Here at the Tiger Father, I do a lot of interviews. Some are hard hitting. Some are light-hearted. Some are fairly dull. All of them are totally made up.
But today it is with quite some quivering excitement that I bring you my very first, genuine interview with a real person! And not just any real person, but the best person there is!
OK, I’m gushing with the excitement now, so I’d best turn down the sycophancy a tad and bring you, exclusively, the fabulous, funny and hugely informative best-selling author Kaz Cooke!
The reason is because Cooke is coming to China this week. She’ll be appearing at the Capital Literary Festival at the Capital M restaurant, Beijing, this Saturday at 3.00pm. There, she'll be interviewed by Dr Stephanie Teoh, a prominent member of the city's expat community and of my marriage. Then Cooke will bob up at the Shanghai International Literary Festival, at M on the Bund restaurant, on Sunday, March 10. It’s mostly to discuss her very handy book Girl Stuff. Anyone who has a teenaged girl should go. Those with teenaged boys will probably get something out of it too.
|Kaz Cooke, relaxing in a photo file, yesterday.|
Like Wooloomooloo, Cooke is a big name in Australia. But she has sold many books in various other countries as well. These have been found to be a tremendous help to everyone engaged in an activity which is common to us all – life.
Her biggest book is an enormously popular bible for pregnant women. In Australia it’s known by the country’s own distinct medical term for pregnancy – Up The Duff. (In Britain it’s The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. In the US it’s Bun In The Oven. The App is out now, for when you’re in a café and don’t know whether you can eat sushi, monkey brain, chicken’s feet, lightbulbs, etc).
Cooke expanded on that with a book about other women’s stuff, called Women’s Stuff. It’s a guide for a lot of things, such as confidence, health, guilt-free eating, optimism and “understanding all your hormonal jiggery-pokery”.
She’s also written the very useful Kid Wrangling – For Babies, Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers, and Girl Stuff - something that probably needed to be done a long time ago. This is a 550-page guide to a girl’s teen years, covering pretty much everything a teenaged girl might go through, all told in a relaxed style as in a chat with Aunty Kaz.
Cooke has had several other titles as well such as Living With Crazy Buttocks (Winner of a 2002 UK prize for Oddest Title of the Year) and children’s book The Terrible Underpants.
But what’s known in China as her “Gang of Four” life guides are probably her big thing. They’re meticulously researched. Cooke gives her own well considered views, draws from reader input, and quotes the professionals.
Cooke is also one of these multi-tasking women who can write and draw – probably at the same time, while feeding a baby, washing dishes, talking on the phone etc etc. (Not to get sidetracked or anything but I should say men are hugely under-rated on the score of multi tasking. Only two nights ago I was drinking beer and watching football at the same time. So …)
The point is Cooke’s books are laced with witty writing and cartoons.
She and I sat down for a lovely, engaging, heart-to-heart interview. I would have hugged her at the end, only I was sitting in Beijing and Cooke was sitting in Melbourne, responding to my emails. But still, we covered a range of topics, particularly the sensitive issue of teenaged girls and how Girl Stuff might help them through these tender years.
TIGER FATHER: Hello, and welcome.
KAZ COOKE: Hello Trevor.
TF: Ms Cooke - Aren’t teenaged girls just demented, shrieking pains-in-the-butt who should be avoided like the plague?
KZ: Yes, and they dress like slatterns with questionable morals and do nothing but spend money. Ha! I’m joking.
(She was joking! Everyone relax! Especially that 15-year-old over there who just said this was the Worst. Thing. Eva!!!!).
KZ: Seriously, after connecting with more than 4000 girls aged 12 to 18 in researching the book, they impress me no end. Of course some are prize-winning airheads who think Paris Hilton is a role model. But mostly they're lovely young people with loads of energy and wonderful ideals about life, stumbling around in various degrees of confusion. (One of my favourite questions that a young girl has asked me is, "Please don't tell me my grandma once had sex." So I said "As if.")
TF: As a stay-at-home father of two beautiful daughters aged seven and six, is it prudent that I be very involved now, because I will surely want to flick them over to their mother for good when they go all mental and hormonal the day they turn 13?
KZ: No. As dad, you will need to have some special things to do with them as teens such as go to musical theatre, listen to Barbra Streisand (Ed’s note: Eeuuurrgh!) or One Direction albums (Ed’s note: Who?!?!), do roller-skate wrestling or some other special bonding sessions. It’s partly so your wife will not eat your head like an angry black widow spider and partly because teenage girls need a male in their lives to show how a proper, respectful and lovely man should behave with women. Then they are less likely to choose boyfriends with too many (more than 12) mis-spelled tattoos or men who are emotionally absent.
