By Tanya Ward Goodman
Our local pop station does an hourly run down of the news. Each item is given no more than a few words and these words are delivered in the announcer’s “serious” voice, which slices through the tide of Meghan Trainor and Andy Grammer like Moses through the sea. This bad news is concentrated and direct. It’s not couched in the NPR speak that sounds to my kids like “blah, blah, blah.” They actually hear this bad news and they respond.
On a recent day, the sound bite went sort of like this, “LAPD declares crime is up. Hungry coyote population invades neighborhoods. Drought continues. Bill Cosby abuse allegations gain traction.”
“Whoa,” my son said, “our city sounds like it’s in trouble.”
“What did Bill Cosby do?” my daughter asked.
My kids have watched and enjoyed the Cosby Show. They watched parts of Bill Cosby: Himself and laughed themselves silly. They didn’t have to see the pudding commercials of my youth to like the guy.
I wanted to give my daughter an honest answer. I wanted to give my gorgeous girl the truth without shaking her faith in humanity. The truth is bad guys don’t always look like bad guys.
“Bill Cosby gave some women some drugs and drinks so that he could… get close to them and kiss them even when they didn’t want him to,” I said. “Some of these women have come forward and are telling the world so it doesn’t happen again.”
I didn’t need to talk about sex to make this sound terrible to my ten year-old. Kissing is terrible enough.
“But he’s a comedian,” she said.
She was quiet for a moment and then she said, “He’s like an evil clown.”
“Exactly.” I said.
An evil clown is also known as a “tricky adult.” There are tricky adults who might ask a girl to keep secrets from her parents. These tricky adults can show up at school, at church, at family gatherings. These tricky adults do not always appear as the creepy person in the van with a box of kittens. Because I’ve known a few of these characters, myself, I’ve talked with my kids about tricky adults since they were old enough to really hear me. I try to talk about it casually. It’s the “long serious talk” that plugs their ears, so I keep it brief. I bring it up and let it drop and bring it up again another day. Kids like to shout so we’ve practiced shouting, “I don’t know you.” Kids like to plot so we’ve plotted escapes. We talk about kicking and hitting and biting and running as fast as our feet will carry us.
But the tricky thing about a tricky adult is that he or she might be someone you know. The evil clown might be someone you trust. I tell my kids that it’s still okay to shout and to bite and to run.
I want my kids to be wary, but I don’t want them to be afraid. For me, the only way to do this is to engage in an ongoing and frank conversation.
Our talk of Bill Cosby and evil clowns and drugs and kissing ending when Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” started to play.
“Turn it up,” my daughter shouted.
And I did.
And we all sang as loud as we could.
And then my daughter said, “You know this song is about Katy Perry. She and Taylor used to be friends. What do you think happened?”
And that, my friends, was the beginning of another conversation.
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