Bedtime Stories

Being a parent illuminates and reveals new life questions and dilemmas that would just never otherwise occur to you. There are the obvious new questions (What is the purpose of my life, how do such delicate creatures survive, and am I a good parent?) and the less obvious (How can I wash my hands after a particularly tumultuous diaper change while juggling a screaming baby, will I ever be able to run to the grocery store without planning the trip three hours in advance, and who on earth writes these children’s books and what were they smoking at the time?).

Currently, I am preoccupied with the latter of the less obvious questions.

Seriously though. What were these people thinking when they wrote these books? I mean, adults write children’s books, right? So then why is it that they have absolutely nothing to do with reality?

Let me illustrate… no pun intended. The other day I was reading Zoe a book in which the main character, Mr. Messy, a grown adult male, met two other adult males, Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy. The first thing these gentlemen do after a brief introduction is forcibly throw Mr. Messy in the back of their van, drive to his house, and clean his entire garden, roof, and house without his permission. The entire time Mr. Messy is loudly protesting, insisting that he likes his yard and home to be messy. But that’s not all, folks. Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy then further manhandle Mr. Messy by stripping him down, throwing him in the bathtub, and scrubbing him.

What?!?! Why am I reading this to my young and impressionable daughter??

Trick question. I’m not. I sort of gave up on children’s books and started reading her Calvin and Hobbes after that last one. Yeah, that’s right, the kid with the imaginary tiger has a much better grasp on reality then all of these children’s book authors.

No but really then at the end of the book Mr. Messy is laughing with Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy about the fact that he will now have to change his name.

I am so confused, truly so confused. How is this at all appropriate or acceptable? I’m fairly certain that if Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy were real people, they’d be convicted on at least two different charges– and not at home behind their pretty white picket fence as the book might have you believe.

Even if we disregard that little mix up, why are we teaching children that no means yes? Why are we teaching them that being clean and forcing other people to do the same somehow trumps free will, individual choices, and just plain caring for each other? In what world is cleanliness the paramount concern?

I’m actually not confused at all; reading children’s books explains so much about the way the world is. If these books were written by adults, it just goes to show how distorted our priorities and perceptions of reality truly are. Now wonder we have this nasty cyclical problem on our hands. Misguided adults make misguided children who then grow up and into more misguided adults.

Breaking the cycle requires rigorous honesty. It’s easy for me to criticize such an obvious example of confused priorities, but if I get angry at my husband for leaving his pants on the bedroom floor, what lesson have I taught my daughter? The exact same one that I don’t want Mr. Messy to teach her; that cleanliness is more important than love. Shoot!

Rigorous honesty and self reflection. Because at the end of the day, how much influence is one silly book actually going to have on a young person? We don’t teach with our words, we teach by example.

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