A couple of weeks ago I took my seven-year-old granddaughter to Disney World for her birthday. Yes, it was a ridiculously expensive present, but this past year has been all about the birth and cuteness of her new baby brother, so I decided that several days dedicated totally to her would be better than another box of clothes or the latest doll to hit the shelves.
She excitedly counted down the days before we stepped on the plane together, and she plugged herself contentedly into her iPod after the thrill of the rush down the runway. As we sped through the clouds, I heard her singing to herself, “Baby, baby, baby……oh….” and knew that Justin Bieber was capturing her attention once again as he often does during our car rides together. Her ability to memorize lyrics has vastly improved in the past year, and the result is often disconcerting as I hear her recite the rap streams that she and her friends practice while riding the bus to school. She mimics Ludacris with, “She woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.”
Part of this is my own fault, as I often have music on when she’s in my house or car, and at times the lyrics are not always G-rated. Some songs that sound so bouncy and fun turn into something rather different when the words come out of a teen-in-training’s mouth. She LOVES Katy Perry, but I drew the line when she piped, “There’s a stranger in my bed, there’s a pounding in my head…I smell like a mini-bar….“ from the hit “Last Friday Night.” Even I have sung along happily to songs like Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” without realizing it was about a kid taking a gun to school to shoot other students.
She has one foot in childhood, running full speed to the Mad Teacups ride and pining for an visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, while the other is planted in an adult society where she’s bombarded with suggestive television ads and songs with questionable lyrics. She paints her nails and frets over whether she’s too fat to wear a bikini. The child in her wants to hug the performers dressed in Disney character costume, but she declines when I ask her to stand with Minnie Mouse for a photograph.
At the end of one exhausting day at the Magic Kingdom, we wound down for sleep by watching one of the funny video shows with clips of babies and animals doing silly things. A commercial came on with a scene promoting an upcoming movie. A couple kissed and then the young man pulled off his shirt before proceeding to do the same for his girlfriend. I managed to hit the channel selector before hers came off, and my granddaughter looked at me and asked, “Nana, do people always take their shirts off before they kiss?“ I quickly assured her that they do not. Without skipping a beat, she added, “Did YOU ever take your shirt off when you kissed a boy?“
I’m all for giving truthful answers to kids’ questions IF it is appropriate, but I paused for a moment. I knew that like most kids, she’d walked in on her mom and dad more than once in various stages of undress, so I flat out lied and told her I might have done it a few times but only with her grandfather after we were married. A cop-out, for sure.
As I watch her move in quantum leaps toward the awkward preteen years, I hope she keeps asking those questions. As embarrassing as they can be, I want her to hear other voices….caring adult voices…to counter the too-much-too-soon culture we live in. And I need to change the play lists on my iPod.