Television, Lofty Ideals and The Pitchman

Back when we were pregnant and studying fervently for our advanced degrees in parenting, we came across this article which suggested that children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch any television, none at all.

Their theory was that the electronic medium of television alters the tender brain chemistry of toddlers and could play a role in some of the sensory issues that beset our children today, issues that we haven’t seen so much in previous generations.  That seemed like a reasonable hypothesis to us and so we went with it and it has served us well.

Not only do we think this policy has benefited Sean’s ability to focus and recall, but until he started public school, he had no idea what Transformers were or who Sponge Bob is.  And that, no doubt, has saved us a few bucks.

Surprisingly, we got a lot of push back on our no-TV stance from well-intended folks who couldn’t believe that we would deny Sean his right to Elmo.

“But Sesame Street is a good program,” they’d say mournfully as though we were withholding milk, “They can learn so much!”

Whether or not Sesame Street and Barney and the others are good or bad or somewhere in between is debatable.  But this is not about the message.  It’s about the medium.  Big Bird is not the issue.  The issue is the unrelenting barrage of imagery and noise that is television that screws with the brains of babies.

When we tried to explain this, that we were not Big Bird haters, the response was “But there are a lot of good shows for kids on television! They can learn to count!”  And I had to assume their inability to form a logical counter argument was that they watched television before they were two.  And I rest my case.

When Sean was about four, we relaxed our stance on television a little bit, but not much.  Now that he is older, our concern about the electronic nature of the medium has declined an itsy bitsy bit, but our concern over the message has increased exponentially.  We go to a lot of trouble to monitor and limit what he watches, but still, the crud creeps in, and boy is it sticky stuff.

Well, last week, we had the flu at our house and our highfalutin’ stance on television went right out the window. (And yesterday my stance on never wearing my PJs and robe to drive Sean to school also went out the window.  I can no longer sneer at those robe-wearers. This flu has been rough on us.)

Sean came home from school sick with the flu on Friday, about 10 days ago.  He was sick on the couch until the next Thursday and then I was sick on the couch Thursday through the weekend and then AD took his turn on the couch.  Sean watched television the whole time he was sick and then whole time I was sick.  We have watched more television in the past 10 days than we have in the past seven years.   He was still only allowed to watch movies and Animal Planet and Discovery and Myth Busters and Word Girl and his usual mild semi-educational fare, definitely not any network crud, but still – a lot of television.

And at one point, I noticed I was developing some seriously sour feelings towards Flo, the Progressive chick and the State Farm guy with the weird forehead and thinking how ugly and annoying their kid would be.  It was about this time that Sean called to me from the sofa.

“Mom, can you come over here?”

I leaned over the sofa to feel his forehead.  Was he feeling worse?

He looks  up at me and tenderly reaches for my face.

“Mom,” he says, “ProActive could get rid of those red spots you have on your chin.”


“It renews, revitalizes and repairs in just three easy steps.  You can order it on TV.”

“It works in as little as three days.  Katy Perry uses it.”

“Who’s Katy Perry?” I ask.

“I don’t know.  But you can get your money back if you’re not completely satisfied.”

I think they need to emend that study to report that not only does TV alter brain chemistry in children, but there is also the real danger that your kid will turn into Billy Mays in just 10 short days.

I guarantee it or your money back.

The Holiday Shop

If there was one thing I thought I knew about my child it is this:  He cannot keep a secret.

Early in December, Sean brought home a flyer from school announcing the annual Holiday Shop!  I put the exclamation point there so you might know just how thrilled I was with this news.

The flyer reported which classes would visit the Holiday Shop on which days and at what time.  The flyer also stated with vehemence (probably inferred on my part) that there would be NO preview this year and that the vendor was the same as last year and that it was NOT a school fundraiser.  It was totally for-profit crunk selling.

As it turns out, we were not at the school last year, so that information, vehement or otherwise, was not useful to me.

What information I did require was the following:  What in the heck is a Holiday Shop? What kind of holiday crunk is stocked in Ye Olde Holiday Shoppe, and most importantly how much does this crunk cost?  Oh, and hey, what about the kiddos who have no Holiday Shop spending money?  And then the question I always have when it comes to these kinds of extra-curricular events:  Can’t we just do math or phonics instead?

So as usual when faced with a conundrum, I called my friend Jennifer who knows stuff.  She gave me the low-down on the Holiday Shop and a suggested a budget of about $5 to $10.

When I talked to Sean later, I asked him about how much he thought he needed for this shopping spree.  He said about $30.  So I said, how about $5?  He said how about $10?  I said how about I give you $5 and you take $5 out of your bank.  He said, “Deal!” and we shook on it and signed the papers.

Then we had a little chat about how this was Christmas, not Seanmas, and that the purpose of the Holiday Shop was so that he might buy presents for others, and by others I meant People Who Are Not Sean.  Then we had a discussion about fractions and percentages as we negotiated about how much he could spend on himself.

