My nine-year-old son is the center of my universe. This is the story of his childhood as it unfolds. Please read the first post, "Why I started this blog," to know more.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When I turned into a prude!

I wrote this in July 2002, but never bothered to spruce it up to send somewhere to get it published. Some of the stuff may seem outdated - Britney Spears, for instance, has come a long way from her virgin-till-I'm-married days. Anyway, now that I have a blog, I thought this piece to be 'out there.' It's a little bit of history. (grin!)

My son is just 5 months old and I have turned into a prude. I don't know whether it's a permanent thing or whether it's a phase that every new mother (or parent) goes through. Of late, the kid has been showing a whole lot of interest in newspapers and magazines. Put one in front of my little laptop and if you keep turning the pages regularly, he'll stay mesmerized for 20 minutes even. But every time I come to a page that features a "bold" ad -- by which I mean lots of skin-showing or suggestive lines (shudder!! Did I actually use the word "bold") or a graphic representing India's options in an all-out war with Pakistan, or the photo of a most-wanted terrorist, I find I'm cringing inwardly and find myself quickly skipping those pages and settling for showing the baby some "nice" display featuring colourful, attractive but "innocent" stuff.

It never used to be like that. I'd been seeing these very ads get bolder (Oof! There's that four-letter word again!) over the years. And they didn't seem that bold (Grrr…. where's a thesaurus when you need one). Sure, there used to be a big hoo-haa every once in a while when some ad crossed the line, so to speak, and steamy pictures and suggestive lines popped up in between boring TV programmes or even more boring political analyses. They were a topic of animated conversation to find out which side of the fence you were on, or in more intimate circles, an excuse to drool over the models' fabulous abs and vital statistics. Good for a few giggles, that's all.

Yet all of a sudden, it feels like there are simply far too many of these skinny, big things splashed all over the place. And there's this fish market inside my head going: Makers of innerwear and condoms justified in featuring semi-nude models. Semi-nude? Hah, there's hardly anything left to the imagination. Wait a sec, isn't that something my grandmother once said? Or maybe my Mum? Uh-huh. This is me I'm hearing. And I have a couple of years to go before I touch 30! Besides, it's not just innerwear, it's the (un)veiled ads for cigarettes, alcohol, shoes, colas and art paper. Even ads for clothes feature more of the model than the garment. Eeeeks!! I can't believe I just said that. Plus all that on-screen smooching and sexual innuendo on for-all-the-family sitcoms, not just the Dharma and Greg variety.

Then there's the violence. Till a few months ago, shows like NYPD Blue were good timepass and even Schwarzzenegger films didn't seem outrageously violent. The fictional guns and car chases and explosions were just a part of the action. Even real-life events, like the Columbine high school massacre, were a tragic news story I had to decide how best to position on the foreign page of the daily I worked for. Sad and scary till the "issue died down" and the stories stopped coming in. Now, it all seems very real and too invasive for comfort.

Since I refused to put my rising anxiety levels down to post-natal hormone changes (as advised by kindly neighbourhood ‘auntie’) I decided to an insta-poll outside the family. It's natural, said a friend with a degree in psychology but now selling insurance.

"You're afraid of all the stuff you have to protect your child from while he's growing up. Sex and violence in the media is something our parents worried about too. We watched cops and robbers on TV, we turned out okay. And when everyone grows up with it, everyone's cool with it." Is that so, I countered. So why does the Western media still mention Britney Spears' lack of clothing and her celibate-till-wedded vow in every little tidbit featuring her? The psycho shrugs. "Look on the bright side," she assures me. "At least we don't have topless models on the metro supplements and tabloids."

Not yet, I thought, remembering a colleague who was at his wits' end wondering what to tell his three-year-old son asking him why the "didis" on the cover of a daily's city supplement weren’t wearing proper clothes. "Chill out," the psycho ordered, "The discussion about the birds and the bees and the facts of life in specific are far away. He'll know how to cope." I'm sure he will. But what about me?

"Well, you should have thought about all that before you decided to have a kid," declared another, more forthright friend who admits the prospect of global warming and WWIII round the corner is a serious obstacle in way to becoming a Mum. "You've got to be kidding," I tell her. "While you're at it, you might as well worry about AIDS and cancer and pollution and water wars and the ozone layer and…." Gulp. I stopped to listen to myself and my anxiety levels went up some more.

Calm down, I told the voices in my head. Tried doing some breathing exercises, failed, and came up gasping for air, only to open my eyes and find my mother looking at me in a rather amused fashion. She knew what had been bothering me.

"Your friend is right. You have other, more challenging things to worry about before you get to the birds and the bees and questions of how much skin is okay," she said.

"Like what?"

"Toilet training."

I had to ask. Sigh. Thank God life happens one day at a time.

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