Losing Elmo

I’m away in Thailand (which you’ll be hearing about next week) so I’m not watching TV with Americans but I’m excited to introduce guest blogger Samantha Hope Goldstein with a post about parenting through television. 

When my husband and I were first dating, such was our compatibility that we never watched TV except together. He introduced me to Red Dwarf; I lured him to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If we couldn’t agree on a show, it was jettisoned altogether (Grey’s Anatomy, we hardly knew ye) but mostly we remained in felicitous accord. As DVR early-adopters (anyone remember ReplayTV?) our viewing relationship became even more harmonious, and eventually led to marriage. And then came the baby. She arrived suddenly, pre-toddlered for our parenting pleasure. As a proselytizing reader, I swore she would not know television until the age of three. Three minutes later, I realized this plan was moronic. The TV was called upon to perform the exalted task of babysitting when I needed to do something extravagant like make a sandwich or find socks that matched.

Falling in love means watching TV shows you never knew existed.

Falling in love means watching TV shows you never knew existed.

As she grew, television was an invaluable tool in my lazy parenting kit. But eventually, I saw disturbing trends in her viewing habits. The child was inevitably savvy about programming the TiVo, and the cartoons of her formative years morphed into live-action Disney shows with laugh tracks where the parent-child dynamics could only be described as “snarky.” Once, I happened upon her glued to Cougartown, which she described when questioned as “one of my shows.” The time had come to explore the significance of television in our daughter’s life. After all, she seemed to care about it as much as we did. I once suggested tap dance lessons and she replied: “Well, I don’t really want to do anything that keeps me from watching TV and eating.” Were we responsible parents if we didn’t check her consumption? And was it my imagination that she was distinctly unpleasant after a somnolent afternoon in front of the screen? We’re still answering these questions. In the mean time, we set out to make her the kind of TV watcher we’d be proud to call our own.

Watch the Dynamic Duo of Awkward blow up stuff--it's educational.

Watch the Dynamic Duo of Awkward blow up stuff–it’s educational.

At first, there was a pretense of educational fare, starting with Brain Games and Mythbusters. These shows are fortified with science and other wholesome ingredients, with trace elements of innuendo and product placement, and I could tolerate them, which was key. I could not say the same of David’s personal mission to make her a Dr. Who fan. Next step: reality shows. Since some were unsavory even to us (“Mommy, what’s sexting?”) and I apparently do not share my demographic’s love of cooking and home shows, we were limited. We’ve been watching Survivor since the first season, so we started there. She enjoys the challenges, but puts herself to bed before Tribal Council, as she can’t bear “all that talking.” I’m a shameless fan of Dancing with the Stars, and she likes seeing the contestants suffer, if not the actual dancing.

Speaking of suffering, she is very curious about our supernatural shows. I am often quizzed about the finer distinctions between vampires and zombies (“Now, can vampires also suck the blood out of ripped flesh?”) but we won’t negotiate on True Blood and The Walking Dead—vampires in general are difficult to wrap your mind around before puberty, since all that bloodlust starts to morph into actual lust, and I’m not sure I could explain that even if I wanted to (cross-reference with “Reasons She Hasn’t Seen Scandal.”) Little by little, we’ve found a few crossover adult shows we can share. There’s Glee, though I fear it’s giving her a pretty warped expectation of high school.

A wholesome learning and growing experience for the whole family.

A wholesome learning and growing experience for the whole family.

But we’re not prudish, nor are we trying to shield her from grown up realities. Case in point: a recent show all three of us agree on—Drunk History. This show is a juicy mélange of elements: a bit of arcane history no one knows about, a totally blotto narrator to explain it, and an ensemble of well-known actors to reenact it, lip-synching to the incoherent narration. It’s hilarious, but you might also learn who Claudette Colvin is. But the reason our kid likes it is a reason I can get behind. She can’t look away from the adults sipping those glasses of brown liquid. It’s crazy enough that they can’t speak properly, but when they start pitching out of their chairs or vomiting in nearby receptacles, she’s thrilled. “Feast your eyes,” I say portentously, “Behold the glamour of binge-drinking.”

Am I a genius or what? Irrefutable evidence that things that adults like aren’t alluring, but rather disgusting, and to be avoided at all costs. Maybe I’ve got this parenting thing totally figured out. Stay tuned.

Tom Steward is away. 

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