My husband loves The Simpsons (the animated television series). While I don't share his devoted, must-see-tv enthusiasm for the show (much less his ability to throw off expressions--"Doh!"--and quotes from the show line-by-line), I think there are far worse programs. Whether it is genetic, or purely by example, our kids love the show, too, and we all jump to our comfy couch-positions for our half-hour of Simpsons family-tv in the evenings after dinner.
The Simpsons is not exactly kid-friendly television, more PG-13 than G-rated family entertainment. However, I appreciate the lessons to be learned through the often-adult humor, about family, community, life. Watching together, there are always opportunities for interesting family discussion. While my husband tends to shy away from too-open discussion about difficult subjects (typical responses: "Go ask your mother" or "Let's talk about it later"), I'm all over it. No matter how young they are, any opportunity to get kids talking, sharing their thoughts, and asking questions is magic. The chance to share your thoughts, opinions and family values, while they are interested and listening, is precious.
So Russ (my husband) knew he was in trouble when the episode "Homer's Phobia" came on: Homer Simpson made a new friend, John, who was gay--and it was obvious to everyone except Homer (and our kids) that he was in fact the openly homosexual kind of gay, not the happy-go-lucky type. When Homer finally clued in, he was uncomfortable and homophobic, especially concerned that Bart would be influenced by John's example. By the end of the half-hour episode, Homer comes around to basically "live and let live" and an appreciation of people for who they are rather than biased attitudes based on prejudice and unsubstantiated fears.
I could feel Russ thinking, "Here it comes..."
I asked Zach (age 8) and Haleigh (age 6): "Do you know what 'gay' means?"
Zach (somewhat embarrassed, so like his father!): "When boys hug each other."
Me (launching into the joy of open discussion): "Well, it's more than that. You can have a good friend and boys can hug each other without being gay, or homosexual. It's when two men, or two women, love each other in the way that Mommy and Daddy love each other. It's more than just being friends and hugging once in awhile, it's kissing a lot, and living together, sleeping in the same bed."
(Here's where Russ wants to slink away, but he knows he's not allowed to. He knows the tough questions are coming now...)
We went on to talk about some of our good friends who are gay--avoiding the nitty-gritty and in-depth sexual discussion which our children at this age would not understand, but nevertheless, "outing" our gay friends, both male and female, to our children. (I could already imagine the next get-together where the kids would see these friends and what they might say...) Still, it was an invaluable moment with our kids, to be the ones to educate them on sensitive issues, to share our opinions, our family values. We talked about how we love our friends for who they are, regardless of their personal decisions. Like religion (and we've had that discussion before), our friends' decisions about their lives are right for them, and we love them regardless, even though those decisions might not be right for us. I firmly believe that, although I couldn't resist a subtle heterosexual plug: "Someday Zach and Tiger will find nice girls to love and marry, and Haleigh will find a nice boy--that way you can all have kids and we'll be grandparents!"
Next question, from Haleigh (a deep thinker):
"Mommy, are Shaney and Data gay?!"
Shaney and Data are our dogs, both female, both 11 years old (our first babies). Shaney is a lab-shepherd-collie mix, a puppy we adopted from a family that had taken in the pregnant mother as a stray. Data is a much-smaller, much-smarter beagle-terrier mix we adopted from the Humane Society to keep Shaney company. We have had both dogs since they were six weeks old and they have grown up together. It was actually a good question: they kiss up on each other, they live together and sleep in the same bed! Yes, we have lesbian dogs. (Actually, Russ and I have known that for a long time.) Gives a whole new explanation for why Shaney or Data won't ever have babies...(Actually, it's because they were both spayed when they were puppies, which I find is, for some reason, a lot harder to explain to a six-year-old: "But Mommy, why would you do that to them? Why can't they have babies? They WANT babies!")
"Trust me, Darling, Shaney and Data do NOT want babies--they have you and Zach and Tiger, which is about all they can handle at their age!"
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