I’m not sure what I was thinking, because the last time I did any page design was 1988. That was only two years after mastering my college newspaper’s page design software — which consisted of an Exacto knife and a bottle of glue. It's true: I spent half my college career huffing glue while wielding a razor-sharp implement late at night. It’s a wonder I still have fingertips.
But back to the fifth-graders. I set up a blog for them to channel their writing. I still have some up-to-date techno knowledge, though I lost any appearance of hipness while explaining the etymology of the word “log,” as in “Web log.” The word derives from “captain’s log,” as in, "I remember the days when ship captains actually wrote by hand in their daily logs." Also as in, "We’ll become virtual pirates and write cool tales from the depths of our hungry, flea-bitten souls." The kids now think I’m both old and insane.
After setting out some blogging rules together (no profanity, no gory details, no TMI, no anonymous, mean or rude comments), I was surfing around, showing them local news sites and blogs, and I stopped for a minute on the Edgy Mama page on the Mountain Xpress Web site. The site was being projected on a huge white screen in front of the class.
There were gasps. “You used the 'h' word,” one kid said. “And the 'd' word,” said another. I glanced up at the projected image, and yes, there was the word “hell,” in a headline, no less. And the words “damn” and “suck” and “piss” were all easy to spot, in my columns, on the big screen.
I had to explain to a roomful of tittering 11-year-olds (and I by that, I mean giggling, not micro-blogging), why different writing rules apply in different situations. Words that are not appropriate for school can be appropriate for inclusion in an alt-weekly. (I’d already switched the projected screen to a “family-friendly” newspaper’s Web site that forgoes the h-e-double-hockey stick, but details the latest suicide bombing and murder investigation).
So now we have a new acronym. In addition the ubiquitous NSFW (not safe for work), there’s NAFS (not appropriate for school). Maybe I should label this column NAAFEAK (not always appropriate for elementary-aged kids). Particularly as some kids seem to think they’re going to unearth long-hidden parenting secrets by reading me. Sorry, kids. All you learn by reading Edgy Mama is that us parents are human. And tired. And we just want you to be healthy and happy and to stop whining. And it’s OK to use the h-word if that’s the word you need, at least in an alt-weekly newspaper, but not at school.
I admitted to the class that there are less offensive words that I can use in my writing. I hope they’ll be able to expand their budding vocabularies by using expressions like “infernal deep” or “fiery pit" Then I changed the subject (something I am a master at), and segued into a discussion of audience.
I asked the kids, “Who is my audience?” They replied, “Asheville.” I asked, “Who specifically in Asheville.” Answer: “Parents.” Bingo. My primary audience is parents living in Western North Carolina (I didn’t mention you non-breeders who use this column as an excuse for better birth control). I did tell them that I try to talk to you as if we are sucking down coffee together while commiserating about our spawn (proper use of the verb “suck”). And we discussed the fact that any of you can go online and talk back to me. Newspaper writing has become much less of a one-way conversation, a fact for which I’m glad.
Despite the snafu of me projecting NAFS words on a huge screen at school, the teacher still wants me to help the students create on a newspaper. And after interacting with the kids, I’m excited to help. But I might need some page layout help. After all, none of the students I’ll be working with was even a preconceived notion in 1988. And don't even ask me the etymology of the word "snafu."
Anne Fitten "Edgy Mama" Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.
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