You know those friends that you had all your first experiences with? First solo visit to the mall? First illegal drink? First cigarette? First (and last) time shoplifting? Of course you do. We all do. So it’s only apropos that we’d be with those friends the day our sons discovered internet porn.
It was a reunion of sorts. The old gang from the City, hanging out years later in the suburbs as grown couples with young children. The kids see each other no more than twice a year but are like peas and carrots when they do. The adults were downstairs doing our best boozy brunching, when a kindergarten boy tripped downstairs clumsily with a funny look on his face. His mom asked him how it was going and he mumbled with his various speech impediments something about Jagger’s new computer. Apparently 3rd grade boys get laptops on their 9th birthdays in those parts.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her scale the steps two at a time. She was back downstairs in no time looking dazed and glazed over. She told me the boys were hiding something. This is when the reflexes kicked in, and as there is strength in numbers, in a mom pack, back up we climbed.
We barreled into the room and there were 4 boys on the bed and the laptop was slammed shut. Sparrow- my sweet innocent 4 year old- was smiling his devilish grin and informed us they were watching inappropriate videos. (I hope he always stays this honest.) It didn’t occur to me- or maybe I subconsciously didn’t want to know- to demand to see, but before I knew it we were looking at a live action scene I will never be able to erase from my mind but I hope to never see again.
At that moment it all melted away. Their childhood, the simplicity, their untainted view of the world. Shattered by curiosity, lack of parental controls, and an evil tool called Google. I couldn’t be mad at the boys, they didn’t know what comes up when you search for “butt”. I wanted to blame the parents, our closest friends, but after all, we were all doing this parent thing for the first time. Electronic responsibility was unchartered territory. It was just a really bad dream come true.
We chose to tackle it head on. We told Sparrow it wasn’t something people do, most grown ups don’t watch that stuff, it wasn’t real life. As a kid who watches plenty of super hero cartoons, this was enough for him. We also told him he can’t talk to his friends about it because it wasn’t for little kids. We held our breath and hoped he understood the gravity of this request. Finch was a little harder because he had a better idea of what he saw. He was quieter, perhaps out of guilt, perhaps embarrassment. We gave him the same speech, and gave him ample opportunity for questions. The door is still open.
I thought about calling the schools, and alerting the teacher, the principal, the whole friggin world. I dreaded being the parent who spoiled it for everyone else. This wasn’t us, this wasn’t why we spent 7 years tiptoeing around things like curse words and violent movies and concepts like “stupid” and “hate”. But it didn’t matter, because it happened. And now it was time to trust our kids.
Luckily, they made us proud (this time). The principal never called. (Other families from that ill-fated afternoon were not so lucky) Angry parents didn’t beat down our door or drive us from town in a torch wielding mob. The boys moved on. It’s been a year and although I doubt they fully forgot as the pediatrician suggested, there are better things to talk about like Pokemon and Madden Mobile.
I learned a hard lesson that day. They don’t stay babies forever. The little kid problems are a walk in the park if this was any indication of what a big kid problem will look like. But my reaction was crucial. Just like when they were babies, they looked to me for guidance on how to respond. I played it cool, I didn’t scream but I also didn’t pretend it didn’t happen. I made something unthinkable seem mundane and approachable. And like a game of Madden Mobile, with me as their quarterback, I learned that these kids will be able to tackle growing up head on.