Thanks, Buddy

I’m A Mom Of 5 Kids Under 9 — & The Movie Elf Helped Me Teach Them About Consent

Kids pick the darndest times to have the big discussions.

Written by Alexandra Frost
Zooey Deschanel and Will Farrell star as Jovie and Buddy in the classic Christmas film 'Elf.'
New Line Cinema

It seems there's never a "good" time to have The Talk with your kids. Instead, their questions fly in out of nowhere, multiple times through their childhoods, often at the most bizarre and unexpected moments. For example, at a gender reveal party, my 6-year-old insisted on knowing just how the fishies swim into mommy's belly (guess I'd left a few details out the first time).

So, when we were cozying up next to the tree, watching Elf, hot cocoa flowing, I thought it would be a restful parenting moment with my five kids under 9. ~Right.~

Jump to the scene where Zooey Deschanel plays an elf just trying to make it at a department store. She uses the store's locker room and shower as her makeshift home, as things are presumably tight. She's singing the provocative and controversial "Baby It's Cold Outside," long seen as a sexy if not downright creepy song about a man trying to get a woman to stay (and presumably sleep) with him on a wintery night.

Will Ferrell, aka Buddy the "elf," is lured into the locker room by her voice, which he later and innocently calls the "most beautiful singing voice in the whole wide world." She doesn't know he's there listening until he can't hold back and joins her in song in the final refrain. She peeks around the edge of the shower and yells, "Get out!"

Later, she confronts him. "Hey you," she begins sternly. "Come here. I want to talk to you. How come you were in the women's locker room this morning?"... "You sure it didn't have anything to do with the fact that I was naked in the shower?"

"I didn't know you were naked," Buddy says.

Right on cue, one of my kids pauses the movie. "Mom, why was she mad that he liked her singing?" Oh, sh*t, here we go, I thought.

As a mom of four sons and one daughter, I've struggled with the narrative that boys have ill intent. Boys are the ones that need to learn consent, and that's it. So, teaching my young sons, all innocently looking at me about why the elf's pure intentions would be confused, I found myself untangling layers of gender expectations — the rightful distrust Deschanel had at a man entering the same bathroom where she was showering — and realized this wouldn't be a simple answer.

My work was cut out for me.

I not only had to validate her Zooey’s fears and teach how a boundary had been crossed, but I also had to carefully walk the line of not sexualizing pure intentions. Wish I was a psychologist, but I'm just a regular mom trying to raise five respectful kids who can keep themselves safe in the Big World.

One of the brothers jumped in before I had a chance. "You can't go in the shower when someone's naked!" he yelled at his brother. "He wasn't in the shower; he was listening to the singing!" the other spit back.

We tried to get into Deschanel's feelings and fears, and what she was probably thinking when she was surprised in a space that's otherwise supposed to be private, despite Buddy’s intentions.

"But he didn't mean to bother her," my youngest said.

I tried to stuff down decades of "I didn't mean tos" from well-meaning men who had crossed boundaries in my own life and in society. "But he did," I said firmly. "He should have asked if he could come in," my oldest added.

So, our talk, in an age-appropriate way, circled back to how he absolutely would have to ask to come into a private space. I know we’ll have plenty more talks in the future — more on consent, on sex. But for now, I’m laying the groundwork for my kids... one movie at a time, apparently.