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Rated PG for Parental Gaffe

It starts like this. You’re chatting with your kid when a familiar phrase pops into your head. A line of dialogue from a favorite movie of your youth. “Eat my shorts” from The Breakfast Club, perhaps, or “Son, you got a panty on your head” from Raising Arizona. Maybe you’re calling the family to the dinner table, Junior is unresponsive and you find yourself blurting, “Bueller? … Bueller? … Bueller? …”

Then you realize, with a cold blast of horror, that your child has no idea what you’re talking about. No frame of reference through which to recognize your superior cinematic literacy.

How can this be? (And this is where the faulty thinking begins.) No offspring of yours is going to go through life without studying the classics, without paying proper deference to the heroes of your adolescence, the big-screen giants whose vast wisdom and extraordinary wit shaped your psyche: Mel Brooks. Eddie Murphy. Long Duk Dong.

So you rent a movie, tell your kid, “You’re gonna LOVE this” and plop down on the couch for a family movie night. Which is exactly when the cursing begins. And the full-frontal nudity. And the powder-snorting, pole-dancing, cop-killing and flagrant cracking of jokes so racist they actually make your jaw clench.

People, what the (rated R for language) were you thinking?

I realize the memory fizzles as you age, but I don’t recall my favorite flicks containing so much sex, violence, drugs, and blush-inducing skank-talk. In my nostalgia-tinged recollection, Beverly Hills Cop was funny. Just funny. It did not end in a chilling, slow-mo bloodbath. In my rosy reminiscence, the word “fish” was the only four-letter-F-word in A Fish Called Wanda, and Victoria Tennant absolutely did NOT writhe around on a bed in All of Me demanding that Steve Martin call her “a dirty sex poodle.” What in the name of Jack Joseph Valenti has happened to these family comedies since I first saw them?

It’s not likely these age-inappropriate moments will turn my preteen into a Colt-toting, foul-mouthed, um, sex poodle. In fact, if I didn’t remember ever seeing them, maybe he won’t either. But they do make for awkward viewing. Remember the ghastly discomfort of watching a movie sex scene with your mother — or your grandfather — in the room? You stare silently, trying not to move, or breathe, hoping the throat-clearing grown-up will forget you’re there.

I’m heartsick to report that the feeling only worsens as an adult, because now it’s your fault; you’re the nimrod who suggested the movie and invited innocent eyeballs to watch.

In this way, movies are different than music. When we listen to Green Day in my car, I know when the swear words are coming, and I can hack up a fake cough or emit a well-timed “So! How about ice cream tonight?” over the offending phrase.

But with movies, you don’t remember the nasty stuff until it’s upon you. And you’re sitting there. Grimacing. Gripping the sofa cushions. Picturing your child holding court on the schoolyard recounting the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the nuns beg for a good spanking.

Distraction is futile. And so you have a choice to make. Do you leap on the pause button and say, “Whoa! Never mind! Who’s up for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang“? Or do you quietly let the moment pass without drawing undue attention to it?

Personally, I like to use these as teaching moments and spark a healthy dialogue about what we’re watching. “That’s a heroin needle,” I’ll interject. “She’s shooting up smack, which is a really, REALLY bad idea. Let’s see if she dies.”

My kid’s usually unresponsive, which is fine except that it leaves me with only one decent option.

“Bueller? … Bueller? … Bueller? … “

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Published inColumnsParenting
My columns are collected in three lovely books, which make a SPLENDID gift for wives, friends, book clubs, hostesses, and anyone who likes to laugh!
Keep Your Skirt On
Wife on the Edge
Broad Assumptions
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