I am excited when I see the inaugural issue of The Onion poking its masthead out of our mailbox; it’s a six-month gift subscription from my 27-year-old stepson Andy to my 13-year-old son Will. The humorous newspaper was first introduced to me when Will had shared a “best of” book of the paper’s articles in the bookstore, and our mushrooming laughter had drawn ire from the quiet book patrons not standing in the Humor section.
Although it is poor mail etiquette, I can’t help myself, and I open it briefly, just wanting to pocket one fast laugh. But page six changes this. There I see a prominent ad for a store in the city, and it’s featuring adults-only merchandise and very little imagination. The pages drop precipitously from my fingers but still manage to land in perfect folds on the table.
What have I done? My shoulders sag. I had agreed to this gift. The book was truly hysterical. I never considered that the newspaper version might contain NC-17 advertising. I peel through the remaining pages finding one more personal ad page that makes my eyes water. I encouraged Andy to buy this. Will is ecstatic to receive it. How do I squeeze through this without going back on my word?
Responsible Mom, sitting on my left shoulder, quickly leans in and whispers, “This is inappropriate and you know it. You have to take it away,” while Cool Mom, lounging on the other side, softly coaxes, “Oh, it’s OK, you know he’s already heard or seen this language, most likely on the internet by now. Maybe he won’t even notice it. He loves that you think he is mature enough to read the publication — why spoil that? You don’t want to disappoint either of them, do you? Besides, it would be hypocritical at this point anyway.”
I shake my head; Cool Mom sure does have a way with words. She’s quick, too, always ready to give her opinion, hoping to debate Responsible Mom right into the dusty kitchen corner. Cool Mom’s approach gives the benefit of the doubt. She allows more freedom. She likes to say YES. This is, of course, why she is always preferred in the eyes of the child. But Responsible Mom has a tremendous duty. Her choices maintain the integrity of her own set of values, and instill them. This often translates into a NO. And when, on any given day, my decision-making skills do not generate an immediate YES or NO, the two of them hop onto my shoulders, ready to do battle.
I particularly remember the Battle at T.V. Hill when I witnessed other moms placing one hour per day limits on T.V. viewing time. Responsible Mom pulled out all kinds of impressive stats about diminished grades and a deterioration of imagination in support of a limit, while Cool Mom coaxed and cooed about educational shows he might miss, reminding me that every child needs some down time. Her final words, whispered in my ear, were “You watch all kinds of news, talk, drama and reality shows.” While a beaming Cool Mom looked on, I chose not to limit Will’s viewing habits.
But Responsible Mom is no pushover. Tired of waiting once for a promised phone call after a sleep-over, and not being able to get through on the phone herself, she drove over to the friend’s house, and abruptly pulled her son out of a lively video game marathon. She thought there was a lesson to be learned about remembering promises.
So both sides know that I will listen, and right now, Cool Mom is glowing like a Cover Girl. She knows I’m in a particularly heightened conflict about this newspaper because I have already said YES to it, and I hate to go back on my word. She’s sure she’s got this one in the bag.
I sit quietly at the kitchen table for a moment, make a decision, and retrieve some scissors. First, I double-check that there aren’t any continuations of any front page stories on the condemned pages, and then I just go down the folding line and cut a couple of entire pages out like they were never there. Whoosh – ghost pages. Responsible Mom should be pleased; I’m removing the suggestive material. But there’s a hitch. I’m not really being responsible since I am sneaking this action, so I still get the credit for being Cool Mom. Being preferred in the eyes of the child is a powerful thing. I finish cutting, put the newspaper where he looks for his mail, and he is thrilled to get it and read it. I say nothing.
A week later the mail arrives, and I recognize the green banner stashed between a gas bill and a request for money from my alma mater. I jump for it, crushing my fingers together for good luck that any ad I saw last week is long gone, a memory, then I see the exact same ads are there. Blood rushes to my brain; it’s an emergency.
This is going to be a problem. I have set a precedent. I will have to sneak behind Will’s back every week for the next six months, altering the paper like the fabled elf who always got the shoes repaired while the young boy slept.
“But by doing this, you’re just allowing the joy of the gift to continue while still protecting him,” Cool Mom reiterates. “What is wrong with that?”
It’s at this point that Responsible Mom gives Cool Mom a withering look and announces in a steely voice, “You know what you have to do.”
Will arrives home and asks if the new issue has arrived. I tell him “yes,” and then pause and say, “Will, I’ve got to talk to you for a minute. I have to say something about your paper. When I told Andy it was a good idea, I didn’t know about the advertising they carry. When it came last week, I kind of looked through it first, saw some offensive ads I had no idea were there, so . . . ” and I gulp here, “I actually removed a couple of pages.”
Will is looking down at the paper in his hands but raises his head to look at me when I confess. “I can’t expose you to this, it’s inappropriate, and I’m telling you because I’m going to have to continue to edit before you read it every week.”
I am expecting fireworks, condemnations of my actions, accusing remarks that I don’t find him mature enough to handle these things (as a teenager, he is very sensitive to that these days) or that I did something to his “property” without his knowledge, but he just looks at me and says, “Oh, I don’t care. Whatever,” and leaves the room.
A weight lifts off my shoulders. In fact, a weight does lift off my shoulders as Responsible Mom stands up to finally go get some rest. Cool Mom just sulks away in disgust. What’s left of Real Mom waits for the dust to settle, and heads off in search of the vacuum.