It all started about a year ago. I was talking to my then 12-year-old cousin about some things that were going on at his school when he said the following:
“My classmate’s mom looks like a match.”
After I finished laughing, I proceeded to ask him what he meant.
“She was dark-skinned and her hair was a very bright shade of red,” he explained.
“That’s creative,” I replied. I was truly impressed that his mind could come up with such a creative description. Sure his comment could have been considered as immature and insulting, but it also served as proof of his quick wit. Then reality hit me like a ton of bricks. He had heard me say something similar a few weeks earlier.
I was headed to the gym down the street from my apartment when I saw her. She was an older Caucasian woman wearing a light pink outfit with a bright red ponytail at the top of her head. When I looked at her, I immediately saw a lit candle. I recounted the story later and my little cousin was in the room to hear it.
Since then, I have tried to be much more careful of the things that I say in front of my little cousin who is now 13, but I still have my slip ups every now and then. No, I don’t use profanity or anything like that. I just have a bad habit of making comments that could be considered awkwardly inappropriate without realizing it. My friends have become accustomed to it and accept it as one of my more humorous shortcomings. As a result, I have a lot of trouble turning it off in front of little cousin. In fact, it was my attempt at turning it off this past weekend that led me to write this post.
We were walking through the mall with my same little-brother-in-Christ who tends to be with us when we had inadvertently gotten into a discussion that required me to describe a particular woman’s body. (The context of this discussion is way too difficult to explain, but I assure you that we were not trying to corrupt this little boy by teaching him how to stare down women. Truth be told, he had probably already acquired that skill by now.)
I was trying very hard to stay in role model mode. It became clear to my little-brother-in-Christ and my little cousin that I was struggling to come up with a description so I attempted to explain myself. It was then that I blurted out what may be the most awkwardly contradictory thing that I have ever said in my entire life.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m just trying to figure out the most politically correct way to objectify women.” They immediately fell out laughing. The sad part was that I was actually serious. Maybe I would have been better off just changing the topic.
The last time that the three of us were out together, I had inadvertently described a male acquaintance of mine as resembling a rat and a little girl. As ridiculous as it may seem, I wasn’t trying to be offensive. I didn’t even catch the inappropriate nature in what I had said until they fell out laughing. Ironically, I should be slightly more cognizant of the power of my words given that I am a minister.
In the end, I have been able to find some consolation in the fact that my little cousin’s troublesome application of his quick wit may not purely be the result of my potentially bad influence. We come from a long line of unintentional comedians. It so happens that my mother and his grandfather (who are brother and sister) seem to have inherited this trait the strongest, though their other siblings were not too far behind them. Family gatherings were always an adventure. (I still have vivid memories of my mom and my now deceased aunt viciously yet humorously making remarks about Aretha Franklin’s notably poor fashion choices on various award shows. As for my little cousin’s now deceased grandfather, his jokes were not suitable for this blog.)
Maybe our shared difficulty with utilizing our quick wit appropriately really is just the result of genetics. Whatever the cause, I will still make a point of being mindful of my conversation topics around my little cousin. After all, (and I know he will resent this) his little impressionable ears are listening.