Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stuck Between a Rock and a Gray Area

How do I even begin to untangle how I feel about this incident?

Tuesday after school: My son's teacher has me sign a permission slip for him to attend a field trip to the Chandler Public Library, Downtown Branch. He will be riding with her.

Wednesday during school: My son takes said field trip to the Library with two of his teachers. At the front of the Children's section, right at the entrance, there is a Valentine's Day display. My son takes a book off this display and reads it. As he is finishing, his teacher sees the book he is reading. She reads the book. She checks out the book and keeps it in the class closet to give to me after school. She tells me the story about their field trip and thought that I should know what my son read. It's called, "Mommy Laid an Egg- or How Babies are Made".

Wednesday after school: On the way home, I asked Carrick if he would read his library book to me sometime after school. He elected to read it in the car on the way home. He did. As he read the book, he would stop to ask questions. I answered them as best I could, and occasionally asked to see the pictures so I would know what he was asking about. When I returned home, I was dumbfounded to see that one of the pages contained crayon stick-figures having sex. Yes, you read that right; Having sex. Naked in four different positions.

How am I supposed to respond to this? Am I supposed to respond to this? I can't argue about how the book was written. It's out there, it's published, and how I would do it differently doesn't matter. So I moved on to what I might be able to do about it. Perhaps talk to the Library staff about book placement? Why was this book available for a 6-year-old to pull off the shelf and read alone? How is it OK for the Library to make this book available to children without adult consent?

I posted a few of the book's pages on facebook to share with friends, and to process what I was going through. Comment after comment echoed some part of how I felt.

The reality is, I have to be rational about this. I have to be objective if I want some change to happen. No one ever got anywhere by demanding or threatening. What am I going to do, boycott the library? I am only denying my son access to literature if I do that. What else can I do? Get mad at the teacher for not keeping a closer eye on my son? Of course not. She has 15 children under her watch. I applaud her bravery and honesty for bringing this to my attention.

So what was I so worked up over? The fact that my son saw people, stick figures, having sex? It's natural right? It's in a kids' book, right? So it should be appropriate for him to read, right? Nah...I'm not so sure about that one.

He is at a stage right now where he asks what my husband and I are doing when we lock our bedroom door. He knows something is up. We call it "massage". We do have a massage table set up in there, so it's not completely dishonest to say that. We are somewhat doing a "massage", so it's not a total lie, either. We just don't think he is ready for the total truth about what happens when we close the door.

Also, it's not like my son asked the question, "where do babies come from?" and I responded by searching out this resource. If it had gone that way, I don't think it would have bothered me so much. It was the unsolicited portrayal of two humans having sex for my 6-year-old to see that just got to me in a way that many things don't. Was it the loss of control over the subject? Was it the fact that two months ago, it was my son going to school saying the word "Vagina" because he heard a friend say it without our knowledge? Or was it because a year ago, his teacher (different teacher) handed me a picture he drew of a woman with boobies after he saw the episode of Parks and Rec where Tammy 2 gets naked (and censored, mind you) in a library, and I was reminded of that? Or was it the fact that like so many other times in life, my son had just plunged me feet first into gray areas of parenting yet undiscovered by yours truly?

Thursday, late morning: I summoned my courage and practiced in the mirror what I would say. I left for the Library, armed with my scandalous book, determined to make a difference, to speak out for concerned parents everywhere. The first person I asked to help me was not the director of the Children's Section. She left to get her. The woman listened to me as I recounted the story of my son coming there on the field trip. I asked her if she had read the book. She said no, so I had her glance through it. I pointed out the page that concerned me. I asked if it was possible to change the location of where the book is shelved, perhaps out of the reach of children, so that an adult must be with them to read it, to be there for them and to answer questions. She said she would print off a form for me to fill out...

Oh we go...bureaucracy. I filled out the short request form and turned it back in to her, along with the book. While I was filling out the form, she came to me where I was standing and handed me another paper, the Library's Bill of Rights. I put it in the stroller and read it when I returned to the car. As I sat there with Lily asleep in her car seat, a knot hardened in the pit of my stomach. A deep feeling of defeat spread over me. I fought back the tears.

