I am confused. As you get to know me you'll find this is not a rare thing, lots of things confuse me. City parking signs and why people still continue to wear leggings as pants are good examples of these, but the confusion I am feeling today is different. It's a bit tummy twisting and odd and I can't quite pinpoint what it is that's making me feel it.
I guess the place to start is around 30 years ago. I was four and the best part of my day was when mum and I would have our “milk and a biscuit” and sit in the living room to watch Play School.
Ah, Play School. It was, and still is in my opinion, the best TV show for kids ever. Forget your weird, slightly nightmarish Night Gardens and your odd, orange-legginged Djs, Play School is where it's at. With their cardboard toilet tube people and their spotty kinds of days they educate, entertain and delight children and parents alike.
When I was little I had two heroes on Play School. One was the hilariously funny John Hamlin whose little asides to the parents and tendency to dress as Miss Polly had both my mother and I in stitches, and the other was Noni Hazlehurst. With her wonderful crinkly-eyed smile and her little head shrugs and winks she was like a second mum. The kind of mum who'd blow on a cut after putting Dettol on it and who would tuck you up warm and safe in bed with a story every night.
When I was a teenager I would watch it with my niece and love the fact that my childhood hero was still entertaining kids, and as a new mum in my late 20s I would watch Noni on the show with my mum and my daughter and marvel at how three generations of my family could come together and find wonder and delight in this same woman, over two decades on.
At this stage I was writing weekly for one of my favourite magazines, Australian People. With its tongue-in-cheek bogan-ness and its scantily clad models it really was one of the most fun and amusing publications to write for. It has no pretensions. It's all about boobs, bums and beer and hey, there's nothing wrong with that! We're adults, we're allowed to like boobs, bums, and beer. That's one of the perks of growing up! So imagine my dismay, my hurt and my disbelief when I picked up the paper one morning to read that Noni Hazlehurst, my childhood icon, the woman who taught me the words to Bananas in Pyjamas, was tut-tutting and wagging her finger at me and my colleagues accusing us of the most heinous crime of sexualising children.
According to her the fact that these magazines can often be seen in the eyesight of children is inappropriate and they should be moved to the back corner of the shop with the restricted R rated magazines like Hustler and Playboy.
But hang on a moment I thought as I looked at the cover of the latest People magazine,
how is THIS (People) any worse than THIS (Cosmo)?
I mean, the fact that one is marketed at teenage girls and one is marketed at adult men is a huge difference, yes, but doesn't really giver her point validity. Then I thought about some of the things I'd seen on a shopping trip earlier that day:
Bratz Dolls wearing fishnet stockings and knee-high boots (marketed at, yes you guessed it, little girls), a hot pink string bikini in a size 3 (I know models are getting skinnier and skinnier, but really, this is ridiculous), a pair of clicky clacky high-heeled Barbie brand shoes for your five year old and, maybe one of the worst things I saw that day, an advertisement for beauty and make-over parties for your little girl. I began to think about my daughter and what she is exposed to and what she sees and, more importantly, how I respond and react to the things she sees.
The thing I've learnt about kids (and I'm not just a mum, I used to be a child care worker as well) is that they are not dumb. They might be little, and they might speak in cutesy little voices, but they're a lot smarter than people give them credit for and are quite capable of telling the difference between grown up things and kids things. For example my daughter knows that she cannot have a glass of wine with her dinner. Why not? Because that's a grown up thing for mummies and daddies. She also knows that after 7:30 pm she has to go to bed. Why? Because that's mummy and daddy time. If I tell her something is for grown-ups she understands and accepts it, so if she was to ask me what the magazine on the shelf is I have quite a lot of confidence that when I tell her it's a book for grown-ups she will heed it.
When, however, she is confronted in the toy aisle with a Bratz Doll Costume, complete with off-the-shoulder peasant top and mini skirt, I'm not too sure what to say. It's the sort of costume I personally might wear to a Saints and Sinners ball, but would feel mighty uncomfortable about letting my 7 year old daughter wear to a fancy dress party.
This is what I wanted to say to Noni as I felt her disapproval in me and my chosen profession weighing heavily on my shoulders. Seriously, I felt like I used to feel when I had to tell my parents I'd been in detention for wagging; Their eyes would drop, their disappointment in me almost palpable, and I would feel so ashamed I had let them down.
I wanted to ask Noni why she was giving our children and us as parents such little credit? Why she was focusing on adult products made for adults and lumping us in with irresponsible and dare I use the phrase “corporate peodophiles” who market adult products to children. Couldn't she see the difference? And anyway, I also thought to myself, what is wrong with nudity and sexuality anyway? It's okay for kids to know grown-ups enjoy sex. In fact, I'd rather they know it's a good thing rather than a horrible, scary, don't-do-it-or-you'll-go-to-hell thing any day.
But I said none of these things (although I may have ranted on my Facebook page about them) and I just accepted the fact that I disagreed with her and figured that, just because I felt a bit insulted by her stance, she was entitled to her opinion and I could still sing I'm a little teapot with her without feeling like I'd let down my side of the team.
Let me now take you to the bit where I become confused. By now I am sure everyone has heard of the book doing the rounds on the internet and selling highly on Amazon called “Go The F*ck To Sleep”. It's great! A wonderful little rhyme where a parent is begging their child to please stop crying and go the f*ck to sleep because it's late and the parents want to watch a movie. If you've ever had kids I can guarantee you've felt like this at one time or another. The book is beautifully illustrated and in the form of a picture book and is something I'm kind of hoping makes it under my Christmas tree this year. There is a fantastic audio version too with Samuel L Jackson reading the story in his stern, yet smooth voice which gives me wonderful tingles!
So anyway, the latest offering of this fabulous book is a video. A video of Noni Hazlehurst, sitting in an arm chair, with her beautiful crinkly-eyed smile and her Play School voice, reading the story to us, just as I remember her doing all those times over the past thirty years.
As the parent in the story gets increasingly frustrated at their child's refusal to sleep, so does Noni's voice rise and fall and her head nod and eyes smile. It really is fabulously nostalgic to watch.
But hang on, I thought again, isn't this completely hypocritcal of her? Why is a book that looks like a children's picture book, full of swear words and frustration, okay but a magazine with a girl in a swimsuit on it isn't? Is it because there isn't a bikini girl on the cover? Is it because it's funny? Is it because in Noni's mind overt swearing is more acceptable than nudity? Or is it because she knows us grown-ups are smart enough to realise that this is a book for adults and isn't one we would actually read to or give to our kids... Oh wait... Hang on...
And this is where I am confused.
To me convincing your child that a book that looks like a picture book with its gorgeous illustrations and large, easy-to-read print is actually for grown-ups is way harder than telling them that the magazine on the shop counter with the girl in the bikini on it is not for them. Personally I would much rather my daughter be comfortable in her own skin and accepting other people for theirs than her being comfortable swearing like a sailor, but maybe that's just me?
***Author's Note: A the time of just completing this little rant I went back to YouTube to find the video so I could post a link to it...
It seems YouTube have removed the video as they say it violates their policy on the depiction of harmful activities. I must say, I wonder how Noni feels about her video being censored like that? Perhaps they think it's harming children?
Is this irony or just another example of people being nannied to within an inch of their freedom of expression? Or perhaps it is a little of both.