Yesterday, after having a conversation with a friend about a teenager she knew who texted nude photos to a boy who in turn showed them off to half the school, I decided to have an “Inappropriate Photos” discussion with my kids because I’m a mom and that’s the responsible thing to do. Or, it would be the responsible thing to do if every single conversation with my family didn’t tend to go sideways.
This was no exception.
(Set scene: Bell and I are sitting on the screened-in porch in the late afternoon sunshine, watching the dogs try to dig up a lizard that has burrowed itself beneath the landscape edging. It’s pretty entertaining except for the fact that I just bathed the dog and now her face and paws are covered in dirt and mulch, about which I am swearing creatively, before abruptly changing topic with no warning.)
Me: So, you know that you shouldn’t send naked pictures to people, right?
Bell: WHAT? What are you TALKING about?
Me: Naked pictures. You don’t go texting those around, right?
Bell: That is disgusting! WHY WOULD I DO THAT?
Me: Who knows. THERE IS NEVER A GOOD REASON, BELLS. DON’T DO IT.
Bell: I would never do that. What do you even SAY when you send somebody something like that?? “Hey, look at this you guys!”
Me: I usually don't say anything when I send mine.
Bell: (face in hands) Oh my God.
Me: Don't act so innocent. I distinctly remember you as a four-year-old standing in line at the mall to have your photo taken with the Easter Bunny, waggling your hips and shouting, “Hey, Easter Bunny! Wanna see my GIRL PARTS?” That was embarrassing.
Bell: (Horrified.) I WAS FOUR. And I was a really messed up little kid.
Me: You’re still pretty fucked up. Hence the conversation about not sending out naked pictures.
Bell: Do you really think I would do something like that?
Me: Not really, but I felt like as a responsible adult I should cover my bases.
Bell: Whatever. I already knew not to do stuff like that anyway because I’m not stupid and because some judge came and talked to us about it at school.
Me: A judge came and talked to you about naked photos? WHY DIDN’T I GET A PERMISSION SLIP ABOUT THIS? I GOT A PERMISSION SLIP WHEN THEY WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT PERIODS IN THE SIXTH GRADE!
Bell: Because I’m in high school now and nobody there cares what parents think. It was awesome though because it got me out of Language Arts.
Me: DON’T HATE ON LANGUAGE ARTS, BELL. LANGUAGE ARTS IS AMAZING. YOU KNOW YOU LIKED READING THE OUTSIDERS.
Bell: (rolls eyes)
Me: STAY GOLD, PONYBOY.
Bell: You are so weird. And Language Arts sucks. We’ve been taking this test for a week that’s supposed to help you figure out what you want to do when you grow up and I’m all like, “I don’t need this stupid test, I already know what I want to do after high school.”
Me: Since when? When we talked about this a month ago, the school counselor made you cry because she kept pressuring you to name a career path. (Which, by the way, is fucking ridiculous for a 9th grader, in my opinion.)
Bell: That was really stressful.
Me: Welcome to life, SodaPop. Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot.
Bell: KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE OUTSIDERS QUOTES, MOTHER. And it was after the counselor made me get so upset that I decided what I wanted to do.
Me: And what did you decide?
Bell: (100% serious) That I’m just going to skip college and marry a really rich guy so I don’t have to work and I can just do what I want all the time.
Me: (Pauses to consider how fucked up this is.) What if you can’t FIND a rich guy? And what if he doesn’t die soon and you have to see his old, saggy balls all the time while you’re waiting on him to leave his fortune to you? WHAT IF HE DIDN’T HAVE A RESPONSIBLE PARENT TO HAVE THE “DON’T SEND NAKED PHOTOS” TALK WITH HIM AND HE TEXTS YOU OLD MAN DICK PICS ALL DAY?
Bell: Ugh, gross. I didn’t say I was marrying an OLD rich guy. I just said rich. I figure I’ll find one that looks like Zac Efron, hang out with him until I get bored, then murder him and take all his money.
Me: (Thinking this over.) I feel like you’re narrowing your future too much, Bell. A hot rich guy you can murder after a little while might not be as easy to come by as you think. If you’re going to skip college and marry money, you should at least keep your options open for old, fat, and ugly guys too. Or maybe one of those super-nerdy tech start-up kind of guys, but they’re probably all Asian. What are your thoughts on Asian men?
(Sutt enters the porch, unfortunately for him, as he has no idea what’s coming conversationally. In my defense, however, if he hasn’t learned by now to expect the worst, he’s never going to make it in this family.)
Sutt: What’s going on out here?
Me: We’re talking about saggy old man balls and how your sister values them over a college education. Which reminds me, Sutt, don’t ever send naked photos to anybody.
Sutt: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Me: Naked photos. Don’t email them or text them or, like, post them on pervy internet sites.
Sutt: What is “pervy”? And WHY WOULD I EMAIL YOU NAKED PICTURES?
Me: “Pervy” means creepy and child-molestery. You know how I tell you not to get into Murder Vans with sketchy dudes who offer you a snow cone? It’s because they’re pervy.
Bell: And they’ll murder you in their murder van.
Me: Yeah. And I didn’t mean don’t send ME naked photos, I mean don’t send ANYBODY naked photos. I don’t want you to send them to me either. But, you know, I guess it’s not as bad if it's me since I’ve seen you naked a zillion times. It’s probably highly inappropriate though. I don’t want to go to jail for child pornography because you’re blowing up my phone with crotch shots.
Sutt: (looking kind of wild-eyed and deranged by this point) I would NEVER do that! Why would ANYBODY DO THAT?
Me: Do what? (Sorry, I was distracted by the damn dogs chasing the damn lizards again.)
Sutt: WHAT WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT. SEND NAKED PICTURES TO PEOPLE.
Me: Oh. It’s sex stuff.
Sutt: (Responding in his typical fashion whenever the word “sex” is mentioned, which means he falls over, curls into the fetal position, and throws his arms over his head, then begins rocking. It’s how he self-soothes. He does this A LOT when Bell and I are around.)
Bell: Okay. So nobody is sending naked pictures. Good talk. What’s for dinner?
Responsible parent box has been checked for the day.