"Hands off", or detached, should never be an option. I don't recommend the idea of a "parents' retreat", whether it’s having separate TVs or just throwing up your hands and leaving kids to fend for themselves to get information and work out their values and feelings. It leaves girls getting all their info about sex from friends who've been watching online pornography, and all their values from people who've only had their own brain for less than 20 years. Get in and stay in, take a helmet if necessary. Your job is to be a parent, not a soppy best friend who lets them do anything they want and thinks a boundary line is only for football.
|Yes, exactly Babs - that's what I think too!|
|Rule 1. Mums are meant to be mums, not pals.|
TF: What are the most important three issues parents need to handle well with their teenage girls?
KC: 1. The teen years are challenging but they don't have to be a shrieky nightmare. Keep talking, keep telling them you love them.
2. Setting reasonable boundaries and realising it's your job to enforce them and your girls' job to test them. In Girl Stuff I have ways that parents and kids can actually talk together, get on better, and set behaviour expectations and penalties together.
3. Body image. The best present a parent can ever give a girl is confidence (even though they probably want an iPod touch). Parents should never EVER tell girls that they're underweight or overweight or otherwise criticise their appearance. Any talk of food and exercise should be in the context of health and fun.
TF: What are the three most important teen girl events parents need to handle well?
KC: 1. First period: Never tell your daughter it means she's "become a woman". Yechhh. And no, she isn't. Make the whole thing rather dull and matter of fact and just something everyone does whether earlier or later.
2. First heartbreak: Be sympathetic. Understand this is not trivial for her.
3. First huge freaky scary thing. She says she thinks maybe when she was drunk somebody had sex with her, or her friend offered her drugs, or you get a call to pick her up from a police station. Handle this in a way that means she will still confide in you, tell you when something is wrong or scary, and ring YOU - not a tattooed biker from the police station. Make yourself the go-to person, her protector and adviser. You can still apply the rules and consequences, but don't alienate her.
TF: Were you yourself once a teenaged girl? If so, what was it like? And how was it different then to what girls go through now?
KC: I am indeed a former girl. It was sometime after the Jurassic period and before the internets. I think girls now see more role models in professions such as medicine, politics, diplomacy and …erm, soccer. But there is also much more pressure on girls when it comes to body image and appearance, sexuality and doing well academically.
TF: Do you think Girl Stuff will be a big help to teenaged girls because it covers a lot of stuff girls might not want to talk to their parents about? Or would you hope that parents talk about these things with their kids, and perhaps your book can supplement that?
KC: Ideally, it’s the second option. As for the book, I want to talk to girls about sex in relation to self respect and staying safe. As well as explaining the stuff girls said they want to know, I have lists in the book of how girls can say "no", and how they can safely retreat from saying or doing things that scare them.
TF: Have you ever found yourself telling your own 14-year-old daughter: “You’re not leaving the house dressed like that young lady?” And then did you punch yourself in the face or become physically ill?
KC: Oh, I do lots of stuff mothers should never do like say “Get your hair out of your face”, or "How about trying on this dress?" (usually greeted by a look of pure horror). It's part of the separation process. I need to let go of controlling how she looks so I can keep my influence for things that matter much more. And it's good for me to realise I can no longer "dress" her as when she was a toddler and I got to choose.
TF: On Kid Wrangling - Do you think a lot of parents make the mistake of thinking that old cliche – “Kids Don't Come With A Manual”, when in fact they do? Why don’t more reach out for help?
KC: Because there are two common, horrible ideas: that men should stay out of it because they're naturally always incompetent with kids (Ed’s note: Hey!!) and secondly that women will automatically know how to do everything as mums because of mysterious "instincts". Parents need to learn and get to know their babies and kids together, and that's how you develop instincts and expertise.
TF: Why have your books been successful?
KC: I like to think it's because people can feel the work in it, as well as share the fun in it, and you can tell I care about what I write. I'm not too bossy but present options people can choose from. But it’s also because of the readers, who really provide the best stuff with their questions and quotes.
Cooke has lots more to say, but this blog is almost full now. Go see her and/or read the books!
|A common or garden teenaged|
girl. They're not all this happy.
|Another teenaged girl shown here in a display of something|
geneticists believe has been deeply embedded in their
DNA since caveman times - the eye roll.
|Another typical teenaged girl, yesterday. They hate it when|
we do this to them.
|An atypical teenaged girl, yesterday.|
|A whole battalion of them doing what they like to do ...|
hanging out, being noisy, online gambling ...
DATES: (Girl Stuff talk): Beijing: Saturday, March 2, 3.00pm. Capital M.
Shanghai: Sunday, March 10, 12.00pm. M on the Bund.
Tickets 75 RMB.
On Tuesday, March 5 at 12.00pm, Cooke will feature in a Women’s Day panel discussion over lunch called “40 Years On … What do Women Want?” At 5.00pm she will conduct a humour writing workshop.
Details for both festivals can be found at www.m-restaurantgroup.com. Sorry you can’t simply click on this link, which is due to a science problem with my google blogging platform, which I blame on my own technical ineptitude. And the fact the Chinese Government is on record as saying it “hates google’s guts”, and “bloody stupid google”, and so forth.