can you define “inappropriate” for me?

25 Sep

This past weekend, Danny was horsing around in his pj’s, bouncing on our bed, being his usual wild self. To my surprise, he settled down and asked me to sing to him, like I used to. He actually let me sing lullabies to him, probably for the last time. It was so sweet, the three of us laid on the bed as I sang. I’m not a good singer, but I did my best. I went through all our old favorites, including the songs I remember my parents signing to me. It was really nice…

…until Ken started really listening to the lyrics. He raised one eyebrow at the second verse of “Danny Boy,” he made faces at the verse in “Wild Colonial Boy” where “a bullet pierced his brave young heart,” and he lost it completely when I got to “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” It’s a great song, all about an Australian soldier who gets sent to Gallipoli. Ken started to protest when I mentioned the “blood, death, and fire.” When I got to the point in the song where the singer’s legs get blown off, he sat up and said, “What the hell, Sheilah?!”

I can’t help it. These are the songs I know, the songs my father passed down to me. Irish ballads aren’t exactly known for their happy cheerful fun times. They all seem to involve death or dying, and I’ve sung them all to Danny, as my father sang them to me. When Danny was barely two years old, he could belt out “The Fields of Athenry” with the best of them, another charmer set during the Famine. To my father’s beaming pride, Danny would loudly and proudly sing “Michael! They are taking you away!” in his little baby voice. For the chorus, he would go “lo! lie! fee-ulds! wyyyyye!” It was adorable.

It never occurred to me that Danny was actually listening to the lyrics of the songs I sang, just as I don’t remember paying much attention to them when I was younger. Still, for Ken’s sake, I switched to songs from The Muppet Movie. Which, upon repeat viewings as an adult, had totally inappropriate moments that sailed over my head as a child. My personal favorite is in The Muppets Take Manhattan, when all the Muppets are chattering at once in Pete’s restaurant, then they all get quiet. You can still hear Janice, though, as she says, “So I told him, I don’t care if it’s art, I’m not taking my clothes off!”

My parents exposed us to tons of inappropriate things, and it never bothered me. When I was 4? 5? years old, my mother wanted to see “Moonstruck” in theaters. For whatever reason, she took me with. Why not? My father would snort and deride whatever my sister and I watched on tv as ‘claptrap,’ then turn around and teach us songs like “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” or “The Men Behind the Wire,” which weren’t exactly happy songs. Swearing was frowned upon, unless it was in the context of “Rock On, Rockall,” where the singer enthusiastically sings “may the natural gas burn your ass” to the invading British.

There’s also what I would term the ‘sanitizing’ approach. I vividly remember my oldest sister showing “Dirty Dancing” to my other sister and I, and fast-forwarding through a few scenes. The explanation, “She can’t dance because she’s sick” was accepted without question. My brother showed us war movies like “Empire of the Sun,” fast forwarding only the goriest death scenes.

On the whole I don’t think I’m any worse for being exposed to things that others would deem inappropriate. In fact, the only movie I remember being scarred by is “The Sound of Music.” Those goatherd marionettes gave me serious nightmares.

It gets harder as your child gets older. They’re exposed to a lot more than a few lullabies. I try to screen what Danny watches and listens to, but it’s impossible. This kid loves to read, anything he can get his little paws on. One of his favorites is the daily newspaper. When he was 2, he thought the Cars section was just for him. Now, he skims through the news, looking for the comics, and picks up some things probably not appropriate for his age level on his way to Garfield [insert obligatory joke about how only 6-year-olds still find Garfield funny].

And sometimes I totally drop the ball and have to turn off the television or the radio in a hurry. “Whoops! Guess you shouldn’t be [listening to/watching] that!” is said a lot in our house. I can no longer assume that things are over his head. I want to be vigilant, but not overprotective.

What inappropriate things have you exposed your kids to, inadvertently or not? Where do you draw the line? How much pre-screening do you do? Just how sheltered should he be?

