera resolutely stays fixed on the window.
“Amma! Where did Superman go?” asked my 7-year-old. As I struggled to string together a reply, my 4-year-old beat me to it. “He’s kissing her,” he delivered dead pan. And then after a perfectly timed moment, he added “On her lips.” The information was shared in a matter-of-fact manner, in a tone similar to when I am told one needs to use the potty.
Every generation seems to glean certain facts of life sooner than the previous one. It’s something we all know, so it always surprises me when some parents react with shock and fear when they hear young children discuss who they wish to marry.
“Oh my god! Do you know what the children are saying? X wants to marry Z! This is too much!”
What do they really think is going to happen? The 6-year-olds are going to rent a car, drive to Las Vegas and get married by Elvis? Or do they think the ‘distraction’ of romantic dalliances will distract the children from their projected trajectory to IIT?
The 7-year-old and I were recently discussing his friends and who was his best friend. “I like X the most. I like him so much I want to spend all my time with him. I wish I could marry him. But then boys can’t marry boys?” It was the perfect opening to say “Of course, people can marry whomever they want to.”
But I didn’t. I chickened out and stayed silent. What would happen if he went and told his friends that he could indeed, marry X? Frankly I don’t care who my son wants to marry or cohabit with, but do I want to deal with him being teased about this (FYI: children as young as 8 are already using the word ‘gay’ as an insult). And, perhaps what it boiled down to, was do I want to deal with the issues that the conversation would raise?
It was a cowardly, and I’m convinced the wrong thing to do. But I kept quiet. And by not stepping in and saying ‘No, actually boys can marry boys’, I have inadvertently helped cement the idea that it’s not normal. We are so worried about putting ideas in our children’s heads about romance, marriage and sexuality. Those ideas are already there, no one put them there. They take seed as our children observe the world around them, their immediate environment.
They see it in movies, in ads and more and more these days even in animated films and cartoons. My mother’s generation might say “You parents today make a big fuss about everything. Every issue has to be discussed and dissected. You’re all crazy.”
Maybe they’re right. I do know the next time the situation presents itself, I’ll be honest with him. Not a discussion or debate, just an age appropriate conversation. The only thing I will insist on, is no Elvis at the wedding.
(The writer is a former copywriter whose parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)