The next day I sent him off to school with his $5 and my $5 expecting the same winning results you might get in Las Vegas.  When he came home from school I asked to see his purchases.  With much pride he showed me the Cowboys pennant he bought for his father and the camouflage-motif pencil he bought for Papa George.  And then he showed me the dog-tag style necklace with a soccer pendant he bought for himself.

“Did you get anything else?” I asked coyly, “Anything for anyone else?”

“Nope,” he said definitively and handed me the $7.25 he did not spend.

I chuckled to myself as I turned his backpack inside out looking for the other gifts. Surely there were other gifts, surely.  But no….

We wrapped the pennant and the pencil and put them under the tree and I thought no more of it because I knew my broken and wounded heart would someday mend.

On Christmas Eve I unwrapped the gifts from my big boyfriend and my little boyfriend — an ornament from Target which I had purchased myself and handed off to big boyfriend for wrapping, and a pair of much-needed slippers which I requested.  No surprises there but much delight all the same.

“Oh, one more thing Mom!” Sean said as he dove under the tree.  He returned with a tiny package, merrily wrapped with a ribbon and secured with a lot of tape.  He handed it to me, glowing, as though it were a jewel he had just plucked from its slumber in the earth.

I couldn’t imagine what it could be but suspected it was something that he had made at school, something with glitter and glue and probably macaroni.

Inside was a pretty little ring with a blue stone that he had purchased at the Holiday Shop.

“Are you surprised Mom? Are you? You thought I forgot you, didn’t you!” he laughed.

“It cost a dollar!” he enthused, then  quickly added, “I’m sorry it’s not a real diamond.”

“I love it,” I said with all honestly.

I slipped it on my finger, adjusted the band for a custom-fit and then held out my hand to admire it.

It was a complete surprise.

It was beautiful.

It pinched my finger.

And my heart.

The Wooden Spoon

There are some questions for which I have no answers.  And with a 5-year-old about the house, the list of those unanswerable questions grows daily.

We don’t have a house full of fancy furniture, but AD and I go to a lot of trouble to teach Sean to respect what we have so that it might become ingrained in his being to respect the property of others as well as public property.  We think this is important and wish deeply that everyone held the same view.

Since the sippy cup era, we’ve repeatedly asked Sean not to set his drink down on the wooden coffee tables because “water and wood don’t mix”.  Likewise, if there is a spill on the hardwood floors, we tell him to see to it quickly because “water and wood don’t mix.”  When liquid sits on wood, bad things happen.

This morning, Sean got up early to ride his bike. When he came in all red-faced and glistening from the morning sun, he said he thought some lemonade would be “refreshant!” I told him I thought that lemonade was great idea and that he should make some.

I got out the pitcher, the lemonade mix and a wooden spoon.  I gave him some direction and then tried to not take over.

He did a great job.  He could be destined to own a lemonade stand.  Or at least to make lemonade when life hands him Country Time Lemonade mix.

After he stirred up the lemonade, he pulled the wooden spoon out of the pitcher, licked it and then held it up.

“Mom,” he said thoughtfully, “I thought water and wood don’t mix.”

I didn’t quite know where he was going with this, so I looked at him and raised my eyebrows hoping for more information.

“Then why are there wooden spoons?” he asked pointing the spoon at me.

That’s a good question, I told him. A very good question.

“I don’t know the answer to that one,” I confessed, “but I like the way you think.”

Pluto Is On The Outs

Before Sean could even talk, he became interested in the solar system. I have an old book on the solar system that I picked up at a garage sale or somewhere and we have leafed through it many times over.

A week or so ago, he came home from school with a Weekly Reader and he was very excited to show it to me because it was on the solar system.  He held it up to his chest and pointed to each planet and gave me a little lecture on the properties of each planet.  Verily I say to ye, I have learned more from this child than I ever learned in school. He makes learning way more fun than Sister Edwina ever did.

“Now you may notice that one of the planets is missing,” he said in his teacher voice.

“Oh really?” I asked.

“Yes.  Pluto is no longer a planet,” he stated as matter of fact.

“Oh. I wonder why that is. Pluto was a planet when I was growing up.”

“I don’t know,” he said, “But Pluto is on the outs.”

Maybe by the time Sean’s kid is teaching him about the planets, Pluto will be back in the good graces of the solar system.

More Four. Please.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard a muffled scuffling banging sound coming from Sean’s room.   I somehow knew it was him hanging by one hand like an orangutan from the upper hang rod in his closet with the other hand blindly reaching, swiping and digging for something in the deep dark recesses of the closet.  I also knew that he was standing tip toe on one foot on a precariously positioned stool that was about to tip over while he balanced his other foot on the lower hang rod, all but knocking off the fall and winter clothes I had just organized and hung there the week before.

I can’t really describe the sound to you because it’s like a dog whistle – only moms can hear it.  And when moms here this sound, their ears perk up and they think, “Rut-roh. Dats not good.”

