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.