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Guiding children is hard enough, but who's going to guide the parents?

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, March 23, 2008

One small cheese pizza and one medium with mushrooms and green peppers, with pepperoni on half. It's movie night. Just Mom and Dad and our two girls. We usually do this once a week.

The pizza order arrives, but is only vaguely correct. I'm taking the pepperoni off the small and putting it on half the medium, while the girls cue up the movie. Sasha, 7, comes storming into the kitchen, followed by her sister, Anna, who is about to turn 9.

"Mom, that guy just said a bad word," she announces. Anna is nodding, indicating that the two of them have discussed this and decided it was best to report it.

"Um, which word?" I ask.

"S-H," Sasha says.

Really? What the heck movie did we pick? "Blades of Glory," a silly Will Ferrell comedy. Someone gave it to us, and we never got around to watching until now. The girls requested it when they saw it was about ice skating, because they love ice skating. It has curse words in it?

Really? "Are you girls sure?" I ask.

"Mom," Anna reports, "he just turned to the guy and said, 'Oh, shut up.' "

Oh, that bad word. My goodness, my girls are sheltered.

True, we don't say "Shut up" in our house, but it's not a really, really bad word, and maybe it's consistent with the guy's character? Why are they reporting this mild infraction? I wonder if it's because this is a parent-sanctioned movie and therefore I'm somehow responsible for the content. I have a vague suspicion that I'm heading into unchartered territory.

I summon my husband, and we all head to the couch with our respective plates of pizza. Will Ferrell's skating is hilarious but not half as funny as Jon Heder's girly hair and peacock outfit. My girls don't know what to make of the peacock outfit. Sasha says it's pretty but looks stupid on a boy. Anna says the boy looks like a girl, anyway. I'm wondering how to explain the joke.

The two skaters hate each other, and Anna looks at me when she hears "hate," another forbidden word in our house. The skaters get into a fistfight, and one of them says, "Shut up" again. Because of the fight, the guys get banned from the skating world, and Jon Heder's father disowns him, kicking him out of the car. It's funny because it's so ridiculous. I turn to look at Anna, and she has her hands over her ears and her eyes squeezed shut.

"Sweetie," I say. "Are you okay? It's just a movie."

"It's not about the movie," she says. "It's just, my ears hurt, and my eyes hurt a little."

"You have earaches?" my husband asks. "Honey, are you sick?"

"Sometimes my ears and my eyes hurt, is all," she says, faking a smile.

I pause the movie, go over to her. My husband looks at the container the movie came in. "Did we know this was rated PG-13?" he asks.

No, I don't think we did. And I don't think my girls have ever seen a movie rated PG-13, and, stupidly, my husband and I have never discussed our position on this matter. Do we have a position?

"That's bad!" Sasha says. "PG-13 means bad!"

"Julie and Morgan both saw PG-13 movies before," Anna says, still holding her ears. "I want to see it!"

Suddenly, and for the first time, I am envying the very clear-cut way my own parents handled the movie rating issue. They would consult the Catholic Standard newspaper, and, if the movie was not approved by the Catholics, I was not allowed to see it. End of discussion. I remember feeling enraged, determined to bust loose from such rigorous constraints. When I was 15, I snuck out and saw "The Exorcist," rated R. It was so terrifying that I couldn't even act cool. I literally stuck my head under the seat and sobbed. Of course, I blamed my parents for not enabling me to develop a thicker skin, movie-wise. Even now, I can't take much in the way of blood and guts and watching people get murdered and watching women get raped. Thin-skinned. Can't take it. I no longer blame my parents, or even the Catholics, but I do wonder how much parental influence goes into shaping a person's aesthetics.

All you have to see is your kid holding her ears and turning away from a movie -- and feeling too embarrassed to admit to her own family that this is what she is doing -- to know when too rough is too rough, even if it seems tame.

"Oh," I say to my husband, "this is a teenager movie. Well, that's not going to be fun for us."

"Nah," he says, and he hits eject, and we settle on yet another screening of "Mary Poppins."

My girls are really sheltered. I swear I didn't plan this. But they can't take much. They can't take "Shut up." They can't take "hate." Is this a tragedy?

The next day, Anna wants to know why some boys call girls "horses." She knows it's rude, but why? It takes me a long time to figure out that she misheard the word, which was actually "whores." I have so much explaining to do.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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