by Amanda Parry
People keep saying you shouldn’t let television babysit your children. This makes no sense to me. Television can neither cook nor clean. If it can’t keep my kids occupied for a few minutes, why the hell was it invented?
For roughly 13 out of every 24 hours, my children are wide awake and bored. We play games. We read books. We paint and draw and blow bubbles.
They also have school and occupational and speech therapy and piano and ballet. But sometimes I need to get things done, and if I can’t get them to entertain themselves, I happily call in the cheapest, most reliable babysitter I have found, television.
As a result, I have learned a lot from children’s television, including:
1. People who write children’s shows understand my kids better than I do.
If someone had shown me an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba” and asked if my children would like it, I would have punched him in the face and called him a psycho. That show resembles nothing more than a bad acid trip and features some of the weirdest, most unnerving segments on TV.
My children, however, LOVE it. They find the off-putting characters likable and even the most abstract moments — a child riding by on a giant caterpillar — make sense to them. It’s like going to a modern art installation with someone who actually knows what’s going on.
2. Television is a much better teacher than I am.
Yesterday, a single episode of “Doc McStuffins” taught my children about sharing, infectious disease control and triage. I taught them that, in a pinch, they could use a gum wrapper to wipe their noses. I think we know who the clear winner is.
3. There are some subjects television shouldn’t try to teach.
If you want to tell my kids that dragons are real and animals are bilingual, go right ahead. I lie to them all the time, too. But if you are going anywhere near objects or concepts that actually exist, please be as accurate as possible.
I’m talking to you, Nickelodeon. Thanks to your Creationist-like astronomy lesson on “Dora the Explorer,” my children thought it was possible for a star to be knocked from the sky by a really fast-moving object. They spent the next week heaving rocks in the air, only to be hit as they came back down.
4. Pirates are now good guys. (Except for Captain Hook. He’s still a dick.)
I always thought of pirates as kind of rape-y. And plunder-y. When I was growing up, some kids played “pirates” but always with the idea that they were badass rebels. But on Disney’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” they are innocent sweethearts, earnest little urchins with names like Izzy and Cubby who go around helping others and teaching basic math skills. (Seriously, who is in charge of names at Disney these days? A pirate named Jake? A princess named Amber? What’s her kingdom, a strip club?)
It just makes me wonder whom children will be looking up to next, a lovable and mischievous Ted Kaczynski teaching phonics?
5. It is possible to be anti-Semitic even when you are dead. Or in the freezer. Or whatever.
It has long been rumored that Walt Disney had, shall we say, issues with Jews. He may not be penning the scripts anymore — although you never know with him — but the folks at Disney are keeping his legacy alive with a character known as Pete the Cat on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Pete first caught my attention because he is the social pariah of a group that includes a duck with anger issues and a mouse so narcissistic he names everything after himself.
The resident Shylock, Pete operates every business in town except for the Moo Mart, from which he is always trying to steal, and charges the others for things that should be free, such as walking past him on the street. He is often shown counting his money with glee. The rest of them put up with him because they need his services. Do I really need to go on?
I should admit that I am particularly sensitive to anti-Semitism, not because I am Jewish but because I’m trans-Jewish. Born and raised a Catholic, I always felt I should have been a Jew, perhaps because most of my friends growing up were Jewish. Also, I have always felt at home with Jewish rituals and traditions, perhaps because a rabbi never handed me a cup of turpentine-grade Chateau des Freres mixed with backwash and said, “Drink it. It’s blood.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are many beautiful and profound elements of the Catholic faith, but at times it can feel like you’re in a 2,000-year-old game of Dungeons and Dragons. So, yeah, I’m a wannabe Maccabee. A full-on, save-me-a-seat-in-the-mikvah girl. As such, I’m always on the lookout for things I could take offense at if I were an actual Jew. It’s a curse.
Finally, I’ve learned that:
6. “Sesame Street” is the best show on television.
For kids, adults, anyone. I would watch it without my children. (And may have done so once or twice.)
It will be interesting to see what TV the Babysitter comes up with for my kids as they get older. I’m hoping it will continue to offer me insight into their little psyches, or at least get them off my back for a while. Gotta go, lots to do. Not that watching my kids is one of them. There’s just a whole bunch of crap today on my to-do list that TV can’t help with.
Amanda Parry, 38, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. She started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam and draw some attention to autism and pediatric cancer charities. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.