Monday, February 13, 2006

A Mother's Job

When I was living with Susan, her daughter, Hannah, was going to a private school. She might have been around 11 or 12 years old at the time. I worked for an ad agency down the street. Susan did a lot of substitute teaching. On those days, Hannah would generally walk down to my office and wait with me while I did my work. Then, we would go home. This one particular day, I didn't have much to do, so I drove to the school, picked her up and went home. I had paper work that needed to be done, so, when we got there, she asked me if she had to do her homework right away. Could I watch TV for awhile? Sure, why not? I normally helped her with her homework, but, I did have this work to do. I went into the bedroom and sprawled my paperwork out onto the bed. I could hear the TV, since I left the door open. About a half hour later, she walked in. I was sitting up in bed, concentrating on my work.

"Dave?" she asked, with an inquisitive look on her face, "What does 'swallow the swan' mean?"

"I don't know," I responded. That wasn't quite the truth, but, that's what I told her, kind of like she had to be on a need to know basis and she didn't need to know. Not at her age.

"OK, then, what's a 'bl*w j*b?'" She looked so naive.

That one hit me like a brick. I glanced at the alarm clock. It was about 3:30. "What are you watching? HBO?"


I hesitated with my answer and thought about how ridiculous and irresponsible it is for HBO to be putting this type of programming on so early in the afternoon, knowing full well that many viewers are going to be children. I realize parents are ultimately responsible for what their children watch, but, I just didn't think the adults who schedule cable programs wouldn't consider the kinds of stuff they put on so early.

"Well, what does it mean?" she asked, just standing there.

"I think you need to talk to your mother about that."

"You're supposed to be my dad, I want you to tell me."

I gave it a lot of thought. I figured her mother would tell her anyway, since she was at an age now where curiosity was kicking in. I thought, maybe she knew and was just testing me. School kids always knew more, or at least they thought they did, than they would ever fess up to, even though it was a private, Catholic school. I was sure the word had been passed around in the hallways. I gave her a very solemn look.

"It's when a man puts his thing in a woman's mouth."

Immediately, she had this look of disgust only a child's face could display. It was as if she had eaten the sourest pickle in the world, gotten a whiff of the foulest smell, and had to wash it all down with dried up lima beans with rotten buttermilk on them.

"Ew, yuck... you never had that happen to you, did you?" Oh, boy. She had to ask that, didn't she? Again, I was asked a serious question, only, this one really did need an answer and I had to handle it with all the finesse I could muster. I had to think fast. I didn't want to lie to her and I didn't want to tell her the truth.

I never said a word. Instead, I gave her that same disgusted look right back, like I had eaten the sourest pickle in the world, gotten a whiff of the foulest smell, and had to wash it all down with dried up lima beans with rotten buttermilk on them. I didn't lie and I didn't tell the truth.

She was content. She never needed to hear anything else about it that day. "OK, thanks," and out the door she went. I told her she couldn't watch that movie. She could only put the TV on the cartoon channel. "Nuh-uh," she exclaimed, "I'm watching it."

"NO, YOU'RE NOT! You either put it on the cartoon channel or turn it off and start working on your homework." She took the cartoon route.

When Susan came home, I immediately told her what had transpired an hour earlier. Was I right or wrong for explaining it the way I did? She chuckled at my response to Hannah and told me I was right, that Hannah appreciated my candor and honesty and would have more respect for me as a father teaching a child about things in life. It sure was awkward, and she never did bring up any questions to me again. Maybe, she thought her mother should tell her about that kind of stuff from now on.

I did tell her one more thing, though. No more HBO.

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