Bad Parent: I watch MMA combat sports with my five-year-old. By Heather Kuldell for

I only recently realized that my preschool-age son, Jack, watches mixed martial arts on TV. This knowledge crept up on me, like his transformation from pacifier-sucking toddler to opinionated little boy. He’s sneaky, but he ratted himself out while he chatted with his dad on the phone. 

“Chuck Liddell does the best knockouts,” Jack said.

Crap, I thought. Watching violent mixed martial arts events is supposed to be Mommy’s special no-kid TV time. I find the bouts cathartic. Two men punch, elbow, knee, kick or wrestle using techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiujitsu or any other combat sport they have studied. Sometimes judges’ scores decide a winner. Other times, a fighter bails out to prevent his arm or leg from breaking. Or, most dramatically, someone gets knocked out.

The fights are scary and exciting. The sport’s bad-ass factor is compounded by the fact that fighters wear almost no protective gear except for small gloves, mouth guards and cups.

Until Jack’s phone call, I hadn’t realized he’d seen enough MMA to identify any fighter, let alone to have an opinion on one of the sport’s prominent figures. I already dreaded the conversation I was about to have with his father about “appropriate TV.” Obviously, kids aren’t the target audience for MMA televised events, which show very real violence.

And yet, Jack obsesses over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. He contracted this love of these cartoon fighters from his classmates like he does their colds. He begged to watch the re-formulated Turtles (they travel in space now), and it became our Saturday morning routine. Soon, I was explaining to Jack that even though Donatello uses a bo staff, Jack can’t play with a stick the same way because someone could get hurt. And that no, spinning kicks aren’t acceptable on the playground for the same reason. Not that parental warnings matter to preschoolers. While they accept the possibility of space-traveling mutant turtles, hypothetical injuries are too abstract.

The other day, Jack slunk into the room while I was watching a DVD of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s best knockouts. He came in under the false pretense of needing a shoe tied, despite the fact that other family members were around and capable. Before I shooed him out, a well-aimed elbow split open a fighter’s eyebrow. Blood flowed down his face in two streams: one to the left and down the nose, the other to the right and around the eye. Why now?, I thought to myself as I finished a double knot.