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Censorship and Motherhood

With my kids, I try to always say “yes” unless I have a good reason to say “no.” Even then, I’m willing to explain it to them so they don’t think I’m just an arbitrary tyrant (and so I won’t actually be an arbitrary tyrant).

The problem comes when I do have a good, if vaguely explainable, reason for saying “no” that makes perfect sense to me and Dan but is incomprehensible to my kids. Having a reason they don’t understand…at all…is very similar to not having a reason, at least in their minds.

When the school has a book fair, I always let the kids pick one book each that I’ll purchase for them. I tell them they can choose any book they want, as long as I approve it. I’m pretty lenient. If Laylee wants to pick the Strawberry Shortcake book just because it comes with matching chap stick, I’ll probably try to persuade her to pick something a bit more worthy of my $5 investment. But if she insists, I’ll buy it for her and even read it multiple times until she gets it out of her system.

Magoo, on the other hand needs a little more guidance. He always wants books with Star Wars or scary demons or freaky carnage on the cover. Usually he picks chapter books that describe battles in great detail and I just tell him, “No sir. Let’s get something more appropriate for your age.”

This last time I convinced him to choose a picture book about dinosaur combat. He got his violence (combat means FIGHTING, Magoo), and I comforted myself with the idea that at least it was educational.

Since Laylee gets a chance to peruse the book fair options during school hours, she had already made up her mind before we ever get there to buy books together. Her choice was a paperback chapter book about a 4th grade girl with an attitude who whines a lot, carries a purse and lip gloss to school, and thinks that all grownups are out to get her. I was not thrilled with this choice but Laylee seemed to have her heart set on it. “How bad could it be?” I thought.

Then we got it home and I started reading. It’s not that the book is foul or violent or even that obnoxious. (Okay, it’s pretty obnoxious.) It’s just too old for her. The 4th grade girls talk about how the 4th grade boys are lame, the 5th grade boys are interesting, the 6th grade boys are dreamy, and the 7th grade boys are from another planet and amazing. I don’t want to read Laylee a book about a 4th grade girl who’s ogling the bodies of junior high boys and dreaming of her first kiss. Laylee’s barely 6 years old.

And two chapters in, she loves the book, loves the attitude, loves the drama, loves the primal struggles of a middle-class pre-tween who’s headed for adulthood WAY too fast.

I hate the book. I don’t want to read it to her. I said this to Dan last night and read him a few passages and he said, “Don’t read that to Laylee. It’s too old for her.”

I had a ton of excuses for why it was too late to stop: I let her buy it. I’ve already started reading it with her. She loves it. It’s not really that bad, especially if she were 9 or 10. But she’s NOT 9 or 10, and I BOUGHT it for her.

Then it hit me. I’m always complaining about these little mini-teens I see walking around school with their attitudes and their little sassy outfits. I always say that I don’t want my little girl growing up that fast. As her mother, it’s my job to step in and say, “That’s not appropriate for you.” And she’ll be mad. I guess I figure if I don’t make her mad every once in a while, then I’m not taking my job seriously enough.

But if I don’t have the guts to stand up to this one, am I gonna find myself cowering in the corner when she and her friends want to play spin-the-bottle at her 8th birthday party, or when she wants to buy the size-10 sweatpants that say “SASSY” across the rear end? No. We’ve got to talk about this stuff now.

The problem is, she won’t understand. Because what I’m gonna tell her is, “It’s just not good for you. It’s too old for you.” When you tell a kid, “It’s too old for you,” what they hear is, “I think you’re a baby.” The problem is she is still kind of a baby -- she’s my baby, and I’d like to keep her innocent for a while longer.

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