Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The things she likes

My parents were never big on doing the "fun" kid things that other people's families engaged in.

Let me back up. It might be helpful to point out the following: my parents like to remind me that I once said I was the product of a nerd marriage. They say this proudly, as well as teasingly. My parents are intellectuals and not interested in pop culture in almost any form. They could not name a single football player, they don't care who wins the Oscars, they probably could not pick Britney Spears out of a lineup. With this as my childhood normal, as an adult I often feel embarrassed and discomfited by mass-market and other child-centered entertainments.

I feel torn writing this. Just writing this seems to suggest that I resent the choices my parents made, but I don't. I love that they took me to museums and on hikes, rather than to whatever passed for gymboree in 1970s LA. In some ways it is less where they took me as a child, but the discomfort with pop culture that they instilled in me that I am working out. I mean, they made me the kind of person who would navel gaze about just this topic.

(I am not even sure "pop culture" is really what I mean. But what is the word for mainstream entertainments if not "pop"?)

Despite my innate discomfort with certain types of kid-entertainment, I have the sense that some of these things are fun, if not for me, than at least for Ada. (Two year olds being such discriminating connoisseurs of the finer things.) So I try to balance what I do with Ada, including the cultured and the fluff. Sometimes the things I think are going to be fluff are actually really fun. A couple of weeks before Christmas Chris, Ada and I hopped on the holiday train with Monkey Boy and his parents. This 40 minute ride involved a steam engine (and five cars) chugging slowly backwards down the track for a while, then returning (forward) along the same track. The train passes wetlands along the Willamette River, allowing glimpses of houseboats, herons and floating logs. The tracks parallel the Springwater Corridor bike path, so we also saw a lot of walkers and bikers (some wielding camera-phones).

Proof I am not the only documentarian in our little group

As much as Ada and Monkey Boy enjoyed the train ride, they were even more excited to see the engine up close. It was pretty impressive:

Ok, a ride on a holiday train, not so pop. So I pressed forward in my efforts. We live near one of those streets where not only does every resident decorate for Christmas, but where it is mandatory to do so. Despite the proximity to our house, I'd never seen the street in full light action before. I figured Ada would be into this, so I wanted all week for it to stop raining long enough for us to pack her into the stroller with hot chocolate and lap blanket and mosey on down to see the splendor. As I'd hoped, she loved it. Or, as she gushes, "I yuv it!" She also yuved the "choco".

This is really the first year her vocabulary allows her to enthuse with abandon, and she gushed about the lights, the santas and snowmen, the candy canes. For some reason a house with all pink and white lights really got her going, enough so that she mentioned it a couple of times on the way home.

12/20/07 Choo Choo (Cough Cough)

And as a side note, she seems to have finally mastered the concept of "cover your mouth when you cough"!

All this is good for me, remembering how fun these things are for little kids not jaded about the world and what is cheap or cool or horrifying. I still feel kind of uncomfortable about some of the child-centered entertainments I see in advertisements and on parent blogs. I'll still be dragging Ada to museums and taking pictures of her with sculptures. I'm not buying tickets to Elmo On Ice just yet, but it is all about baby, er, toddler steps, right?


  1. Ada is just delicious. I yuv her.

  2. I was gonna say the say thing. We yuv Ada.

    Then, I was gonna say that my parents sound similar to yours in this regard. I never had a Chuck-E-Cheez birthday party, for example, and I think I came out OK. And we didn't listen to whatever the 70s and 80s equivalent of The Wiggles was, because we had a kick ass Commodores record that we played until it died. We yuved us some Brickhouse.

  3. The train ride sounds and looks like a really fun day. I was raised that way too and have just decided that if it sounds like fun to me we will go. I don't think there is any harm in avoiding child-related amusement chaos.

  4. We have this in common... When my peers went to the mall I was watching my Mom duke it out over the camel saddle at an antiques auction. Neither of us have been to Disney-place thingy.. but for the kid's sake Uncle Wi volunteered to take them right away.

  5. I've always thought that the typical "kid entertainment" was more about parental laziness and cheap thrills. I don't think anyone can go wrong erring on the wide of not knowing enough about pop culture.

    Your post reminds me of a friend I had in college. Her parents were Northern California hippie academics. Everyone in the family was amazingly brilliant. Growing up, the kids never watched TV. They literally never watched a single minute of television. Yet, they occupied their time going on these amazing family treks to museums, indian reservations, mountain passes, etc.

    When my friend got to college, she started learning about pop culture. It was very much like the film "The Gods Must Be Crazy." At first, she was overwhelmed by it all but pretty soon she realized that she wasn't missing a thing.

  6. Also, is that a Sally sweater she's wearing? It's REALLY cute!

  7. (un)relaxeddad1/23/2008 7:39 PM

    The pictures are fab! And I adore the whole "I yuv it" stage (dudelet's also going through it!) And aren't children the great levelers and strange-makers?

    My parents also had a peculiar attitude to pop culture - it had completely passed them by (for one thing it wasn't religious) but equally, they had no great connection to 'high' culture either. So I largely grew up in a cultural vacuum of either kind. My first year at college was correspondingly intense! Unlike MetroDad and his friend though, I do find a lot in popular culture to treasure (most people live there, after all). Though admittedly, a great deal of it sets my teeth on edge.

    Of course, we'd all have to agree what it is we mean by popular culture.

  8. We're only just now (at ages 9 and 11) passing out of the phase when every piece of schlock is still so very beautiful. I'll miss it a bit.
    There's something to be said for having someone remind you that the plastic figurine of a fairy (part of a drugstore display of many many plastic fairy figurines) has its own loveliness.

  9. Sweet.

    I stay away from the mainstream most of the time too.

  10. Growing up on the Canadian prairies, or as we called it The Gap, there were no children focused entertainment activities.

    So now I've been a little too zealous in trips to the Science Centre, Zoo, Early Years programs and too many theatre performances and concerts for toddlers. It is expensive and great fun but there is something to be said for going for a hike or to view the pretty lights that is completely magical.