A little while ago, on the way to school, walking hand in hand with my youngest daughter, we came across some new grafitti on a wooden fence. Now and again that happens, and when it does, we discuss it, I paint over it and that is the end of it… until… a bored teenager decides otherwise and once again makes ‘creative’ use of the lovely blank canvas I have provided.
Repeat the process.
This policy has worked very well up until now, but I am having to rethink it because we recently stumbled upon this work of art. (Can I actually call it that?)
I had no idea just how I was going to handle this one because I am a big believer, for the most part, in telling my children the truth. The caveat to this approach is of course, that if I believe that the whole truth and nothing but the truth will be to too hurtful or too harmful, I opt for another way out. In this case both criteria were met. This was way too much for her and waaaaaay too horrifyingly uncomfortable for me.
(I like to think I can handle a lot but please remember that all this took place at eight fifteen in the morning and I was not yet firing on all cylinders.)
She looked at it. I looked at it.
I was wished that the ground would open up and swallow me whole. I thought back to graffiti explanations that I have given in the past, but nothing so far could equip me for what was before our eyes right now.
My most memorable past graffiti explanation would have to be when this child of mine was only five years old and learning to read. She looked at the very same fence (four layers of paint ago) and asked,
“Mom what is a pen is?”
Awwww, that was cute. I could handle that one. I smothered my smile and said,
“Actually Sweetie, it doesn’t say pen is. It says penis. You know, it’s the name we use when we are talking about boys private parts.” (You would think that we discussed jiggly bits every day I was so nonchalant about it.)
She nodded and then she said, “I think it was a boy who did it.”
I agreed that it possibly might have been but we couldn’t be 100% sure.
I probed her for more…
“Why do you think it was a boy and not a girl who drew this?”
“Well,” she explained with childlike wisdom, “He had to write penis because vagina is too tricky for a boy to spell!”
Game over. She was not phased by it at all.
We talked about it, I painted over it, we all moved on.
But this time, it was surely not going to be as easy as that. She is older and wiser.
So here’s how it went:
We saw the new graffiti.
She looked at it. I looked at it. Not a word from either of us.
Just as I was mustering up the courage to explain it as tactfully as I could, she beat me to it.
“Ohhhh I get it now, it is a happy whale!”
“Yes'” she went on explaining to her evidently slow mother, “See here is the head and body and tail. It isn’t drawn very well and I could do a much better job of it!”
Yes! I had been saved by her artistic flair and her innocence. A wonderful combo deal!
We saw it, we briefly talked about it, I am yet to paint over it.
I think maybe subconsciously (very, very deep down) I know that there is more discussion that should happen around this whale. I’m not there yet and neither is she, so for now, on the wall is where he will stay.
I still don’t like him very much and his days are definitely numbered but until I find the courage or get tired of his smirk, he’ll be there to greet us on the way to school and on the way home again.
At least for now when I do accidentally make eye contact with him, I see a happy whale and that makes me smile.
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