Monday, November 1, 2010

Cartoons

While David was in Los Angeles, I took some time off work, and the kids and I had a lot of fun together. We went to a play, canned applesauce, went to the children's museum, and had friends over for dinner. There was a minimum of middle-of-the-night screaming and very little brother-biting except for a few small nibbles when he got out of line -- just your basic brother maintenance, required every 5,000 miles along with an oil change.

I did have a scare one night while David was gone, when Stella and I were lying in bed together and she said very clearly, "I like Barbie.com." THAT sure got my attention. You know how a when a kid tells the parent that he or she is gay, and the the parent tearfully says, "Oh honey, I want you to know that I'll love you no matter what...but are you sure you're gay?" I felt like saying something like that to Stella, only pointing out that she has never actually seen Barbie.com, and also making a mental note to immediately cancel all internet service coming into the house to insure that she never will. Also, to move to central Mongolia where they're too busy shooing goats out of the yurt to log on to the internet.

To the extent we're able to, David and I have tried to shield Stella from pop culture. I think we've done an excellent job, especially considering that yurts are specifically prohibited by Madison zoning regulations. Stella has never watched Barney, doesn't know who The Wiggles are, and draws a blank on Yo Gabba Gabba. And I think it goes without saying that I consider the possibility of exposing her to High School Musical the moral equivalent of putting her on an ice floe and shoving it out to sea.

When pushed to the wall, though, my principles crumble, which I discovered on the last leg of our big cross-country trip. Stella had been patient, cheerful, and flexible for the whole trip but on the return flight home from Seattle her goodwill was beginning to fray. Each seat had its own television screen in the back of the seat in front of it, and after a ten-minute period of free entertainment, it cost $6 to watch television for the rest of the trip. Stella was enjoying the cartoons during the initial free period, and I started to warn her that the cartoons would soon be going away, when I thought wait! What am I doing? Save yourself! I swiped my credit card so fast I nearly sprained my wrist. At that point, I didn't care what she was watching, so long as it was entertaining. Stella could have been watching an episode of Sex in the City (Preschool Edition) at that point and I would have gladly discussed with her whether Manolo Blahnik makes rain boots that have little frog faces on the toes, in size 1. (Yes, but they cost $450.)

Stella got a lot of enjoyment watching the cartoons on the plane. The head phones didn't fit her right so she didn't wear them, but that didn't seem to bother her. It's funny how a four year old seems to know by instinct that someone getting bonked on the head with a hammer is hilarious. Mostly, though, she was just incredibly absorbed, watching very closely. I remember this absorption from when I was a kid and we used to get up to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Once we had a colleague of my father's staying with us who was visiting from France, and he was interested in watching cartoons too. He sat with us and actually laughed out loud a lot, and I remember looking away from the television over at him, and thinking, doesn't he know cartoons are not for laughing at? Cartoons are for watching intently for hours with your eyeballs two inches from the screen, if my behavior back then and Stella's on the plane was any indication.

It turns out that a preschool classmate of Stella's has been talking up Barbie.com. I know that the older she gets, the less our ability to protect Stella from our evil overlords at Mattel. Still, I'm glad we've been able to (mostly) shield her from commercial children's entertainment for her first few years. I think that by doing so, we've laid a foundation for her to better learn and thrive. And now if you'll excuse me, I have a goat to shoo out of the yurt.

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