Thursday, July 5, 2012

Roller coasters, racial slurs, and the loss of innocence

The Comet
Yesterday we went to The Great Escape and had a wonderful day. At the end of the day, Baker and Glen went to ride the Comet one last time while I took Jamie and Emery to buy some fudge. We waited for them to meet us so we could head to the car. And we waited, and waited, and waited. When they finally showed up, they had a story to tell.

The roller coaster broke down on the lift hill. The attendants asked everyone to sit calmly while maintenance came to fix it. Some people started yelling and cursing. One guy got out and jumped off. More yelling. Then a verbal fight broke out between the people in front of Baker and Glen and the people behind them. One group was a black father, son, and uncle. The other a white woman. Curses filled the air: f-bombs, the C word, crack whore, and the n-word. Glen tried to remind these adults there were children present, but to no avail. Instead of fixing the coaster, maintenance had to escort all the people off the coaster and close the ride. As these people were getting off the ride, the argument escalated to the point where Glen thought it would become physical. They didn't stay around to find out. The police were called for the guy who jumped. In hearing the telling, it was an exciting adventure for Baker.

Glen relayed the language usage to me. I told Baker if he had any questions about the words that were used to ask me later and we'd talk about it. On the way to Saratoga, Emery fell asleep in the car and Jamie was close. Baker asks timidly, "can we talk about the words?" I told him when we were home. In quiet times throughout the evening, as we ate and watched fireworks, he asked a few more times. I knew at that point what he witnessed was bothering him.

When we got home, I told him to tell me what words he had questions about. A few weren't really curse words--darn, heck. He asked about jackass. Those were the ones he remembered. I knew he had heard the n-word and I felt I should explain that one. When I asked him about it, he didn't even realize it was a bad word. Glen and I explained it was one of the worst. We started to explain why it is so derogatory. Having read Harry Potter, he immediately jumped to the analogy of the word mudblood in the wizarding world. I told him some words, like damn and hell are okay to say in private--like when someone cuts you off on the highway or you stub your toe. But that word is never to be used and if he ever hears a friend use it he should tell them it isn't nice. I think he understood.

I also think this was an eye-opening experience for him. I don't think the language bothered him as much as witnessing adults acting like middle-school bullies. He focused on the language, but at heart, I think he was trying to process how adults could behave that way. We also talked about that...that some people never grow up and learn better ways to deal with things. I think Glen and I handled it as best we could. But it is another step away from the innocence of childhood. And it is another reminder of how little control we, as parents, have over situations. We cannot control what our kids will be exposed to. All we can do is be there for them and help them process it.

Here is a link to someone's YouTube video of the incident. You can see Glen and Baker in the opening.


  1. Hi Jenn,
    We are always trying to find a way to explain certain words to Andre. The n-word was an issue a while ago, because a friend of him, who is African-American, used it and when Andre repeated it at home we were really shocked…He did not understand why his friend could say that and he could not…It was difficult to contextualize it, but I think he got the idea that could be extremely offensive. More recently, he started singing that song,for which people make different lyrics, depending on the occasion…He sang as he heard it: “I’m Jewish and I know it...” We, again, explained that would be better not singing this way, since he is not Jewish. Again, as Andre always does, he had something to say. He said that his reading buddy at school is Jewish and there is nothing bad about this. “Of course there is nothing wrong”, I said and with Derek’s help I tried to teach him what the world means under religious and cultural aspects and that if his friend sings that way, this is probably OK, because she is Jewish, but it is still of not good taste to sing it if you are not Jewish. Jewish people can find this offensive and this is more than enough for not doing it. Well, I’m not sure if we dealt well with all that and, if I know my son, many other questions are ahead of us…. However I agree that the best way is always talking about the issue, just like you and Glen did. Maybe not the easiest way, but the best I can think of… Thanks for the post!

  2. Good job,Jenn and Glen. I know from my own mothering experience rearing you,Matt and Rebecca, that parents cannot protect their children from witnessing such damaging adult behavior. I think the best thing is exactly what you did. Discuss it,bring it out in to the open, explain how it was a not a good way to deal with a stressful situation,explain how using such disrespectful words escalates the hostility,but also shows a person's true inner feelings that they try to hide from the public. You are right in thinking that Baker was old enough for such a discussion,but Jamie and Emery were not. Another very vital piece,is what I have observed in you and Glen,living your life on a daily basis to show the boys what your values are.I'm sorry that Baker and Glen had to have the last ride of the day turned into such drama,but I think you and Glen put it into good perspective for an 8 year old.It was an important life lesson.