I’m on a new kick about how kids—and adults—learn. It’s the case lately that I am both teacher and student. Weird feeling. Forgive me if (and when) I ramble. Try to find a point and comment on it.
I know I’m getting old because I’ve stated to get protective of kids. As I type, there’s a birthday party for a young girl going on in the rec center underneath my apartment (no, I didn’t know that when I moved in.) I’m guessing by the pink balloons and the matching table settings everywhere and the sound of the voices as they sing along to the music, that she’s somewhere around seven. It just so happens that I can hear the words to every song line for line. I’d go down and complain about the sound and the bass, but it happens that he deejay is pretty damn good. His set is like my iPod and I’m in a particularly joyous mood since I went to the barbershop on a Saturday afternoon and found there was no wait. (Shout out to Kurt!)
Anyway, the playlist is very adult. There’s no Aknelye (cue “Put It In Your Mouth”), but there’s 50 singing all over a chorus about not wanting to make love, just needing sex, and T-Pain fake singing about buying drinks and being in love with a stripper. The deejay isn’t even bothering to play the clean version of anything. Somehow I just don’t think most of his set is appropriate for a kid’s party, much less for the kids to know all the words and be able to sing along. Like all single people with no kids, I say, “if I had a kid, I wouldn’t allow them to listen to that…” but perhaps that’s easier said than done.
I don’t know where I got the idea that kid’s minds should be protected from adult words. My father cursed like a man in white sailing the seven seas when I was coming up. The result is I curse in front of (but normally not at) my parents on a semi-regular basis. When I was growing up, my mother—a rather conservative woman—didn’t believe in censoring anything other than (of all things) Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That On Television, which of course made me want to watch it more. She actually let me watchNightmare on Elm Street Part 1 when I was around 8 or 9 and I fell asleep with the light on in my bedroom for the next 5 years, but that’s another topic. Shows like DeGrassi High, Facts of Life, and A Different World, which often dealt with adult fare, were fair game. We often had parties at our house (we’ve always had a bar and a dance floor in our basement) and I can recall being privy to way too drunk adults saying way too adult things in front of me- some of which I understood. I still don’t know which parent went through the phase of reading the Black literary cannon (it’s a toss up), but there were walls of bookshelves everywhere. By the time I was 12 or so, I’d plucked off Native Son, Black Boy, a few Black Panther books (I could recite the 10 Point Plan by the time I was ten), and some Terry McMillan and Danielle Steele novels. From these I learned that white folk can be really evil, black men could be really fucked up, and rich white women had great sex. Not really things that a pre-teen needs to know, I don’t think. But no one seemed to mind what I was reading as long as I read.
My Dad, who spent most of my kiddie hood on the road, wasn’t so liberal. I got caught at school (seventh grade, Baptist school) listening to Big Daddy Kane’s “Cause I Can Do It Right” on my Walkman and had to take a trip to the principal’s office because of it. I sat in front of two hyper-religious middle-aged white men (the principal and the teacher who found the tape), trying to explain what “It” was that Kane could do so well. (I got out of a suspension by feigning ignorance. I told them that “it” meant meet girls.) My father, a Mississippi bred Black man could put up with near everything I did, but lying ("I hate a lying bitch!" he would rant) and any sort of fucking up in school (“you got to get your lesson, D!” was his mantra until the day I earned my degree from grad school.) He was livid when he found out. He happened to be in town and when he came home—late as usual—he raided my tape collection. Anything with an explicit lyrics label (damn Tipper Gore!) ended up under the heel of his hard bottom shoe smashed to bits. Reams of skinny brown tape and broken plastic littered the grey carpet of my bedroom. As I cleaned up the mess, I cried for Tone Loc (“Funky Cold Medina”) and NWA (“Straight Out of Compton.”) I loved those tapes and still can’t listen to anything by them without thinking of this incident.
I learned a lesson from it though: I was too young to listen to adult lyrics—at least at school or in Daddy’s presence or where uptight adults might be lingering. I learned to play my profanity-laced lyrics on my Walkman (when I finally got it back. Dad held it hostage for awhile as punishment). And when my parents were around-even my Mom since she ratted me out-- I stuck to R&B. I was forbidden from taking the Walkman to school.
I don’t think I was harmed by hearing or reading anything too grown, but I also had a mother who was hell bent on discussing everything I might have overheard or encountered. She also preached to me about acting like a lady with religious fanaticism. (I think this was her balance to allowing me to see, hear, and listen to everything.) I hope the kids downstairs have Moms and/or Dads who do that too.