I’m beginning to think the girl may have a Smiggle problem.
She’s mad for the stuff, spends her time cooing over her aromatic erasers and texters in her room, when in the past she’d be goofing around with dolls or making fairy gardens.
It’s agony, how quickly these childhoods pass. Like bullet-trains filled with elusive memories and money, zooming into the distance. She’s eight this month. The innocent who once frolicked around the place, absorbed in imaginary play, has turned voracious consumer and beaming brand loyalist.
“Dad, do you know what my most favourite thing in the whole world is?” our daughter asks at the dinner table, as she nudges a chunk of carrot to the outer regions of the plate, where it might escape attention.
“I’m not sure,” I reply, indicating with a fatherly tilt of the head that I am fully aware of the carrot ruse, “is it the smell of your own farts?”
“Dad, you’re not meant to say that stuff at the table.”
“That’s right. Well then, is it Smiggle?”
Smiggle sell stationery, or at least that’s what they started out doing when they opened their first shop in Melbourne back in 2002. They’ve branched out wildly from that, and now have shops in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, besides New Zealand, the UK and all over Australia, product range expanding with their global reach.
These days it feels like the stationery is a gateway to the harder stuff, the lifestyle branding – the lunchboxes and drink bottles, the backpacks, headphones and tablet-cases, all potent status symbols to the discerning tweenie.
There’s a lot of pink in a Smiggle shop, a lot of mauve and turquoise. The gear they’re peddling tends toward the fluffy and sparkling, with designs that favour unicorns, rainbows and butterflies. Sharp marketing, saucy pricing.
I don’t care how cute their little faces are or soft and squishy they feel – how many pencil-cases does one person need?
A “design your own pencil-case kit”, comprising one denim zip-fastened pencil-case (the kind someone might fashion from an old pair of jeans, if they could do that kind of thing), one sachet of plastic baubles and one miniature glue-gun, for twenty-five bucks.
Collectible pencil-cases called “Pals”. Collectible. I don’t care how cute their little faces are or soft and squishy they feel – how many pencil-cases does one person need? There are eight of these suckers. Plus, in terms of what it can offer as a “pal”, your average pencil-case is kind of lame, believe me (sorry Kevin).
Smiggle presents the conscientious parent with a dilemma.
On the one hand, a love of stationery, tools of study and creativity, is to be encouraged.
I’m fine with my child scribbling away in a fluffy rainbow-festooned jotting-pad, complete with little “hug me” hand-flaps attached to the cover, with a pencil that smells like grape-flavoured candy-floss, if she’s, say, doing trigonometry or writing a sonnet (which must be what she’s doing, right?). If Smiggle gets her at her desk, who’s complaining?
It’s agony, how quickly these childhoods pass. Like bullet-trains filled with elusive memories and money, zooming into the distance.
But then there are the sustainability implications, the kind I find myself fretting over more and more these days. A plastic bubble-gum machine that shoots out little coloured, presumably smelly erasers doesn’t seem a good use of the planet’s resources.
Beyond that, it’s the whole raising brand-consciousness in children thing that gives me the heeby-geebies. I don’t want her growing up to be sucked into that stuff; it’s a bum steer.
I’ve tried reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo to her at bedtime to shift her mindset, but she says it’s no Big Friendly Giant.
At the table, an altercation has kicked off between mother and daughter. A coveted Smiggle pencil (purple), with rainbow fluffball appendage, has been borrowed from a school friend and lost, and our daughter is to give her friend her own (pink) as a replacement. A life lesson.
“But that’s not fair. I didn’t lose the pencil, it was him.” Her brother has his face in a bowl of rice and doesn’t rise to the bait. A good thing.
With her mum out of the room, she lobbies me.
“Da-ad, please don’t make me give that pencil away. It wasn’t me who lost it. It’s the only one of those I have.”
Of course I’m going to end up pleading her case to my partner, who will scoff at my parenting choices, which will send me to the mall I loathe, up the escalator and into Smiggle, to buy her friend the pencil, and while I’m there pick up the majority of her birthday wishlist, life lesson shot to pieces.
“Da-ad, please speak to mum. Tell her.”
Her eyes look into mine, desperate, imploring. It’s easy to miss chances to parent as childhood zooms by.
“You still haven’t eaten that carrot,” I point out.