I popped the DVD in the machine and turned out the lights.
“Is everybody ready?” I asked.
The kids had moved all of the desks to the back of the room and pulled their chairs to the front. Some were less than a foot away from the big screen TV I had managed to snag from the AV room.
“Move out of the way, Josh. I can’t see!” one of the girls yelled.
“Move your own chair,” Josh said. “What? You got a piano tied to your butt?”
Josh’s friends laughed.
“OK, enough,” I said. “Remember. I can turn this off anytime. I need you to cooperate with me. I have to finish these reading assessments by the end of the day and the only way I’m going to do that is if you all watch the movie and eat your snack and be quiet. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah,” they all grumbled.
‘This movie is called Babies. It’s about one year in the life four babies. One is from Mongolia, one is from Namibia, one is from San Francisco and the other one is from Tokyo. You can see how babies are raised in ways that are very different from here.”
“Have you seen it, Mrs. H?” one boy asked.
My heart stopped a little bit. No, I hadn’t. I had meant to preview it during the week but other things kept bumping it off my to-do list. I figured: it’s an award winning documentary, rated G…what could possibly go wrong? It’s rated G, for heavens sake. Most of these kids had already seen movies that I still couldn’t watch for fear of nightmares.
“No, I haven’t but it has won a ton of awards and I think it will be great. You will learn about babies for health class and about different countries for social studies. Two birds with one stone! Hooray! Now, when I call your name, I need you to join me in the hall for your reading assessment. It will only take a few minutes and then you’ll be right back at the movie. OK?”
“Yes. We promise,” said the one girl who might have actually been listening to me. The rest of them were trading snacks, whispering to the friends, and moving their chairs to get a better view.
I hit play and called the first name on my alphabetical list.
“Ryan, my friend. You are first.”
Two chairs were set up in the hall perfectly so that I could see the class (but not the movie) and they could see me but not the reader. It was a delicate balance of supervision and assessment and doing these two things at once was challenging, to say the least. It would be a wonder if I didn’t have a split personality by the end of the day.
Ryan read his piece smoothly and quickly, while the rest of the class was immersed in their snacks and the movie. One down, 29 to go.
I had six students done when the buzzing started.
“What is that?”
“What is she doing?”
“Is that a…?”
“Oh my God! That’s her boob!”
The class went crazy.
“No way!” somebody shouted.
“Yes, look at it. It’s huge! It’s bigger than that baby’s whole head.”
“Oh my god. That’s sooo gross.”
The giggling had reached a peak and could be heard in the hall and beyond.
I dropped my clipboard of reading scores and raced into the room. The student I was reading with somehow made it there ahead of me.
Sure enough, there was the Nambian mother, completely topless, feeding her baby. Her heavy breasts hung almost to the ground and two babies were simultaneously sucking on them and playing with them.
And then, as quickly as it started, it was over. The film moved back to the California baby demurely drinking formula from a bottle fed to her by her father. I paused the movie and considered my options.
“Nooo! Turn it back on!”
“Don’t stop the movie just for that, Mrs. H! It’s no big deal. It’s natural, right?”
If I stopped the movie now, there would be no way I would finish the reading assessments by the weekend. And besides, they were right. Breastfeeding is natural and there was nothing gratuitous about the scene. Next year they would all get the “sex talk” despite the fact that some of them still played with dolls and action figures.
“Do you think you can handle this maturely, boys and girls?” I asked, pretending like I trusted them to act more mature than my husband would if he were watching the same movie.
So, I turned the movie back on, crossed my fingers, and called the next name.
The lesson I learned that day? Well, that previewing a movie before showing it to 30 ten-year-olds is not just a “good” idea, it’s essential. I was lucky it was just a little boob on display. Amazingly, I didn’t get any flack over the movie. I don’t know if the kids just didn’t tell their parents or if the parents agreed with me that it wouldn’t hurt them but I know I lucked out. So, do yourself a favour and watch the movie first and if you see boob or hear cursing, you might want to put it aside and find yourself a new electronic babysitter. Just a tip.