We had a party yesterday for Anna, who turned three, to her very great excitement. I came over with the Harrises around 4:30 and found Anna wired with anticipation. She and Renée and the little boys played in a pool in the Lloyds’ backyard while I grated vast piles of cheese for Dan in the making of homemade pizzas for dinner. They were our kind of good times, with fun and talk with and around the kids ’til they went to bed, and then another five hours after, which took us to one-something a.m.: nothing unusual to me, but a very rare affair for these parents who are always up at the crack of dawn with their early-to-rise children.
I was more of a listener this particular night, as I was both more curious as to what the others had to say, and less than certain about the examples being used. A conversation on styles and evolution of humour in general – with notable television shows as examples – drifted increasingly to the social impact of such shows: what were the values being transmitted, what was the cultural reception of the shows, etc. This then became increasingly focused on sexual mores and the impact of various shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex in the City. I probably have still to this day only seen a quarter of Seinfeld episodes at most (so I still get to see lots of new ones!), I had come to loathe Friends fairly early on (as canned humour, characters who really weren’t attractive, or who couldn’t be that upbeat without significant amounts of pharmaceuticals and/or therapy given their behaviour), and I’ve only seen an episode or two and a few more fragments of Sex in the City, and so I had no opinion on that one other than knowing several people I respected who enjoyed it at some level. (I’ve come under the impression that my assessment of Friends is fightin’ words to some people. I several episodes its first season, on after Seinfeld as it was, and that was it for me. In Seinfeld it was up front how horrific the characters were: Friends didn’t seem to be aware of it. That’s what I seem to recall: maybe it’s all wrong.)
So this conversation – which occasionally morphed into debate – went back and forth in all sorts of directions, turning eventually into a discussion among the parents on how to best guide children toward a healthy understanding of, and attitude toward, sexuality and sexual morality, with particular reference to television and such media. This occasionally took novel turns as people tried to sort out the relative values of themes, such as “If your teenage child could only watch Leave It To Beaver or Sex in the City…?” “Sex in the City.” I finally felt like I had something to add at the end, when I tossed out the question, “Okay. So you guys have been talking about how as parents you ought to teach your kids about how to have a healthy and moral approach toward sexuality. How should you as parents model a healthy sexual relationship for your kids?”
Silence. Amy was the first to spring the jokes that I’d set up with that one, but after a pause, some really compelling conversation started coming out in this direction.
Oh. I’m sitting here in the dark. I’m gonna go over to Starbuck’s.
Okay. So that turned into an interesting discussion about what you let kids see or know without selling ringside seats. A few years ago I was running around with this girl on campus for a while and was struck by a story she had told of being a young teen, before her Dad passed away while she was in high school. Her parents had a great marriage, apparently, and she described a scene where the family was all gathered in the kitchen, chattering away and laughing while dinner was being prepared. Her father was standing behind her mother, holding her with his arms around her while they were all talking. As they were all laughing and joking, her father started to feel her mother up, and her mother laughed and slapped him away, all in fun. In the story, she just conveyed that as a normal part of her parents' affection for one another: maybe not the most common behaviour, but also not something shocking (if not the type of thing teens might be too enthusiastic about seeing). Growing up in a single-parent household, I realized that I didn't have much of a way of gauging the normalcy of such things. I tossed that example out to the gang and let them run with that. So there was a lot of talk about kids being able to see their parents holding one another, kissing, expressing physical affection, as well as the simple verbal kind of confirmation to kids that their parents are sexually active with one another. I've never actually heard this particular question addressed before in a group, and so it was fascinating to see how everyone worked with it.