Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TV or Not TV

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under the age of 2 should not watch any television. I can get behind that. I loathe that glazed, spaced-out stare kids get when they're watching TV. I don't like when all imaginary play comes from characters they've seen on television. I think television shortens the attention span and stifles creativity. I really do. Lucy watched no TV until she was almost 2 1/2. Now that she is watching, we've mostly limited it to DVDs so we can monitor her viewing habits closely.

OK, all that being said? Sometimes I just love TV. I refuse to exalt it into some sort of friendly, alternate teacher. TV is what it is. It's my babysitter. Sometimes, I need to clean the kitchen or get supper ready without someone under foot, rifling through the Tupperware drawer, filling every container with water from the bathroom, then spilling it all over the floor so I can step in it in my sock feet.

A year ago, right before Elaine was born, we bought a new car. We needed a family vehicle. So we bought one of those new station wagon/SUVs (we call it "the manwagon" since it's a wagon a man would be caught dead driving in). It has a DVD player in it. I'm so embarrassed. It's like driving your living room around. Seriously. What has the world come to? But...you know, we go on trips and have discovered that it is so incredibly nice to put in a DVD and not listen anymore to Mr. Henry CDs or Frog & Toad (sorry, Arnold Lobel) or carry on long verbose conversations about...whatever it is little kids want to talk about. We can listen to our own music and have our own conversations, while Lucy watches Strawberry Shortcake or Beauty & the Beast or, a favorite at our house, Maisy.

Do you know about Maisy? Maisy is a mouse, and her best friends are Charley the Alligator? Crocodile?, Tallulah the Chicken, Eddie the Elephant, and Cyril the Squirrel. They're simple drawings in bright, primary colors. Here's a sample of a Maisy book: "Maisy and Charley went shopping. They bought yogurt, tomatoes, bread, milk, and cheese. Good thing they brought Maisy's wagon. Now they're home and can have lunch. Yum, yum." This Lucy Cousins who writes them is laughing all the way to the bank. It's like Demerol for toddlers.

The movies are similar. The first time Darren watched one with Lucy he said, "Is there a plot to this?" I said, "Oh yes. Eddie is too big for the wading pool, and he makes a hole in it. So instead of swimming in the pool, Eddie squirts the water out of his trunk for Maisy and Tallulah, so it's like a sprinkler." "And...how long does this last?" Darren asked.

The movies all have this faux reggae music that is absolutely impossible to get out of your head. All the characters speak in grunts and squeaks. They're actually pretty cute, with the exception of Charley, whom I have a personal bias against. He's always showing up at the last minute and getting out of all the work but still getting the treats that everyone else gets. He's like that obnoxious guy in college who never brought his own pens and paper to class and always borrowed from everyone else. Another kind of weird thing about Maisy-world is that anyone selling or dispensing a service is an ostrich. The librarian? an ostrich. The person selling balloons at the park? an ostrich. The checkout lady at the supermarket? an ostrich. It's like there's some sort of bizarre ostrich merchant class.

We still don't let Elaine watch TV. But, oh, she loves Maisy. She likes the books, and she's been in the room when Lucy is watching. She likes to dance to the fake reggae music, their language sounds exactly like hers, and she'll probably date the Charley-like guy in college since she already has such an affinity for him.

Last night on the way home from St. Louis (which is supposed to take only 5 hours, but mysteriously took us about 17 it seemed), both girls were screeching and whining and having outbursts of bad humor. So, at our final gas station stop, Darren popped in the Maisy DVD. He asked, "Which episode should I play?" and I answered, "Hit play ALL." It was magic. As soon as the Maisy music came on, everything calmed down immediately. We looked back and saw Lucy with Rabbie and her thumb in her mouth. Elaine stared, glassy-eyed and began twirling her hair (don't think this doesn't alarm us just a little bit).

But it was quiet. Blessedly quiet. I'm not thrilled that I'm medicating my kids with TV. But, it's what my friend Alysa calls, "survival mode." Sometimes you gotta do what you've gotta do.

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