Thanks a bunch, Bill


‘The time The Child got her hands on the Starr Report, and I had me a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do’

The news as I write this is, deservedly, all about the late great David Bowie. But as much as I love ‘Modern Love’ and get a big kick out of la Bowie’s turn as a sexy vampire in ‘The Hunger’, I don’t, alas, have any amusing David-Bowie-related stories. So I’m gonna go with the one about Bill Clinton.

See, Bill Clinton, AKA Hillary’s Husband, was in the news recently too. It seems some transcripts were just released of phone chats between him and his Best Brit Bud Tony Blair. And the Times thought this was pretty juicy. (Okay, I have to ask: If you were president, would you tape your telephone conversations? Holy Tricky Dick, I honestly do not understand this.)

Tony was, in addition to being Prime Minister, an FOB. If you don’t remember all the way back when Clinton — the male version — was president, then you probably don’t remember that if you were his pal you were known as an ‘FOB’ (for ‘Friend of Bill’, naturally.) There were, of course, female FOBs, around one of whom, a Miss Monica Lewinsky, arose a scandal that reached a crisis of major constitutional proportions.

Anyway, this mentioning of the Lewinsky Scandal — which, the Times noted, Bill and Tony didn’t talk about much on the phone (perhaps because these phone chats were taped?) — this mention of Monica Lewinsky triggered a Major Mom Memory for me. It had to do with the Starr Report and The Child’s Reading Log.

First, let me state that I’ve never waxed political in this blog, and I’m certainly not starting now. But I will tell you that from the moment I clapped eyes on his TV image I absolutely adored Bill Clinton. Like many (relatively) young people at the time, I thought he was disarmingly charming and cool. (He went on Arsenio and played the sax!) In fact, I thought he was so cool that I taught The Child to point to the TV when Bill was giving a speech and go ‘Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton!’ in her high squeaky baby-cute eighteen-month-old voice. This, of course, drove my father absolutely bonkers.

The Child shows my Mom how to play percussion (in Second Bro Roger's 'Cave'). It was during this visit that she pointed out Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton! on that TV to the right

The Child shows my Mom how to play percussion (in Second Brother Roger’s ‘Cave’). It was during this visit that she pointed out ‘Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton!’ on the TV (perhaps the one on the right?) to my Horrified Father

No, this tale is about how I had to deal with the Lewinsky Scandal — as a Mom.

See, at the time, it was all anybody could talk about. It was ‘I don’t care about Bill’s sex life, but I care that he lied.’ And ‘hey, Hillary’s got to live with him, not me.’ And ‘all the presidents did stuff like that — even Ike and FDR, not to mention JFK.’ And on and on. You couldn’t eat dinner or get your dry cleaning or ride on a bus without hearing an opinion on Bill and Monica and what Hillary and the Country Itself should do about it.

By this time it was 1998, and The Child, while no longer of an age to point cutely at the TV and squeak Clinton’s name, was still only in second grade. But she could read. And read rather well, I might add.

As I mentioned, she was in Second Grade. At an All Girls Private School on the Upper East Side. This school prided (and still does, so I guess I should say ‘prides’) itself on its high standards, and was very into reading. So each girl, even in Second Grade, filled out what was called her ‘Reading Log’. In this book, she was to write down everything she read, or was reading.

The Child working, quite possibly, on her Reading Log. That's Tuna coaching from the beanbag chair

The Child working, quite possibly, on her Reading Log. That’s Tuna coaching from the beanbag chair

I bring up this reading because the Lewinsky Scandal also produced a document known as the Starr Report. This consisted of pages and pages of sordid, steamy detail of the investigation (led by this guy named Ken Starr) into Bill’s affair with Monica. Now, granted I was the mother of a 7-year-old. But I certainly wasn’t the only one who thought this report was unnecessarily lurid.

I know because I read it. It was hard not to, since it was printed, in all its sleazy glory, in the New York Times. But once I had my fill of copy detailing stained Gap dresses and cigar-related activities and groping in the Oval Office men’s room, I threw that paper away. I knew that The Child would get her little paws on it and read it if I didn’t. ‘Whew’, I thought, when I tossed it into the recycling bin, ‘that was close.’

Then I got the Phone Call. It was Bliss’s Mom. (Yes, her classmate’s parents named this poor child ‘Bliss’; she had a sister named ‘Calypso’.) Anyway, Bliss’s Mom was really really sorry, but she caught the girls reading the Starr Report, and thought I should know. Gee, thanks a lot, Bliss’s Mom.

So when The Child got home from her eye-opening play date, I casually asked if I could look at her Reading Log. She hands it over and we banter a bit about some of the titles (The Secret Garden, stuff like that). Then I say, again as casually as I can manage, ‘Hey, I don’t see The Starr Report anywhere on here.’