On a final note, my husband should not criticize my lullaby choices. He and Danny love to watch Top Gear (the UK version, not the inferior US knockoff), to the point where Danny wanted to name the dog Jeremy Clarkson. I thought this was fine, perfectly family friendly, until last night, when Danny repeated a question to me that he had heard on Top Gear. “Mom, what can you change faster, a gear box or a woman’s dress?” The sneaky inappropriateness is the worst.

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson, on the set of Top ...

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson, on the set of Top Gear (current format) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, he does kind of look like the dog…

Bennett, on the set of my parents’ porch. When he gets wet, and his hair gets all curly, he *really* looks like Jeremy.

Additional Links:

Lyrics for Wild Colonial Boy:

About ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,’ which actually isn’t Irish at all:

The second greatest scene in Muppets Take Manhattan:


9 Responses to “can you define “inappropriate” for me?”

  1. vanessagobes September 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    we listen to country music at home and i’ve never worried about lyrics… and then red solo cup came along. of course my kids loved it immediately and my 6 year old proudly belts, “and you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles if you prefer drinking from glasses.” ummmm… yep. that’s about right. 😉 thanks for sharing.

  2. sohobbes September 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Lol!! I can totally relate – one of Danny’s favorite songs is “Party Rock Anthem”, which has some really sketchy lyrics!!

  3. Vicki September 25, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I’m sure there are some things that are worse than others, but I didn’t understand them at that age. Kids don’t have a frame of reference for that stuff. My parents sang “Brown Eyed Girl” to me, and the lyrics say “making love in the green grass, behind the stadium with you…”. Or I remember the first time I really listened to the words of “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” by the Eurythmics and realized how freaky it was when she sang “Some of them want to abuse you; some of them want to be abused.” When I was 3, my favorite song ever was “Jack and Diane”: “Diane’s sittin on Jacky’s lap, got his hands between her knees. Jackie says Hey Diane, let’s run off behind the shady trees. Dribble of those Bobby brooks and do what I please…” Yeah. Songs are filthy. And I belted them all out at the top of my lungs, not knowing for a second what Jacky wanted to do to DIane under those trees. I just liked the song because I liked Tastee Freeze. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  4. Sarah September 25, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    In many cultures through out time the whole family sleeps in the same room/bed and on occasion the parents will still have adult time even with the kids in the room. Also death was everywhere and still is. Let’s not forget the joy of “Ring Around the Rosie.”

  5. sohobbes September 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    True. Kids were much more acquainted with death back in the day.

  6. Vicki September 25, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Yeah. Apparently “London Bridge Is Falling Down” was about how they would bury a child alive inside the wall of a tower or bridge as a sentinel. So, it’s about walling children up to suffocate in a horrible death. What fun!

  7. sohobbes September 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    That’s one theory. I like the Viking theory as well.

  8. AnnotatedLA October 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    With a 14 month old and two nieces who are 2 and 4, we are in the midst of trying to decide just that. My sister allows her daughters to be exposed to a lot of things that I know others would find questionable, but she uses them as teaching moments. Because the 4 year old has watched “Bones” multiple times over her life, when 3 funerals came up in the same year, she was more easily able to understand it and handle it socially.

    I remember being young and watching my parents and friends parents stumble their way through this minefield too. My favorite memory of this kind of situation is of being so proud that a girlfriend and I could sing all the lyrics to “Shoop” by Salt N’ Peppa. We showed off the skill to her mom who immediately asked us if we knew what we were singing about. When we told her no, she banned us from the song until we were older.

    And my danger Will Robinson sensor goes off, even watching Disney movies, because I know all the innuendo that goes right over kids heads. And I have to remind myself that they just see the surface and not all the murkiness lurking underneath.

  9. sohobbes October 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I really like the “teachable moments” approach. Inappropriate things can become appropriate tools for dealing with tough situations. Great idea!!

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