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Mom, what are you doing in these Mardi Gras pics?

Until the other day it seemed I’d managed to do a pretty good job keeping my eldest, an eleven year-old girl, on the straight and narrow. She’s a smart and principled girl with good manners and lots of common sense. Her personal hygiene is impeccable and she’s admired by her peers and grown-ups alike. However, as a mother, I think I’ve gone overboard in my efforts to safeguard her from danger because she’s become terribly naïve and prudish. By her age, I was quite savvy about the adult world around me. I had already blasted through several “boyfriends”---she is yet to have her first one---and with an older, guitar-jamming brother, I knew “stuff;” stuff of which she still lacks awareness.

My two younger sons, being the age-appropriate goofballs that they are, are beginning to take notice of girls and their bodies. And they make comments and giggle. Nothing offensive---typical immature little-boy remarks---but according to my aghast tween, who’s slowly evolving into “church lady”---remember David Spade’s skit from Saturday Night Live?---her siblings’ behavior is shocking and boorish.

And to her dismay, the other day she discovered an old, tiny album of mine plastered with semi-racy photos from a trip to Mardi Gras taken with college pals. And despite being fully clothed and NOT-breast-flashing, most evident to her was her mom’s indulgences. Photographed partying with my buddies, we were all dirty-dancing, drinking, smoking, and glassy-eyed.

“I want to know everything you did on this trip. Explain everything!” she demanded, horror-struck.

And then it dawned on me that she had me on a pedestal; deep down she believed I was born a mother. Granted, she knows that her mom always excelled in school, sports and never got into any real trouble. She knows I always held interesting jobs and had traveled extensively. She knows her father and I share a deep love and commitment to one another. But….she doesn’t know that her mom’s curious nature led her to dabble and experiment here and there. And that yes, I still like to partake in my vices from time to time, yet know my limits.

Explaining this “grey zone” to my daughter falls outside the scope of your average, pragmatic parenting. What kids are told usually falls into one of two camps: what to do and what NOT to do. Nothing in between. To my knowledge, not at school, at church, synagogue, or at any other formal institution is the exploration of anything else encouraged. In fact, conventional thinking dictates that any exposure at all to the nebulous “grey zone” is dangerous, off-limits, and taboo from the get-go.

But my beliefs are other; they fall outside the box of what conventional thinking mandates. I believe people must live a little and learn through their own experiences, trials and errors. Context is important and many situations in life call for moderation and an ability to exercise good judgment and remain in control. Abstinence isn’t always the best policy. In fact, such severity and deprivation many times later leads to an overindulgence of the object of one’s denial.

And so as the free-spirited mother of an almost-teenager—and four more coming down the pike---I’ve got to find a way to impart this complex message without inadvertently condoning irresponsible or decadent behavior down the road.

It’s tricky but I do believe that by setting a good example and being honest and realistic about world in which we live, she will develop the discretion she’ll need to make the right choices in life.