We’re There or, Confessions of a Confused Parent

Here's what I used to wonder: When will we get there? Oh when?! To when our child, whose questing mind and intense reading habits have brought her far and wide, through the dangerous jungle of the Olsen twins, past the darling byways of nice-girls-of-history fiction, with some long dalliances in various encyclopedia, begins to read…adult fiction?

I mean, she's read a lot of books that are obviously intended for adults. Like the Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan. And Monty Python's All the Words. And Let's Panic About Babies.

But these books weren't novels. There have been some adult novels: Kurt Vonnegut, that friend to the alienated, has been a benevolent guardian angel of sorts. But this…well, here's what happened.

A friend was sleeping over. At dinner they started talking about…I don't even remember what it was. Something that did not grip me. Which as we all know is a risk when you dine with a 9-year-old and two 12-year-olds. But I got a bit tired, and so I decided to keep myself interested I would talk about the book that I was reading—American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I wanted her to identify one of the gods I wasn't certain of.

See, part of what goes on in it is the emergence of all these gods of myth, and Diana knows about that stuff. A lot about it. So when I said, "There's this guy with one eye and two ravens…" she said "Odin," before I finished the sentence. And when I said, "There's this lady in a sari with a necklace of skulls…" she said "Kali!" And so on. And then she said, "I HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK."

"But it's a book for grown-ups."

"I DON'T CARE."

Hmm. See, since she turned 10 or so, we've had the policy that anything on our bookshelves she wants to read she can. I talked it over with a smart friend, who is a writer, who said that for him one of the shining inspirations of his life was his parents' bookshelf, and he was allowed to read anything he wanted, and it was great for him. It made the world a more enthralling place.

But maybe his parents read books without any sex in them?

It's odd, to me, anyhow, that that's what worries me. It's counter to what I intend to believe in. In my theoretical mind, reading about destroying people is more of a concern than is reading about them having sex with each other. But ever since I said that, every time I read a sexual scene, I get nervous. Nervous of what? I don't know.

This morning I left the book (by mistake, I swear it) in the doctor's office. So in a way, it's out of my hands.

But I want to finish it. I'll get another copy. And then what?

When I was 12 I went to sleepaway camp and we passed around a pornographic magazine with intense step-by-step instructions for various acts. My friend read The Exorcist (which still scares the crap out of her). This isn't like those. This could be really amazing and interesting and inspiring for her.

We'll see.

7 thoughts on “We’re There or, Confessions of a Confused Parent

  1. I totally get where you’re coming from. My daughter is 9 and is always interested in what I’m reading. My parents too had that open policy with their book shelf and though I read things totally not age appropriate, no harm was done. BUT I don’t remember any sex. And that topic gives me the same pause as you. I think maybe because sex and romance will be on our doorstep soon enough that I’d rather she be sheltered from learning too much too early, or even be overly exposed to unrealistic scenarios. I think by age 12 I might be more inclined to let her read these things, probably depending on the specifics. There was little to no sex discussions in my family, so maybe it will even be a way to broach a topic that I do not feel comfortable discussing.

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  2. My parents let me read what I wanted. Admittedly, there weren’t many sexually explicit novels when I turned 12 in 1957. The librarian at my local library did not think 12 year olds should be reading adult novels. But I persisted, and she succumbed.
    I have 4 daughters. They were free to read what they wanted. If I had questions about whether they were mature enough, I read the book at the same time.
    When they were teens, one of the best ways to communicate with them was to leave novels on the radiator cover next to the toilet. My favorite uncle made a deal with his son. They alternated picking out what they both should read next.

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  3. I read my parents’ books freely as well, and one day at age 10 I encountered “Clan of the Cave Bear,” which I think speaks for itself. I remember finding it hilarious. I think that minds that aren’t ready to think about sex shield themselves from it by finding it ridiculous, if the action even makes sense to them. And if she is ready to think about sex, well, I don’t envy you the conversations you’re going to have, but she will be fine.
    Actually, though, American Gods gets mighty, mighty dark, which is what I would worry about more. No darker than your average unexpurgated Grimm’s tale, which most of us read a lot of as kids… whether or how those did us harm is up for debate (I still shudder over the cruelty of some of those stories), but I think with you there talking about it with her, she’ll really enjoy the book, and feel grown up, too, and as if you trust her. Good luck!

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  4. I think it’s probably natural and normal to feel nervous, even “icky,” when we think about the sexuality of our children or our parents. With that said, though, I admit to sneaking the Harold Robbins and other not-so-classy smutty lit that lay about my parents’ house, up to my room where I secretly read it. I still remember the opening sex scene in “Jaws” and the thrill of the verboten when I read it. Now that I’ve moved on to higher quality stuff, I really think back on that time as being sort of thrilling — part of the thrill, I guess, was that I wasn’t “allowed” to read them.

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  5. she sounds like she already reads a whole lot of violent and dark. those norse myths had chains made of intestines in them. she can handle it if she can handle that. also, didn’t she read Speak?

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  6. Okay, I think I’ve said this on your blog before, but my parents also had an open bookshelf policy and my sister and I read many, many adult books when we were young. Among these were The Cancer Ward, Sybil, and Frances Farmer’s autobiography, all dealing with death, severe mental illness, and the like. Very dark, dark stuff, that we were reading, starting at around 10 years old. Some of it I didn’t understand, some of it I did understand and was disturbed by, perhaps more so with the nonfiction because it was “real.” The stuff that disturbed me, I talked over with my mother. I don’t think it marked me in any way, though it probably changed me a bit. I think that it is a different sort of animal than disturbing or violent movies/video games, etc., because what’s going on is inside your mind. Reading these sorts of books before I was older or more mature wasn’t necessarily the best thing I could have done, but it didn’t warp me and it didn’t make me crazy or anything. I don’t think American Gods is going to do anything bad for Diana.

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