Check it, Peons: Your CNN Humiliation Compartmentalized

Monday, October 08, 2007

PHOTOSHOPPED ADULTHOOD: Sanitized for Your Convenience

A friend of mine had a little girl recently, so I’ve been perusing the children’s section of the bookstore. Naturally, I gravitated toward the books I knew from my childhood: “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Green Eggs and Ham”, and of course, “Goodnight Moon”. I loved that book not because of the story (which I thought was boring) but for the black and white photo of the illustrator, Clement Hurd. Unlike grandfatherly Dr. Seuss, he didn’t look like he’d give me a hug. No, he belonged at our house during cocktail hour, sitting in a floral chair on the patio, telling stories by the light of the tiki torches.

But when I turned “Goodnight Moon” over to look at this photo after all these years, I saw that it had been photoshopped. The cigarette in his hand had been removed, altered to suit modern parenting sensibilities. I stared at it for a while. The picture looked so strange, his hand clearly posed for holding a cigarette, but nothing was there.

It occurred to me that certain child-protective measures are entrenched today in ways they weren’t when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because people demand a greater level of control now, with the rise of “helicopter parenting”. But it seems like we are cocooning kids too much, and denying ourselves some of the fun of adulthood in the process.

When I was a child in Honolulu back in the late 1970s, my parents and their friends didn’t surrender their adult interests and make everything so “family friendly”. The adult stuff coexisted with kids’ stuff. But there was a distinct divide between us and them, and we knew it. Parents and kids both liked it that way. Of course the term “family values” hadn’t been coined yet.

In the fridge there was Mr. and Mrs. T’s Bloody Mary Mix next to the milk. Moms had vinyl cigarette purses with golden snaps and a separate little pouch for their Bic lighters. If we asked, they’d take out their Virginia Slims and lighters and let us use the purses for our dolls. Dads often kept copies of Playboy (just out of our reach) in the bathroom. Under the sink, you might find a box of Today Sponges. If you asked about it, you were just told, “That’s for adults.” Believe it or not, that answer was good enough for us.

People in our neighborhood all had cocktail hours out on their patios, with fully stocked wet bars, olives and colorful swizzle sticks. We kids would color in our books as adults smoked and drank outside. They didn’t try to include us. They told dirty jokes or talked about politics or neighborhood gossip. This wasn’t some type of family fun. Friday night was theirs, distinctly for the adults. When told to go to bed, I’d leave my bedroom door open, loving the sound of all that laughter, the clinking of ice in a vodka tonic. And as they nursed hangovers, Saturday morning was all ours. We’d get up alone, make a bowl of Honeycomb, Lucky Charms or any other cereal that would tear up the roof of your mouth and watch Scooby Doo, Laff Olympics and Superfriends.

If parents took their kids to an upscale restaurant, there was zero tolerance for misbehaving in that adult realm. Mothers didn’t lecture fellow diners by saying, “You were a kid once too.” When I hear this, I often think, “You’re right, I was. And I had to sit there, sip my Shirley Temple and behave. Otherwise I’d get the evil eye from my mom, and that look alone was enough to keep me in check.”

Adulthood used to be this amazing mystery. I’d watch my mother put on her disco clothes; sexy sparkly outfits and platform heels as I sat there in my cords and juice-stained t-shirt, dreaming of all the fun I could have when I grew up. Now it seems like some parents are so worried about teaching their kids the wrong message, that “family friendly” activities have overtaken their lives.

These parents don’t appear to want a separate world for themselves. They are willing to completely morph into “Mom” and “Dad”, leaving nothing left for an outside identity. But I think constantly catering to kids deprives them of the wonder of adulthood. They don’t have the understanding that certain activities are just for adults, and that this unknown world can be something to look forward to.

When I was a kid, the adult world was visible but not accessible. It seemed fascinating. But I knew that adults had problems, they weren’t always right, and life wasn’t perfect. My parents didn’t try to hide this from me, and neither did their friends. So I don’t think we give kids enough credit these days. We shield them a little too much, not realizing how smart they are. And all the while, toy companies keep scaling back on “traditional” toys, because kids are so advanced now and want cell phones instead.

