After Easter Sunday service this year, Jif, LG and I went to Jif’s parents’ home to visit, hunt eggs, eat dinner, etc. Jif’s parents used to have names, but no one remembers what they were anymore; they are now called Nana and Pop Pop.
To fully appreciate the bizarre nature of the events that were to unfold that fateful day, you need to know a couple of things about Nana and Pop Pop, and about their home. Nana is a homemaker par excellence. Their house is CLEAN. And even more than that, it is always absolutely in order. There are no “strays” of any species in their home. There is not an envelope, paper clip, measuring spoon, cleaning product . . . NOTHING of which Nana is unaware. She knows where absolutely everything in their large, lovely home, is. The other thing you need to know is that, well, how do I put this . . . they don’t do porn. Remember those high school “superlatives,” most likely to do this, least likely to do that? Well, if they did community superlatives, Nana and Pop Pop would totally kick ass in the “Least Likely to Have Porn in the House” category. Or so we thought . . .
After dinner, the grown-up ladies present sat around the table chatting and having coffee. The gentlemen were probably watching sports somewhere, and the children were playing quietly upstairs. There was LG, and her cousins, Hoops (8), Slugger (5) and Miss Beautiful (4) (and here, I MUST give a shoutout to Little Joe (1), although she did not figure in this story). Shiraz came back from checking on the cousins to inform us that Hoops had revealed that “LG made me look at ‘an inappropriate book.’”
It seems that Shiraz had walked into an upstairs bedroom to find LG and Hoops looking as guilty as if the glove had fit, having hastily closed the book they were looking at. A book that they were, in fact, trying to keep out of view of the littler cousins.
This book, copyright 1970-something, is a very thoroughly illustrated sexual encyclopedia. Oh, yea. VERY thoroughly illustrated. Shiraz came back to the table and began describing it to us. Nana was shocked and horrified. I was trying not to over-react. Shiraz didn’t remember the name of the book right at that moment, but as she described it, I thought it must have been “The Joy of Sex.” You all remember that one. It is full of explicit, but sort of Picasso-like line drawings, not too, too graphic, especially for one who has never seen such goings on in real life. It leaves something, even if just a little bit, to the imagination. While Nana was freaking out, and Shiraz was trying to explain the book and the situation, and the lovely and talented Aunt Jen (whom you may remember from here) was remaining calm and rational, and I was trying not to join Nana in freakville, LG is sort of hovering to see whether she’s in trouble.
I needed a moment (24-hours) to figure this one out. I didn’t think she did anything wrong, because I knew her father and I had never addressed the notion that there could even BE such a thing as “an inappropriate book.” That’s not language we ever would have used. And we certainly never cautioned her that there were books in Nana’s house that she mustn’t look at. I mean, who knew?! We have always talked very openly with LG about sex, so even seeing the book’s title would not have triggered an automatic “don’t touch” for her. This was a tricky one. As she sort of hovered, wide-eyed and anxious, we just made casual conversation with her, not directly confronting the situation, and LG went off to play again.
Shiraz was pretty sure that the book wasn’t “The Joy of Sex,” so she went upstairs to get it, so I could see exactly what my precious baby had seen, so I could talk to her about it responsibly. Ohdearlordhavemercy. This, my friends, is what an “inappropriate book” looks like:
The drawings in this book are not vague line drawings. They have shading, and hair and crevices, and the appearance of moisture (Godhelpme), and they don’t leave a doggone thing to the imagination. And it is a most excellent, thorough reference book. Everything you’ve always wanted a picture of but were afraid to ask your grandmother for! So we’re looking at this and the freak-out alert level has now been raised to magenta. Nana was quietly freaking out because of the “innocence lost,” and because she felt responsible. I did not hold Nana responsible. Things happen. There is no way Nana would EVER do anything, or neglect to do anything, that would result in any negative effects on her grandchildren. The book had been sitting on a shelf for probably 30 years, getting dusted regularly, along with the World Book Encyclopedia. (WHY couldn’t they have looked up sex in the World Book!?)
I was trying to maintain control of my own freaking out, because it really was not the best timing for LG and Hoops to have seen these images. Children, especially pre-pubescent children, should not see graphic sexual images. What happens, in my opinion, is that when children see images that they could not imagine on their own, those images become strongly imprinted. There is no “compartment” in which to put them, and they take on greater prominence than they would if they fit neatly into a healthy category that already exists in the child’s catalog of images — oh, that’s a tiger; oh, that’s some sort of small rodent that looks like it could be a pet, I’ll put it in the “hamster” file — that’s how I think a child’s brain works. Then when they experience, “OH! What the HECK is THAT?”, the THAT becomes a very prominent memory. Think about it; if you had the experience of seeing graphic sexuality as a child, I’ll bet you have a strongly imprinted memory, probably with some strong emotional component as well. So I’m thinking about all of these things, and how to navigate through this parental mini-crisis, and feeling bad for Nana’s feeling bad, and trying to maintain a sense of humor and perspective, when LG comes back into the room and sees us pondering the pictures in the inappropriate book.
Because she’s in no trouble YET, and because she has heard some anxious laughter from us, she is a bit more bold than on her last visit to the dining room. LG inquires, “What are you going to do with that book?”
Grown-ups react differently to anxiety-producing situations. I get quiet and ponder. Nana, not so much. She and Aunt Jen started offering possible future uses for the inappropriate book. I began to find this amusing, and knew that laughter would have added a whole ‘nother level of impropriety, so I bit my lip and turned my head to the side, hoping that I would seem to be still deeply considering what, if any, consequences LG would face.
Aunt Jen offered that she often takes old books and donates them to the library.
LG wasn’t having any of that. “You’re not taking that book to the library!” she says.
“Sure, we donate books to the library all the time. It’s just a book, libraries have all kinds of books . . .”
And then Nana comes in with reinforcements to Aunt Jen’s “we give sex books to charity” theme . . .
Nana says, “I take my old books to the hospice.” That did it. I lost it. WHY OH WHY did she have to say THE HOSPICE?
There goes my head turned, lip-biting, LG wondering where I stood. I couldn’t stop laughing. “THE HOSPICE? You’re taking porn to the HOSPICE?”
Nana backtracks, “Well maybe not THAT book; I’m just saying, I DO take books to the hospice . . .”
“Oh, yea, that’s a great book to take to the hospice. And you can volunteer to read to the patients and show them the pictures. You’ll say, ‘See THIS? That’s another thing you ain’t NEVER gonna do again!’”
I think Nana may have told me to “shut up” then. Which, of course, is so inappropriate. I’m just sayin’ . . .