Have I told you lately it's okay to like princesses?
Among the lead characters in the hugely successful American sitcom Modern Family are Cameron and Mitchell, a gay couple with a baby girl, Lily, adopted from Vietnam. My three-year-old (“three and three-quarters”, as he insists) recently peered over my shoulder to watch an episode with me on an iPad.
It probably was not the most age-appropriate viewing but I suppose I assumed that the majority of it would pass over his head. After a few minutes he looked up and asked: “Does Lily have no mammy?” When I told him that she did not but that she had two daddies, he pondered a moment and said: “That’s okay.”
I wondered how long his view would last. It lasted just a few weeks. The other day he asserted firmly to me that everybody must have a mammy – perhaps because for him his mother is the most important person in the world.
We live near the Luas green line and a favourite outing is to travel to St Stephen’s Green, enjoy the buskers on Grafton Street and occasionally walk around the Disney Store. My three-year-old used to love visiting the princess room there, which boasts a “magic mirror” that displays a different Disney princess character depending on which toy wand is waved in front of it.
The last time we were there, however, he stopped abruptly at the edge of the pink-tiled floor and sadly observed that this place was just for “girls”. Seeing another boy walking through, he seized the opportunity to wave a wand at the mirror once but then retreated to the “boys’ area” of the shop.
Until recently, he was blind to the colour of people’s skin. There were occasions when — and sometimes in public places — he would refer to or talk about a “black lady”, or a “red man” or a “green child”. We realised he was identifying people on the basis of the colour of their clothes. Last weekend, however, he told me authoritatively that “brown people all come from Asia or Africa”. I don’t know where he got this.
All this got me wondering about how and at what age difference is socialised. From where do children get the idea of what is “normal”? It also reminded me of a marketing campaign run by the Northern Ireland Office in the early stages of the peace process that was designed to set the atmosphere for reconciliation or, in the words of academics Greg McLaughlin and Stephen Baker, “market peace in Northern Ireland as a consumer commodity”.
The campaign included two particularly memorable television ads. One featured Van Morrison’s hit Have I Told You Lately and the other his song Days Like This.