So I say put that cigarette back in Clement Hurd’s slender fingers. Call it a cautionary tale. Kids will understand. The photo is creepier now without it, because it’s obvious something is missing. The vice is photoshopped, but the stance remains.


DF said...

Amen. Today's society is too politically correct. This "kid/family friendly" mentality has gone too far. We are setting our kids up for failure by not allowing them to fail.

A teacher I know told me that kids in gym class no longer jump rope. They merely go through the motions with an "imaginary" rope so that those who aren't skilled enough to jump rope don't feel bad.
When I was a kid I couldn't jump rope very well. But, it made me want to try harder.

What's going to happen when these kids enter society and there are no adults to make things easy and safe for them? They're going to get their asses kicked, that's what's going to happen to them. And when they get their asses kicked, they won't know what to do. Why? Because they've never been exposed to failure.

But, at least they can jump rope (or so they think).

Glad I Was A Kid in 1979 said...

Damn straight! When we were kids, we skinned our knees, we played in the dirt--with other kids! That's right, we didn't need mommy and daddy to schedule our days. We made our own friends, we did our own thing. We were more independent, and I'm glad I got to actually be a kid, skinned knees and all.

A former sudio-spud said...

It's sad, really, since we're dooming an entire generation to failure. When we were kids, we rode in station wagons with bench seats and only one lap belt. The car stereo came in two flavours; AM or FM. We were allowed to roam over the enitre neighbourhood on weekends, but knew that when dusk fell, head home. We climbed trees, skateboarded, rode bikes, and played sports... 90% of the time without full body armour. A skinned knee was a badge of honour.
At least in my family, if I or my sibs acted a fool in public, Mom whould stop her shopping, and make a bee-line home, smack our butts, leave us to think about our transgression while she returned to her shopping. A meltdown in a restaurant? Would be the last time in a long while before we were allowed to eat out.
Kids today aren't allowed to be kids! Everything is so micromanaged and over scheduled, it's no wonder Prozac is handed out like Tic-Tacs! Let kids be kids, fer'Chrissake, and let them learn that the "real world" isn't always a nice, über-friendly, Nerf-padded utopia!

J said... a mother of two..gotta chime in here (is anyone else here a parent?)

I think this is all a bit's sort of sounding like a hyped-up Dr. Phil segment (prozac like tic-tacs? I can't even get antiobiotics from my pediatrician.) While some things are definitely true, don't you think that maybe the media has a part to play in creating 'news' about things that may not really be as prevalent as they seem? I don't know where you guys live, but in my neighborhood the kids are playing touch football in the street every night (we played kickball in 1982), shooting off fireworks on New Years Eve and 4th of July (I held a sparkler, once), riding their bikes to school (with helmets..wish I had one of those when I crashed my bike as a kid), and having scream-filled water balloon fights on hot summer days. Let's not put sweeping statements out there, because we all know not every parent is a "helicopter parent", and not every kid is micromanaged. Yes, there are SOME kids like that, and SOME parents are like that. But, for the most part...every parent with kids that I have come across is pretty darn average. Nobody has attacked an umpire at a little-league game, nobody has put a GPS navigation system on a car, and nobody goes out to a restaurant with the intention of having their kids go nuts. Everyone I know is really trying to do the best they can with what has to be the hardest job on Earth. We aren't watching Dora the Explorer all day, every day either (sometimes we watch The Wiggles!) We still drink margaritas, have cook-outs, blast "our" music, and tell our kids 'no' when it's appropriate. Yes, things are very different than they were 30 years ago. But, aren't we sounding like our parents just a bit with these "back in my day" stories? Naturally, we are going to feel that nothing will ever be as good as it was when we were kids, and our kids will be saying this in 30 years to their kids.