You could tell by the completely busted look on her face that The Child knew she shouldn’t have been reading that stuff. But I made it as clear as I could that my goal wasn’t to punish, but to explain. ‘Were there parts in the Starr Report that you didn’t understand?’ and, more excruciating, for me anyway — ‘Do you want me to explain them to you?’

Well, oh my. Yes there were. Fortunately, her seven-year-old mind just didn’t absorb most of it. I’m still hoping against hope that she thought ‘oral sex’ meant ‘kissing’. Because she didn’t ask about that.

But she did have questions. I had just finished awkwardly explaining why I thought President Clinton and Monica were so interested in (and I quote) ‘touching each other’s gentiles’, when she had a question about the Visible Thong Underpant Section of the report:

Child: ‘Mom, is it true that if a boy sees your underpants, he has to marry you?’

Me: ‘Yes. Absolutely true. In fact, it’s a rule.’

Like I say, thanks a whole bunch, Bill Clinton. And you too, Ken Starr.

New York City. January 2015


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22 thoughts on “Thanks a bunch, Bill

  1. josypheen

    This is hilarious (and I always love that photo of the child and tuna!!)

    But…omg. Imagine having a seven year old now and having to explain some of the behaviour of your current president. Poor moms around the States…

  2. Oh, Bill. The gift that keeps on giving. Thank goodness she was only seven, I can’t imagine having to explain to a teen at that time. Of course, nowadays the kids know more than we do unfortunately!

  3. I was in high school when it happened. I honestly don’t think I understood the whole thing til about a year ago 😉

    Though I understand your dilemma as a parent there. My daughter discovered Michael Jackson a while back. I’m trying to keep her in the Jackson 5 era, but eventually she will probably want to know why his face changed and what happened to Macaulay Culkin.

    • OMG! I almost forgot about that whole weird Michael Jackson Thing. Poor You! The only thing I can say is that (thank god) most of this stuff seems to go over their heads. (Like you in high school — bet your Mom is soon relieved. That was pretty racy stuff!) Thanks for your comment, BTW. Nice to meet a new reader!

      • Nice to find a new blog!

        She’s almost 11, so whatever I tell her will be watered down. We’ll just listen to Man in the Mirror and We are the World a few more times and try and remember the good things he did 😉

  4. The things we have to explain to our children – a part of parenting I didn’t fully ‘get’ until it was happening. 🙂
    Popped over from Vicky’s awesome #WeekendBlogShare to share some #bloglove and share your amazing posts! 🙂
    Hope this weekend treats you kindly, Alice. 🙂

    • So true, fellow parent D, so true! Too bad kids don’t come with instructions (!) But we do the best we can! Thanks for the visit and the sharing. You are the best xoxoxo

  5. Excellent blog post. It was all so uncomfortable to see all the newspapers become tabloidian over this. The first that I heard about it was from the newspaper rack outside the office. As was my habit, when I left my desk and went outside, I would always be sure to check out the headlines or grab a paper to read. I thought that this story was a bunch of yackety yack that would pass quickly instead of yackety yack that would last a very long time. Until the man’s obituary, I suppose.

    My son was a very early reader and is the same age as your so adorable young reader, The Child. If he saw a NYT or any of the other papers we had coming into the house on the kitchen table or in back seat of the car, he’d read it. I wonder if he too saw this story when he was seven. I think I will pass your blog post over to him and ask.

    • Why, thank you Bruce. I too remember how uncomfortable this whole thing made everyone. And was rather conflicted about bringing it all up again. Blame it on the New York Times (!) I’m curious, too, as to whether your early-reading son remembers this. I must confess I rather hope not!

      • I’m curious to find out myself. There’s nothing I can do about it now, of course. But still, this old parent would prefer that his young parent version of himself wasn’t aware of a diversion from “The Secret Garden” or other more appropriate stories for the Clinton escapades. I’m sure that the parent in you knows what I mean.

  6. Alice, this was so interesting to see how you handled a sensitive situation with your daughter. (You are so right – she was an adorable little girl, so darn cute). I have read that children don’t really take in what they don’t understand – they kind of accept what they do and leave what they don’t. Or maybe they are just puzzling over the mysteries. In any case, thanks for writing this. Heck, those guys put stuff in my mind I’d rather wasn’t there.

    • Thank you, Judy. Yes, I still have my fingers (and my toes) crossed that she just sort of glossed over the REALLY icky bits (the cigars!) Like you too, no doubt (do you have children? I’m not sure I’ve ever asked!) you do the best you can as a Mom. And hope for the best.

      • I have a son, Alice. A different relationship than a daughter I think. Daughters will approach with the intimate questions. A son will not. But we do enjoy each others’ sense of humor.

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