My son watches some awful cartoons. I mean, really… terrible cartoons. I’m talking about your Animal Mechanicals (where every character is an idiotic robot… think about it… if you’re a robot, how can you be an idiot? At the very least, you’d be programmed with the intelligence of every creator who worked on your creation, unless your creators are evil overlords in their own right, in which case, hold on, I have to write down an idea for another short story), Color Crew (where the only spoken words are the names of colors, and in every episode one color gets all gung-ho about coloring the entire page in his color and all of a sudden you have BLUE SUNS and ORANGE COWS, and then the dictatorial eraser with his Stalin mustache swoops in and he’s all like “how dare you interrupt my schedule, now I have to clean up all this sharknado”… this is literally every episode), and then there’s this one on Youtube where they’ve animated all these nursery rhymes (cool) and rewritten them (not so cool) so that suddenly in the middle of London Bridge is Falling Down there’s a superhero pig who knocks the enormous green monstrosity (you know, the one knocking down the bridge) into the Thames. Suffice it to say that we’ve seen all these adventures in animation enough to memorize the high points. And yeah, I know, “why do you let your kids watch so much TV,” and yeah, I know, “puzzles and wood blocks and brainpower,” and to that I say, yeah, okay, you’re probably right. But Netflix puts all this awful entertainment a finger’s click away, and it’s kind of awesome and kind of awful for that.
See, in light of all the mind-anesthetizing programming we usually have to endure, I’ve been on the lookout for something that actually has value in the world to expose the boy to. Something that will expand his horizons, make him a better person. Something like Star Wars. Now, we have the movies, and I thought of that, but I can no more interest the boy in the original trilogy than order my cat to start tap-dancing. (Sure, he could do it, but there’s no interest there.) I even tried him on episode I, the one I don’t speak of, in the hopes that with its cartoonier nature and the canonical abortion of Jar-Jar Binks, it might appeal to his three-year-old sensibilities. No dice.
Fine, I thought. The boy isn’t ready for one of the prized gems of my formative film collection. We’ll try again in a few years. Tried a few other programs. There’s a Transformers series for little kids now, and he goes for that now and then if I turn it on while he’s out of the room. (He comes back from a bathroom break and he’s all, “oh, this? I guess that’s okay.”) But he won’t choose it. Which baffles me. He loves robots and he loves cars; how can he not love robots that turn into cars. He’d rather watch computer-animated documentaries about dinosaurs. And yeah, okay, that’s kind of cool, too. But I want him to have something of mine, to care about something that I cared about.
But then my wife — for reasons unknown (though probably for my benefit) — bought the boy a new toothbrush. One that’s red and translucent and, when you push the button on its side, lights up and makes lightsaber noises as you brush away. (Oh my god, I want one for myself.) And if there’s one thing my kid loves, it’s brushing his teeth. Seriously. We can ask him a hundred times if he wants to go to bed, clean his room, pick up his toys, and he will very eloquently respond “no thank you” or “not now, but later”. But, ask him if he wants to brush his teeth before bed, and he can barely shout out an “OKAY!” before he’s bolted up the stairs.
On day one, he thought the lightsaber toothbrush was weird. I explained to him what a lightsaber was and why it was awesome.
On day two, he reminded me to turn on the lightsaber noises before he brushed. All systems were go.
Then, Netflix offered up something awesome. Apparently, on Cartoon Network or something a few years back, they made a whole animated series. A whole, six-season, animated series. My wife pointed this out to me, and I turned it on, fast-forwarded to a scene with Yoda and his lightsaber flipping around, and showed it to the boy. Done deal. Now I can ask him if he wants to watch Yoda with his lightsaber, and I get the “YEAH!” that’s usually reserved for asking him whether he wants to take a bath. Granted, if Yoda isn’t in the scene it’s all “where’s Yogurt?” so there’s still a little bit of work to be done. Nevertheless, it’s time to start planning his exposure to the films. I figure he can handle the whole original trilogy by age five, and I can have him responding to his mom’s bedtime “I love you” with Han’s super-smug “I know” by age six.
But all this teaches me something. Something I already knew, but like all lessons with kids, a bit of redundancy is never a bad idea.
When introducing something to the child, it’s important that you don’t make a big deal of it. You can’t say, “Okay, son, how would you like to watch a movie that I loved as a kid? It’s full of spaceships and explosions and really neat swords made out of lasers, and I think you’ll love it.” Doesn’t work. He wants to watch the freakin’ Space Buddies again (a movie about the kids of the famous slam-dunkin’ dog, Air Bud. Except, you know, IN SPACE.) For a new idea to take root with the kid, it has to fall into one of two categories:
- It’s something he finds himself, be it on the aisle of the toy store, the front yard, underneath the back seat of the car.
- It’s just there when he walks into a familiar space, as if it’s already part of a routine he didn’t understand. We do this with dinner all the time. Ask him if he wants to try some spaghetti with meatballs, and we get “NO. Want macaRONI.” But if it’s just in his seat and we say, “Time for dinner!” and put him in front of it, most of the time, he’ll clean his plate.
Kinda like that movie, Inception, but with squash casserole instead of a multi-million dollar company. Or whatever that movie was about.