Immediately, I began exposing them to things they had never been exposed to before. Movies and television shows and video games they'd been denied were suddenly allowed, encouraged.
I taught them that the s-word actually referred to shit, not stupid, and I began saying stupid regularly, until it was a word we all used. I said shit almost as often, and other words, too, to enduce gasps and bring small hands to cover thier open mouths.
Feeling it would be unfair and cruel to send a still-believing boy to middle school in Vegas, I pulled Hollywood aside, even though it was only August, to explain the truth about Santa Claus.
"Why are you telling me this?" he said, angered and heartbroken.
"Because I love you," I told him. "And you need to know."
I cringed to drive by so many billboards with so many giant and mostly-naked women squinting bedrooms eyes at my children in the backseat, but I drove by them anyway, waiting for the questions to surface. When the car remained quiet I pointed and commented out loud to Balthazar. My intent was to encourage conversation, and hence an understanding about where we were, and who we were in the midst of all of it. Although, I wasn't so sure myself.
Each one of the kids reacted differently.
The Storm grew big-eyed and intrigued with the strip, the bright lights, the carnival atmosphere, the giddiness and boisterousness of the people visiting from all over the world, Iowa included. (Today, she smiles slyly at it all, as if possessing a savvy understanding, even an amusement, for the underside of humankind, our weaknesses and distractions, so that I don't think I did her a disservice by exposing her so young--Only the future will tell.)
Sunshine, a roll-with-the-punches kind of girl, seemed to take it all in stride, asking questions here and there, but accepting it for what it was--just people different than us, who had been presented with different options and who'd made different choices, as a result.
It was in her eighth-grade health class, where confidentialities were shared amongst thirteen-year-old girls, that she better came to know the world she was a part of--the world we are all a part of no matter where we live. On certain days she came home properly horrified--for parents who did drugs in front of their children, for absent mothers, and nasty fathers, for all that I would prefer to have sheltered her from, forever..., but that would be the ultimate disservice.
Hollywood was always a little fearful in those early days. Weaned on Christian preschool, just the name, Sin City, didn't sit well with him. He laid low that first year then came out of a his shell in the second. During a history class, when the term came up, he raised his hand to ask, "What's a prostitute?" The kid behind him poked him; the teacher scrunched her brow, he said, trying to determine if he was indeed serious.
"It's a person who sells sex for money," I explained, at home that evening.
"Oh, my God! Why would somebody want to do that?"
"That's a good question," I said, and we talked in depth about the oldest profession in the world.
Now, Hollywood is in the eighth grade. The health lessons are only a few months away, and already I can see that he--who wants so desperately to still believe in Santa Claus, in magic, in good, in people--is in for some serious heartbreak.
Some gloriously educational, serious heartbreak.