A (Very) Small Taste of Culture or How To Be a Terrible Parent in Less Than Three Acts

I think it would be a safe bet to say that most parents want their offspring to be exposed to at least a little bit of culture while they are growing up. Perhaps not camping out 24/7 in the lobby of an art museum but definitely an occasion or two where they might learn more about the world than they do from, say, You Tube.

When our boys were still in grade school, my husband and I decided that the time had come for them to see a play. A real play with professional actors, costumes and three entire acts. I admit to being the catalyst behind this sudden push for an injection of drama into our lives after seeing a commercial for a play starring Michele Lee, my favorite actress since the days of Knots Landing. The play was called “The Alchemist’s Wife” and was described as “warm and witty fun.” Being a bit of a skeptic, I called the theatre before actually buying the tickets to make sure that the “warm and witty fun” wouldn’t be too much for my impressionable offspring’s eyes and ears.

“What’s the play about?” I asked the man with the very cultured voice who answered the telephone.

“It’s a comedy that looks at the ups and downs of life, love and getting older,” he replied somewhat vaguely.

“So if this play was a movie, what do you think it would be rated?”

“Oh, PG-13,” he assured me. “Definitely PG-13.”

“And you think it would be all right to bring my children to see it?”

“Why not?” he asked.

Satisfied, I ordered the tickets. The great day came and we drove up to St. Paul, all dressed in our Sunday finest and Hubby and I basking in the knowledge that we were doing the right thing as parents. As we drove, I daydreamed about all the marvelous, cultural events that our sons would probably want to enjoy after getting their first taste of the theater. Symphonies, art shows, PBS—the world was about to become their own personal cultural oysters.

The first inkling that the day was not going to turn out as expected came when I realized that Michele Lee had been replaced by Valerie Harper of the 1970’s sitcom Rhoda fame as the lead in the play. The second inkling occurred as I looked around the crowded theater and noticed that our children were the only people there under the age of 25. I also started picking up on a few quizzical stares as the other theater goers looked first at Joe and Hank and then at my husband and me with something close to askance in their collective eyes. But as I remembered how much the tickets had cost it didn’t take a great deal of mental wrestling to convince myself that those other theater goers were simply wishing they were wonderful parents too and had brought their own children with them for an afternoon of warm and witty fun.

I don’t believe it was more than ten minutes into the first act that I realized how far apart one person’s opinion of PG-13 could be from someone else’s. The play wasn’t exactly raunchy but it wasn’t Walt Disney either. Unless Walt Disney joined the Navy at some point and learned to turn the air blue. Words I’d never heard before came out of every single cast member’s mouth, including Valerie Harper’s and a sweet little old lady who looked like my grandmother. Nervously, I kept glancing at my sons and the people surrounding us. I was no longer thinking that they thought we were such fantastic parents, which was fine since I completely agreed with them.

In spite of the steep price we paid for tickets, the four of us slunk out before the first act was over. “I’m sorry about all those swear words,” I said as we headed for our car. “I really didn’t expect the play to be quite so…”

“Filthy?” my husband helpfully supplied.

“Grown up,” I said.

“That’s OK, Mom,” my oldest son told me. “I don’t say those kind of words but I think them all the time.”

On the long silent road home, so did I.

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