I was sitting in my classroom yesterday when an email came through from my daughter’s second grade teacher, Mrs. Daniels, with the subject line reading: OMG. This has been a challenging fall for my daughter, and receiving messages from Mrs. Daniels can be a bit unnerving. Still, feeling certain that Mrs. Daniels is not the kind of teacher who would communicate bad news in an email using the subject OMG, I opened it up, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw a happy face emoji had been inserted into the text. And then I actually read the text:
It would seem that for her Weekend News entry in school that Monday, my daughter decided to describe and illustrate the viral video referred to me by my friend on Facebook, the one I watched, with her sitting next to me, without having the good sense to consider its content. A video made by a grandmother trying to bake her grandson a vegan/gluten-free birthday cake seemed harmless enough, and as a sister to vegans, I thought I’d probably find some good humor in there.
The first time Granny dropped an F-bomb, I covered my mouth and looked at Maddy, who looked right back at me, square in the eye. I knew I should pull the plug right then and there, like any responsible parent would have done, but instead, I “Lalala’d!” my way through Grandma’s shit-talking at the top of my lungs and proceeded as planned. It must have been a sight, me trying to “protect” my daughter’s innocence in the face of such vulgarity, and her positively gleeful that I’d decided to let her continue watching in spite of it all. Did we have us some fun? You betcha.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the video becoming the topic of her school assignment on Monday, but of course it was. What 8-year-old wouldn’t write up such an experience? The illustration Mrs. Daniels attached to her email depicts a smiling grandmother, commenting (illegibly) on the cake she is baking, in front of a counter on which sits a pumpkin, a measuring cup filled with some nondescript ingredient, and a really nicely drawn mixmaster. The caption reads: This is f*ing good.
My first thought when I saw the picture was, “This is going to be tricky to explain.” My second was, “How in the world did Maddy know to substitute the ‘uck’ with an asterisk?” That was a genius maneuver on her part.
I then had that awful mom moment, the one in which your children do something utterly mortifying and you don’t really know how to respond because all you can think about is what other people are thinking of you. I immediately went on the defense. I wasn’t worried so much that Maddy would be reprimanded; her teachers thought the entire scene was hilarious, and they had sent the illustration to me with great appreciation. Instead, I found myself considering what kind of mother would let her daughter watch such a clearly inappropriate video; in fact, what kind of mother would let her daughter watch anything she hadn’t yet researched or screened. My daughter had exposed me as an impostor and a complete moral failure; no child would ever be entrusted to my care ever again.
But then I had that other type of mom moment, the redeeming type in which you realize that you are doing the best that you can and fuck (sorry, f***) anyone who wants to judge your sorry ass. I didn’t actually regret allowing her to watch the video; I only really regretted that I’d been caught. In fact, while I’m at it, I might as well admit that my 5 year old watched the video right alongside us, and guess what? She had fun, too. If I’d known that Grandma would predict her cake “would be the tits,” none of this would have gone down. And yes, I learned that I should be cautious about following Facebook links if my girls are by my side.
Nevertheless, I felt empowered by those three minutes and 23 seconds we shared with one another in front of my computer screen because I had made an autonomous choice as a mother, without regard to whether or not what I was doing was “right.” It just wasn’t a big deal to me that my girls were hearing some naughty language. I wanted to laugh with them. I wanted to see their joyful eyes twinkle as they listened to me holler when Granny referred to her “big fat ass.” The truth of the matter is that they weren’t paying attention to the video at all; they were paying attention to me. They had no idea what she was saying or what it meant; they were just enjoying me enjoying them.
I spend a lot of time “shoulding” on myself as a mom, and I’m just about over it. I can’t spend the rest of my girls’ childhood thinking that I “should” be doing this or that, making the metric for success the good opinion of other people. I don’t want to cull my parenting choices from those made by men and women whose limits and comfort zone are different than mine. I don’t care if my kids jump on their beds. I don’t care if they don’t brush their teeth one night if they are too tired. I don’t care if they eat McDonalds. In fact, I WANT them to eat McDonalds…it gives me a good reason to eat a Quarter Pounder and french fries.
It’s important to me that my daughters have a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously, so I need to do the same. We’re talking about a few swear words, not a few grams of cocaine. They’re going to be just fine, so no biggie. I’d do it again. If I want them to be the kind of women who can think for themselves and make authentic choices, than I have to model that for them with wild enthusiasm and conviction.
Maddy’s illustration gave me a good laugh, and I’ve been careful not to let on that I know about the drawing. It was never intended to be a big deal, and I don’t want her to feel self-conscious, or to think that she’s done anything wrong…or even anything remarkable. There is something so sweetly innocent about her illustration and the way it captured her experience. That said, I fully intend to one day frame that piece of art and hang it on our dining room wall, because it really is that f*ing good.