AFTER MARYLAND first lady Kendel Ehrlich got in trouble for making an inappropriate remark, she immediately did something that helped deflect the criticism: She announced she was pregnant.
We parents of adolescents, who were soldiers in the culture wars long before Mrs. Ehrlich discovered Britney Spears, have seen this ploy before.
"Don't change the subject" is our well-worn response to a child who tries to squirm out of trouble by making some earth-shattering announcement.
We have all had broken curfews explained away with some version of, "But you don't understand! Alphonse broke up with me."
Or a "D" in French deflected by tears and, "I have had the worst day. Someone broke into my locker and all my baby-sitting money is gone!"
In this case, the first lady was talking to a conference on domestic violence, no less, when she said: "Really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would."
The predictable storm of criticism followed but then blew offshore the next day, when she announced that she and the governor were expecting a second child in the spring. That was followed by the usual jokes: When a woman is pregnant, she is always threatening to shoot somebody. But usually it is her husband.
If Ehrlich is upset about the hyper-sexuality peddled by Britney Spears, who kissed Madonna and then took off just about everything but her pearls in a recent Esquire magazine photo shoot, she had better buckle her chin strap.
Her son, Drew, is only 4 years old, and I'll bet his pre-school principal hasn't yet had to discipline any of his classmates for showing cleavage or exposing a belly button.
If she thinks Britney is trouble, wait until she sees the bevy of half-naked beauties that will be sitting next to Drew in class, starting in about seventh grade. It is a mystery to me sometimes how adolescent boys manage to learn anything in school.
And who knows? Drew might end up with a little sister who brings home a posse that looks like Charlie's Angels, and he might feel compelled to beat up any boy who comes to the house.
The Britneys of the music world certainly don't do anything to stifle adolescent sexuality, but a firing squad wouldn't do any good, either.
Has the first lady seen Christina Aguilera lately? If Mrs. Ehrlich is looking for somebody to shoot, she makes a better target. Christina makes Britney seem like a Sunday school teacher.
If I had any advice for the governor's wife (besides "Think before you speak"), it would be that Britney Spears, or whoever is hot when young Drew starts paying attention, is an opportunity - not necessarily an occasion for sin.
This Mouseketeer with the girl-next-door sweetness and the catchy tunes was in a huge hurry to grow up, and this is the result. She's a has-been at 22, and her suddenly ferocious sexuality looks like nothing so much as desperation to return to the top. For parents, there is nothing like a living, breathing example of a good girl gone bad.
Unlike pop stars, parents have staying power (because we have no choice), and we can outlast the latest. When my children were young, I was terrified of Madonna's spell. But she was making bad movies by the time they noticed her. Now she is writing children's books, for heaven's sake.
We will be around long after the bad guys have left the stage, and we can be the difference between our children being worldly and wise or cynical and corrupted. It won't be easy, but we can win the culture wars.
And we can do it without firing a shot.