My 8-year-old son now knows much more than he used to about what a man can hire a woman to do, thanks to Eliot Spitzer. I could be upset about this, but instead I'm looking on the bright side.
Not that I could have avoided it if I tried. Not really. When my son was 4, he typed a story on my computer about baseball--in particular, which Major League teams had the best players. His final two sentences: "The San Francisco Giants have Barry Bonds. But Barry Bonds used steroids." This from a 4-year-old. What could I do but talk to him about breaking the rules?
Last week it was something else altogether. Margaret Seltzer, also known as Margaret Jones, was discovered to have faked a memoir about growing up in a foster home and winding up in a Los Angeles gang. She too was outed on the front page of the New York Times. I'd been talking to my son about plagiarism for a while, as in "just because you can look something up on the Internet doesn't mean you can copy it into your report for school. That's stealing, and you need to do your own work." But here was a twist: someone who made her story up completely. (He's too young to have seen the film Shattered Glass, about the Stephen Glass debacle at the New Republic.) We talked about that too.
For my son, there is really no escaping current events. It's not only the New York Times on the doorstep each morning. It's NPR too. And the fact that his mom is a journalist and his dad works at a university. Plus, for better or worse, we are both political junkies. My son campaigned for Hillary Clinton (Senate 2000) when he could barely walk, and he was there for the John Kerry fundraiser in our home (2004). When Kerry lost, he consoled me with his statement that "California went for Kerry, Mommy, and that's 55 electoral votes!" (age 5). Now he's keeping track of all the primary wins on the gigantic map of the United States in our basement (he writes the winner's name on a Post-it and tacks it to the map).
I think all of this is good. I want him to be aware. I want him to be involved. I want him to care. Most important, I want him to know he can come to me with his questions and that I'll answer them honestly (pegged to his age and maturity). I'm opening a dialog that I hope never closes. It does become a bit dicey, though, when prostitution comes into play. Or plagiarism. Or steroids, for that matter. But what these recent real-life events have in common is that they're examples of people who think they can do something wrong and get away with it.
That's what I told my son. (He's also too young to remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal...fortunately.) "Throughout your whole life you are going to have moments when you have a choice between doing something you know is right and something you know is wrong," I said. "When you're making that choice, I want you to know in your heart what is right. But you also need to think of how you'll feel if you do something you know is wrong and people find out." Because as Margaret Seltzer and Barry Bonds and Eliot Spitzer have discovered...people will find out.