At my last book group people were talking about how staying informed can be a problem these days, since we have so little time to read and listening to NPR in the car anymore is a nightmare.
"The news is just...inappropriate," said one friend. I snorted.
"Jonah doesn't pay attention to what's on the radio. My biggest problem is he doesn't shut up for one second. I can't hear a thing."
A comment like this doesn't go unmarked by the gods of parenthood, who listen attentively for such phrases as "My child sleeps through the night!" and "I think he's almost potty trained!" Upon which, they laugh heartily and throw fireballs down on our heads.
Anyway, the other day I was innocently driving somewhere with my 4-year-old, I turned on NPR. Immediately came a report about the latest ruling in the Duke rape case.
"The judge ruled today that the victim was not raped, but she was penetrated with a male sex organ."
My hand flew to the radio knob. "Jesus," I whispered. "Jonah, want to sing "Jingle Bells"? I asked brightly. Not being much of a singer, he didn't answer. I waited for a question about male sex organs. He said nothing. A few minutes later, I turned the radio on again.
A reporter discussed whether Dick Cheney would testify in the Valerie Plame case, the one in which she was outed as a CIA agent, allegedly because her husband criticized the Bush administration for lying about weapons of mass destruction.
"What's a mass destruction?" Jonah piped up from the back seat. OK, I thought, this is easy.
"It's a big bomb," I said.
Now, he doesn't know from bombs. I felt pretty sure his mind would be sort of boggled and he'd move on to talking about whether the draw bridge was going to go up as we crossed the University Bridge.
"A bomb like a mole bomb? The kind that kills moles?"
This summer, my dad had taken Jonah on a mole patrol through his garden. I found out later this involved a lengthy catalogue of ways to kill moles. This made me wrinkle my nose, but since Jonah didn't seem disturbed I forgot about it.
But real bombs? I couldn't possibly explain to him what a bomb really is; it's too terrible. Or biological weapons? Unthinkable.
"Yes," I said. "Like that."
As we were parking the car, along came the story about fifty nurses in Bulgaria (Romania?) who injected infants in their care with the HIV virus.
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed, throwing myself on the radio knob.
"What? Why did you say oh my god?"
"There were- there were - uh, some bad nurses," I blubbered, getting out of the car.
"Like at Dr. Render's office?" he asked.
"Yes. I mean no! That nurse is a good nurse."
"What is a bad nurse?"
"Let's go in here and get a big cinnamon roll!"
"I like that!"