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Turns Out I Didn’t Screw Up My Kid—School Did!

Ottawa, April 2019

It started with a silly dance performed in the kitchen—I may even have clapped and cheered.

Then, one day, out of the blue, Mark asked me what “dab” meant. “Context?” I prompted as if I were dealing with a difficult client. Mark shrugged. “Dunno.” I shrugged as well. In a multicultural, multilingual household, some words remain a mystery until we hear them again—butchered French, Chinese slang, not-quite-mastered Spanish and Portuguese and questionable English are part of our life.

By fall, Mark was starting every recess story with “So, we were playing Fortnite…”

“Huh huh,” was my standard answer, waiting for the rice to boil and for drama to unfold, usually the “… and he told me he wasn’t my friend anymore” type. What else could I say? I had no clue what Fortnite—or rather “fourth night,” the way Mark pronounced it—was. I thought it was the Canadian version of “hide and seek,” “dodge ball” or another classic outdoors games middle school kids play to keep warm and burn energy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why parents should always pay attention to what kids are saying. Among themselves, they definitely talk about poop, sex, guns, violence, private family matters and other stuff we don’t suspect they’re aware of. Of course, they probably aren’t as explicit and knowledgeable as us—let’s face it, we can leverage Google much better to fill in the gaps—but they know stuff we don’t know they know and they know stuff we don’t know, period.

Three months into daily games of Fortnite at school, I finally learned it was an extremely popular multiplayer “battle royale” video game. Mark never played it at home and I suspect his friends didn’t either but they all knew the main characters, the “emotes” (dance moves), the lingo and more. Awe-some. Fortnight… how did I even miss this damn trend? And what was I supposed to say about it as a parent? I don’t believe video games turn players into mass murderers but I’m not happy that Mark spends recess “shooting” his Grade-1 friends. I’m vehemently anti-gun but I’m not delusional enough to believe he was never going to play with pretend weapons. Pick your battles—I won’t fight with my son who, like most kids, loves to fight.

While kids are pretending to be Creepy Bear, Skull Trooper, Raven or Battle Hound at recess, the school is sending emails.

I should have paid attention to that as well.

One night, when I was in Santiago, between weather reports (“wanna see the snow?”) and many silly emojis, Mark suddenly asked me what a hacker was.

I didn’t even have the chance to go beyond a basic “someone who tries to attack computers” when in typical Mark fashion, he jumped to what seemed to be another topic.

“Do you know Momo?”

“Momo? No…”

“It’s okay, mommy, that’s probably a movie…”

“Yeah, I think it was a cartoon, wasn’t it? Oh no, wait. That was Coco. Momo… nope, never heard of it.”

The look on Mark’s face made me Google it—clearly, my answer mattered to him.

I didn’t expect such a common keyword would yield relevant results, but it did. Oh, fuck, what the hell was that thing?

And suddenly, I remembered an email the school sent us recently, one of these messages I didn’t pay attention to because it’s a K-12 school and we get a ton of irrelevant emails, from late school buses to fire drills, from school board “news” to communication clearly intended for parents of older kids.

“You saw Momo, didn’t you, mommy?” Mark asked, probably noticing my expression.

“Okay, wait, Mark. I’ll explain in a second… just let me learn about it first.”

I speed-readed “Momo for dummies”—it’s basically an Internet urban legend, a creepy creature that instructs kids how to harm their family or themselves. The scarier part is the picture used to depict “Momo.”

“The first thing you have to know, is that it doesn’t exist. It’s just a scary joke. Huh… Mark, did you see Momo?”

“Well, yeah. I Googled it.”

“The picture?”

“Duh.”

Fuck. “Remember what a sculpture is? That’s what Momo is, a scary sculpture. Like many things on the Internet, it’s not real.”

Turned out the school thought it was a great idea to initiate an “Internet safety” talk with kids and “Momo” was mentioned, so first graders had basically spent the entire week talking about something they didn’t know existed before the “educational moment.” The road to hell… Seriously, fuck awareness.

I take full responsibility for the fact Mark hears the word “fuck” at home. I also take responsibility for the fact he can sing “Welcome to the Jungle” (actually, that’s Feng’s fault), eats too much Lindt chocolate (I have to hide my stash better) and hundred of other parenting “mistakes.”

But Fortnite and Momo? Not my fault—and not cool.

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