So I quickly dried my hands and dashed into his room where I found him in his closet hanging by one hand like an orangutan from the upper hang rod and desperately reaching for something buried in the back with the other hand.  Just like it sounded.

“Dude, dude, dude,” I said as I pulled him off the home style uneven bars, “What are you doing?”

“I’m looking for my pirate suit,” he said.

I had in fact hung the pirate suit in the very back of the closet thinking he would forget all about it. It barely fit him when I bought it a month or two ago and it has since been washed and accidentally dried in the dryer.  Nonetheless, I pulled out the pirate suit and handed it to him.

He quickly stripped down to his skivvies and wiggled into it.

“Velcro me up matey! Will ‘ya?” he ordered, turning his back to me with his hands on his hips.

“Aye aye Captain,” I said and then like a sales clerk in a bridal shop, I did my best to squeeze my too big customer into a too small costume, tucking and tugging, pulling and praying, coaxing the Velcro together with all my might.

When he turned around, he was so blindingly cute that I lost my peripheral vision and the part of the brain that does math and reasoning.  I reached out to him and pulled him into my lap so we were nose to nose and was surprised when he willingly obliged. He smelled sweet and of cinnamon, like graham crackers.

“Give your mommy a hug Captain,” I ordered him.

He playfully pushed me to the ground and I pulled him into my chest and quickly hugged him before he tried to squiggle away.

But he didn’t squiggle away.  Instead, he wrapped his arms around my neck, nestled into me and stayed there.

So I laid there on the floor on my back with my arms wrapped around my 4-year-old pirate boy and watched the ceiling fan go round and round.  He twirled my hair and I ran my finger up and down the miraculous thing that is his spine and listened to him breathe. No words were spoken.  I did not want the moment to pass because I never know when it will be the last time before he will be too busy or too big to spontaneously snuggle with his mom on the floor.  Four has been sweet and funny and joyful beyond what should be legal.

Five is on the horizon and I know it will bring its own brand of joy, but I would give just about anything for more four. Please.

The Art of Persuasive Rhetoric

Last night, on the way home from soccer, Sean asked if we could stop by Sonic and get a peach iced tea.

I love peach iced tea and Sonic, but I just wasn’t in the mood to stop.  I was tired and I was anxious to get home, get dinner going and get back to the joy of scraping wallpaper. So I said no.

“But I really want to go to Sonic! Besides, I never get my way!” he whined and then he added a Harrumph! to emphasize that he never gets his way.  Normally my rule is that if you are whining the answer is automatically no. Add a disdainful Harrumph! and you got bigger problems than No.  Normally no means no with me but I decided to push back at him a little bit instead.

“Oh really?” I asked skeptically. “Give me an example of when you didn’t get your way.”

He immediately popped off two examples.

“Okay, give me two more!” I said.

No, not really. I didn’t say that.

But when we came to a stop light, I turned to him in the backseat and asked him if he could think of a way to change my mind about going to Sonic.

“I really really want to go.  Please? Pretty pleeeeeez can we go to Sonic?” he pleaded in little boy falsetto. I could tell from his big blue sincere eyes that he really really wanted to go which made it that much harder to say no.  But he hadn’t said anything to change my mind. He hadn’t said anything that he hadn’t already said, he just said it more nicely.

I told him that I really appreciated his courtesy and not whining, but that he had to think about it differently. He had to figure out a way to persuade me to go to Sonic by appealing to my heart. I told him that in life, no one cares if you never get your way or if you really really want something. In life, you need to persuade people to your point of view by using words and facts and you have to figure out how to do that.

Perhaps inspired by the presidential debates, I have been thinking more and more about how I want Sean to learn how to use words to persuade others, to make a case for his point of view.  I want him to become adept in the art of rhetoric because it will be another arrow in his quiver of life skills.

As we continued towards home, not a sound was heard from the backseat.

“Mom, I’ve been an extra good boy this week,” he finally said.  “I’ve helped you tear off wallpaper. I’d really like to go to Sonic to get a peach tea, but if you don’t want to, that’s okay.  I’ll still help you tear off wallpaper.”

A well-reasoned argument.  I was persuaded.

So we went to Sonic and got a peach tea.

I Like The Way He Thinks

In the bathtub this evening, Sean was dunking his head under the water and proudly showing me how he could hold his breath, which I believe led to the following conversation. But with a four-year-old, you never really know.

“Mommy, I’m glad I’m not a hippo because then I’d have to eat grass.”

“Yes, that’s true, hippos are herbivores, they eat river grass and other vegetation. And what are lions?”


“That’s right, they eat meat. And humans are omnivores. We eat both meat and vegetables.”

“What about the crackers?”

“Well, um, yes, crackers. Those fit in… I think that… Crackers come into play…. Um… ”

“Crackers are universal,” I said with authority.

I don’t even know what that means.