How to explain Michael Jackson to my children?

SUSAN REIMER

August 31, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

How am I supposed to explain this Michael Jackson thing to my children?

If you have any ideas about how I should tell my 9-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter what their hero is accused of doing with little boys, please send them along, because I am at a loss.

This is Michael Jackson, who stars so elegantly in a video titled "Smooth Criminal" as the playmate and protector of children. This is Michael Jackson, who performs with a pint-sized United Nations on stage. This is Michael Jackson, who flies terminally ill children to his combination ranch-petting zoo-amusement park home. This is Michael Jackson, whose videos I confidently rented for the two hothouse orchids I am raising.

They are going to hear about this from somebody other than me if I don't act soon. They always do. Joseph knew about the Navy's Tailhook scandal, for goodness' sake. When the Blue Angels didn't do their traditional flyover for the Naval Academy graduation last spring, the kids at his school, which is close to the stadium where the ceremonies are held, demanded an explanation.

"No Blue Angels this year, Mom," Joe reported. "Nope. They're grounded. They were rude to women."

A nice touch by his teachers, I thought. Excellent choice of language -- very benign, but to the point. Got any ways I can sanitize this one? "Michael was rude to children." Yeah, sure.

Granted, Michael Jackson is no Cal Ripken in the role-model department. The crotch-grabbing, window-smashing video, the skin bleaching and the plastic surgery. But his elusive, iconoclastic behavior doesn't leave much of an impression on little children. But sex? Sex with one of their peers? That is going to register on the Richter scale.

And it doesn't even matter now whether it is true. How many 9-year-olds can grasp the concept of innocent until proven guilty? Innocent of what? That is the part I will have to explain.

I can't believe I have to handle this. I don't know how to gently explode a myth. Not with this X-rated set of facts. We still believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy in our house, not to mention Santa Claus. We haven't gotten around to doing a whole lot of reality.

We didn't have to explain about Pee-wee Herman and his behavior in a darkened, X-rated movie theater. My kids never liked him, never watched him and never asked about him. Likewise, Woody Allen's unusual relationship with the stepsister of his children went undiscussed in our house -- mostly because their father had a real tough time accepting his hero's fall from grace.

But the way of the world is such that we have told them -- often and clearly -- that their bodies are their own. They know that if anyone touches them or talks to them in any way that makes them feel shy or sad, or tells them to keep a secret from their parents, they are to tell each other or one of us.

And I have had a rudimentary sex talk with Joe. After he came home from school wondering out loud about people "doing the nasty," I felt it was time to jump in with some basic stuff. But we have never gotten into any variations on that theme.

Now he is bound to come home with chapter and verse on Jackson's alleged activities with young boys and it makes me sick inside that I will have to address this with him, never mind his baby sister.

Joe has gotten more than he bargained for on this subject before. One of his friends once told him how AIDS is transmitted, including a crystal-clear description of homosexual sex.

When I found out about this conversation from the friend's

mother, I blanched. (Doesn't it always happen this way? You never get to handle these things in your own way, at your own time.) So during a quiet time later, I told Joe that I knew he and his friend had had a conversation about AIDS and did he have any questions for me or did he want to talk about it?

He looked at me blankly, and I had to explain what I was talking about. "Oh that," Joe said, with absolute disinterest. "I just blotted all that out."

Here's hoping he can blot this out, too. I am convinced that children have an overload button that is easily tripped. A little too much of anything -- even affection -- can cause them to shut down their intake system.

Even now, when I tell Jessie a little too earnestly how much I love her or how proud I am of her, she will look away and change topics.

Is it wrong of me to hope this happens on the subject of Michael Jackson?

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