The point is...until you are in charge of another human being 24/7, 365 days a year...try not to assume how you think parenting or our society is, was, or should be. If our parents had access to the safety measures that we have today, don't you think they would have used them? Do you think they'd be like, "Nah, I don't want to use that carseat. Baby Johnny will be fine on the backseat floor of my camaro."

That's all I'm sayin'!

DF said...

What does a a carseat have to do with anyone's arguement here? No one mentioned that child safety wasn't important. What was argued is that we, as a society, are turning our kids into a bunch of pussies. I'm sure if we had child safety seats back in the day, they would have been used. That's not the issue. The issue is stupid things like not pitching to kids in little league baseball because we don't want them to feel bad if they strike out. "Awww...Little Timmy can't hit the ball, let's just have him run the bases."
That's total crap. Some kids shouldn't play baseball, and that's it. Go find something else to excel at Little Timmy, like crochet.

Whether you take care of a kid 365 days a year or not has no relevance on whether you think child safety is important. NO one here was saying it wasn't. We are simply saying that this society is dumbing our kids down. And yes, Prozac is handed out like tic-tacs because a lot (no finger pointing at you, J) of lazy parents don't know how to or simply don't want to deal with their own children being children.

J, if you're letting your kids suck at baseball or jumping rope, or come home with the occasional skinned knee, then you're the exception to the new societal rule, and that's great.

By the way, J. Get a new doctor. What kind of doctor won't give you antibiotics? Oh wait, maybe you have a good doctor and they won't give them to you because the kid doesn't need them. Unless you're a doctor, I don't know how you can argue with the doctor's diagnosis. Unless you just want those antibiotics to make the kid feel better faster, which just proves our point. Sometimes, being sick takes some recovery. If the doctor gives them the antibiotics every time they feel a tummy ache or have a little cough, their bodies will soon become immune to those antibiotics. Then, what happens when they really get sick and need them? Oh, they won't work.

That's all I'm sayin'. And, I'm no doctor.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute J-
So unless you have kids you can't comment on this?
With the way some parents I've seen expect me to put up with their screaming kids at restaurants and stores, I have every right to express how I feel.
It affects all of us, so all of us have an opinion.

J said...

I am not saying you can't comment on this. I am just interested to see how many people here are parents. Believe me, when I didn't have kids, I had so many opinions/criticisms of parents. It's a whole different ball game when you are actually a parent. Controlling kids is HARD. Until you've tried it, you couldn't possibly understand.

I feel like what I am reading here are a bunch of cliche soundbites from a Today Show package entitled "Are Parents Today Too Soft on Their Kids?" It all seems a bit sweeping, without knowing what it is really like. So you sat in a restaurant with screaming kids. Not a fun experience, for sure. Newsflash - nobody is 'expecting' anything from you. It's embarrassing and overwhelming, and *you* are the last thing on someone's mind.

Oh, and DF - thanks for the explanation on why I can't get antiobiotics. I thought it was because my pediatrician hated me. I had no idea that you can't get them for tummy aches, or non-bacterial infections. I must've missed that chapter in "Parenting for Dummies."

Now, if you'll excuse me, one of my pussies is crying.

vjdutton said...

Things got heated in here! Do I open the window or fan the flames? Tough call. But I'm amazed--one day I'm offering up dorky sex jokes about the fair city of Regina, the next we're discussing real issues. I wonder what the suits at Harper Collins would think if they knew what kind of impassioned debate would errupt over photoshopping that cigarette.

a former audio-spud said...

J, cliche or not, it does seem that the trend is for parents to try and be their kids "friend", and not their parents. Don't get me wrong, I had a great relationship with both of mine, but they also ruled with a Stalin-esque iron fist. Their word was the Gospel, no ifs, ands or buts.

I think the point that vjdutton was making is why do we feel that we have to put rose-coloured blinders on everything? The world ISN'T a sterile, Disney imagineered place. What's wrong with showing the warts? What is wrong with having clearly defined parent/child boundaries and limits? Why DO some parents feel like they must have every picosecond of their child's life planed out from the womb to their Doctorate?