HOW!!!!???? How can a Library have this stance????

"Library policies and procedures that effectively deny minors equal and equitable access to all library resources available to other users violate the Library Bill of Rights. The American Library Association opposes all attempts to restrict access to library services, materials, and facilities based on the age of library users."

Stunned. Just stunned. I never thought about libraries having this stance. I always thought it was silly that people had tried in the past to get books banned from libraries, but now I understand why, even if I don't agree with the choice of which books they attacked. I felt like my right as a parent was under attack. I can't even count on the LIBRARY to keep things age appropriate.

It goes on to say "The mission, goals, and objectives of libraries cannot authorize librarians or library governing bodies to assume, abrogate or overrule the rights and responsibilities of parents." But aren't they overruling my right as a parent to talk about sex to my son in my own time and way by making this book available to him? You see what I mean about a gray area?

"Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents-and only parents-have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children-and only their children- to library resources." Uh, thanks a lot. What about people who have say, 3 children? Are you telling me that a mom who wants to educate her kids and use the library as a resource can't have any help whatsoever from the library or the librarian? How might she steer her children to only choose books that she approves for them? Don't you think that by placing books that could be potentially questionable in her reach only you could help her better serve the needs of her children?

"Parents who do not want their children to have access to certain library services, materials, or facilities should advise their children." Oh, really? "Hey, Carrick, see that book that says 'Mommy Laid an Egg'? Don't pick it up and read it. I don't know what's in it, because I haven't read it myself, but it could have sex in it, so don't do it, OK?"  How are parents even supposed to know the content of a book if they themselves haven't read it? How do they know to restrict, or censor for their kids?

I know! The book industry as a whole has a responsibility, just like the TV, movie and music industry. It's all freedom of speech and expression. They need to come up with a labeling system. If a book has nudity, violence or coarse language, there should be a N, V or L listed on the spine of the book, right next to the title that way, parents can be forewarned of what they are getting themselves into.

Or is any of this necessary? Does life just throw us curve balls and we have to just slug away at them? I know I can't have control over my son's life. He has to live it out himself. BUT HE'S 6!!!!! He shouldn't have to see people having sex yet! That is something we reserve for people who are 17 or 18, depending on the media available. Don't kids have to click that they are over 18 to see people having sex on the internet? Or should it matter because they are only stick figures in the book?

"Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body believes to be unsuitable for them." Yeah, so even though legally, minors need adult consent or presence to see sexual material in the world we live in, the library is somehow above and beyond that. I seriously could not believe what I was reading.

However, there was a footnote to this statement in the Library Bill of Rights. "Speech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body think unsuitable." This is yet another gray area. Define "obscene". Are stick figures having sex on a skateboard obscene? If so, then this book falls into that category.

I still don't know what to do next, or if I have done all I could. Do I want to fight this battle? Is this my Kim Davis moment to stand up for what I believe in? Maybe I'll get invited to the next State of the Union Address. I feel that sex education should be in the hands of the parent or guardian. I don't think it's up to the library to allow it to be thrust upon my child, unsuspectingly in the pages of a poorly illustrated children's book. I also don't want to keep my child out of the library, as I see it as a vast wealth of information. How do I sort through the information that I am ok with him seeing? How much control is too much? Will he find out about sex in a more detrimental way than just in the pages of a children's book? By seeing it at a friend's house on TV or in a movie because the parents are Ok with their kids seeing it? Or by accidentally clicking "yes" to the over 18 question when he is old enough to navigate the internet?

It is such a huge world out there. I know there is no way to oversee every aspect of my son's life. I just hope that I have been a good enough parent for him to come to me with questions, when he IS ready to talk about sex. I hope that I raise him in the way that teaches him the value of respect towards women, and the pain that a one night stand could cause, and how to sort out emotions of when he gets dumped by his girlfriend. I guess there is just so much complexity to sex, sexuality, feelings, emotions, love, infatuation, hormones, body parts and dreams that I just was not ready for this can of worms to be open yet. But now that it is, maybe I can find some help. I think I know a place with some good resources.

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