Over the years Michael Jackson has prompted some interesting topics of conversation between my 12-year-old son and me. His death prompted more. Here are a few.
A year ago my son came home from school with a rude joke about Michael Jackson.
Being the open, honest, talk-about-everything mum that I am, I immediately asked him if he understood the joke (I suspected he didn't really). He uhmmed and ahhed a bit and then conceded that, no, he didn't really understand it.
Cue Interesting Topic Number One:
I explained to my son that 'turned on' meant two different things in the joke. One was that something powered by electricity was powered up. The other kind of means 'fancies'. I went on to tell him that some people thought that Michael Jackson fancied kids. 'But he's an adult! That's weird!' I told him that there were a few adults who 'fancied' kids and that they are, indeed, 'weird'.
I told him that it was very unlikely that he'd ever meet one of them, but that if he ever felt like an adult he knew was behaving in a 'weird' way with him that he should always tell me about it, no matter what. I told him that kids who are 'fancied' by an adult might feel scared about telling someone else about it because they are so confused (it is 'weird' after all), but he should never be afraid of telling me anything.
Without Michael Jackson I wouldn't have been able to have that conversation with my son without it feeling scary or inappropriate.
The next big topic of conversation prompted by Michael Jackson was:
A few months ago a friend of mine came to visit my son and me at our new house. He told us that he was about to do the best job in the whole world for the most famous person in the whole world, but he couldn't tell us the details for a few days. This friend had been working for Prince, so I asked, 'More famous than Prince?' 'Yep.' 'Is the job in the US or the UK?' 'UK' Hmmmm.
So for a few days my son and I were trying to work out who our friend could be working for? In the UK and more famous than Prince. We thought maybe he was working for Madonna, but a) she doesn't live in the UK any more b) is she *really* more famous than Prince?
Then I got a text from my friend that said, 'Michael Jackson.' When my son came home from school I showed him the text and he was suitably impressed. I told him that our friend was going to get us tickets to see Michael Jackson at the O2 and it would be amazing!
He asked if I was a fan of Michael Jackson. I told him how I loved his songs in the 1980s and how I'd learned the dance from the Thriller video and did it every time the video came on MTV -- which was a lot in those days. I also told him that when I was a little kid in the 1970s, I dreamed that Michael Jackson was my best friend and that I'd take him with me to school. I said something along the lines of, 'And I remember thinking it would have been nice to have a friend who was black because we didn't have any black kids in my school.'
He said, 'Michael Jackson is BLACK?!'
I Googled a photo of Jackson when he was a boy and my son couldn't believe it. Cue huge conversation about why he may have had so much plastic surgery. I suggested that it may have started out because of racism -- he wanted his nose to look more Caucasian because it was deemed to be more attractive by some people. (We also talked about his cousin who is half-Korean and how she had been teased at her school for looking 'different')
My son said that he didn't care about the colour of someone's skin or what they looked like, he just liked people if they were 'nice'.
Without Michael Jackson I wouldn't have known that my son was so groovily 'colour-blind'.
The final big topic was:
As my son came downstairs the morning after Michael Jackson died, I said, 'Something really strange and sad has happened... Michael Jackson died.'
'What?! He wasn't old!!'
'Yea. That's just weird, isn't it? We don't really expect young people to die. But it happens unexpectedly sometimes.'
'Was he sick?'
'Well, not really. They don't really know why he died yet, but I don't think he had any diseases. He just died.'
'How old was he?'
'That's ten years older than you.'
'I'd be 22 if you died when you were 50.'
And then silence while he ate his breakfast. Silence. Silence. Silence.
After a while he mentioned how our friend who was working for Michael Jackson now doesn't have a job, then went off to get ready for school.
He came down, gave me a big hug and said, 'I love you, mum' and left for school. He NEVER does that.
Without Michael Jackson my 12 year old son wouldn't have mused about the transience of life over his corn flakes and made his mother very happy.
Related: How to talk to your children about death