It's after ten o'clock on a Tuesday evening. This is the time of night I'm usually under my covers with a book or Netflix, or worst case scenario still scrubbing tomato sauce off the kitchen counters. But not tonight. Tonight Jeremy is in California and I'm flying solo. Tonight my eleven year old daughter finally showed me a sexually explicit Instagram post that has been distressing her these past few days. She was relieved to talk about it, to get it out there and to hear that she is going to be just fine. But even so she put her head in my lap and sobbed while I ran my fingers through her hair and tried to explain the world to her.
Sometimes on Tuesday nights we unexpectedly have to explain the world to our kids. At first I was furious with the whole situation, that the Instagram post came from "Disney Top Secrets" and that I was giving up a perfectly quiet Tuesday night to such unnecessary trash. But of course mostly I was furious with myself for not checking her Instagram friends recently. Our family rule is "only close friends and family" but that's the thing with kids. They get excited in their cyber treasure hunting, they become distracted. They forget. And it had "Disney" in the title. What's safer than Disney?
This isn't one of those posts where I'm going to soapbox about the evils of the internet, or try to rally support for parents to join forces and Care Bear Stare against evil. It's late. I'm thrashed. I ran kids all over town to piano and basketball practice. I was defeated in an impromptu "Connect Four" championship before dinner. We read picture books, scriptures and then knelt in family prayer while James tried to turn somersaults on the carpet and kicked Elisabeth in the face. When it came time to actually deposit the chicks in bed one of my middle child informed me that it must be my number one wish to make her suffer. There is still tomato sauce crusted all over the kitchen counters, but I haven't done anything about it because I've been too busy listening to my oldest daughter quietly sing Primary songs to herself in an effort to get the bad images from Instagram out of her head.
I just sat on the edge of my bed listening to her sing. It was like a solitary bag pipe at a funeral and it turned all of my righteous anger into something sad, sad, sad. Something did die tonight. It was palpable. She knows about the birds and bees, but not like that. Not in the violent, frightening way it was presented to her. The world became a little bigger, a little darker, a little more jeering. We knew this was going to happen. We've been telling her that since she started using the internet socially. We've warned her again and again that eventually she'd stumble onto something that didn't look appropriate or didn't feel right. No one is surprised that this happened and many would say that we're lucky she made it to eleven.
But I think it's okay to feel sad and frayed at the edges when we have to walk through that door with our kids. You know the door I'm talking about. The one where you have to explain the world and then try to smooth it over and make it safe and sunny once again. This is parenting. It's going to happen again and again, and sometimes it will be taken in stride, other times it will come unexpectedly and feel more jarring. It will happen to children who are six, sixteen and eleven, when a piece of their innocence sloughs off, breaks off or is torn off simply because they live in this world. They are part of it and we can't stop the process, we can only build high fences and teach them, teach them, teach them. And of course point them back toward the sunshine.