I'm not slamming those parents out there who are actually doing the job, raising kids who aren't hellions, and who aren't afraid to put the fear of God into their offspring when needed. From where I sit, though, they seem to be few and far between.

Not a sermon, but a thought.

DF said...

Your points are well taken, and the intent here is not to slam anyone's opion. After all, we all have opinions, which is why a discussion like this is great.

You do seem to be an exception to the new form of parenting which is taking over in many places, so good for you and your kids. Let's face it, not all parents are willing to work as hard as you are to raise thier children.

Now, if only they'd stop crying...I'm kidding, but skip the "Parenting for Dummies" book, those things aren't very good for teaching anyone anything.

Anonymous said...

I too grew up in the late 70's/80's. I was a kid to a career military officer. When my Dad trained his troops to repel, he took me too. We used safety harnesses and helmets and had a s ton of fun. Being a military kid, we didn't have a lot of money, my backyards were usually dotted with a tire swing and a rope obstacle course, a sprinkler and a big dog. My parents had the same get-togethers and as kids we knew we were children, not little adults. I walked a mile to school with a quarter in my shoe for emergency phone calls. I collected golf balls from the course, cleaned em and resold them for candy money. We didn't get money for chores or money for grades, it was expected behavior.We built a fort in the woods, slept there one night too. We also moved every 2 years, so I had new friends all the time. I let my kids do most of the same stuff. I don't give them an allowance for contributing to the running of the house they share or pay them for their grades either. We have no yard or woods nearby, but they walk to the corner for soda and up the street to look at new video games and they play outside til the sun paints the sky pink. The media has created so much fear about living. The bad stuff has always been there, we just know about it minute by minute. I think it robs some of the innocence out of childhood.On the other side of it, my mom smoked and drank while she was pregnant, I can see where knowledge has helped change the way parents do stuff right from the beginning. It's a wistful kind of dreaming that wants our kids to enjoy the ignorant bliss we had. No streaming news coverage, no houses burdened by mass technologies. It's not terrible, I love my cable and internet, but I know we all see ourselves on that precipice of change, the way we live is moving direction. I think all anyone can expect is that instead of longing for the golden days, we fight to put some fun back into every childhood and for that matter every adulthood. Being a kid is still a pretty good gig. I want my kids to remember these days fondly too because most of the time having to be a grown up really sucks. On that note,I'll be outside building a fort if you need me..

vjdutton said...

Excellent post! Since I work in news, my favorite line is, "The media has created so much fear about living. The bad stuff has always been there, we just know about it minute by minute." That is so true! Seriously, the 24-hour news cycle has changed our lives drastically simply by changing the perception of our lives.

Siiri Hjelt said...

Good post!! I get your point of the clear-cut separation of child's and adult's world.

I just recently had a conversation with my friends about how kids/teenagers should be educated about alcohol by their parents.
Some felt that it's best kids never ever see anyone drunk, especially anyone they know.
Some used to have their parents buy the booze when they were underage on the condition that they would only drink at home, "away from all the dangers".
My view and how I was raised was this: alcohol is consumed wisely, by ADULTS only. Ok it might make you talk funny and sing loudly… but most importantly it was always clear that there were "kid's sodas" and "adult's sodas" separately.
And you can have it as much as you want, when you are old enough.
Actually we were even taken to music festivals in the summer (where Finns traditionally go to get drunk with some music on the background!) as teenagers and we really got to see how ridiculous you look when you overdo it…
No harm done for seeing people wasted! And I never really felt the need as a teenager to rebel by drinking.

Actually I think a clear separation of these two worlds can bring the child a feeling security. Parents are not your friends, you are not the one making every decision, and there is someone in control. The adult world is waiting for you and when it's time, it's a quite manageable world. It's not just out there and scary.

vjdutton said...

Siiri, I agree, and I really loved your last sentence: "The adult world is waiting for you and when it's time, it's a quite manageable world. It's not just out there and scary." That is beautifully stated.