Between The Lines / Window into a little girl's world
Published 4:45 pm, Thursday, February 24, 2011
I'm learning to enjoy watching cartoons with my granddaughter, Charlotte.
When I was a kid, I didn't care much for cartoons except for "Mighty Mouse." Now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate some of the sappy things in life. Charlotte takes her TV very seriously, though. I have to behave myself while we watch or I might be asked to pipe down.
After I picked her up from daycare the other day, it seemed a good idea to enter the happy and adventurous world of children's TV. I tuned in to the Nick Jr. channel, where the programming is geared for toddlers and there are no ads for toys. Nick Jr. is squeaky clean and full of hugs. Sometimes this combination can set my teeth on edge, but I was totally in tune with the singing characters on that rainy afternoon.
I lounged on the spare bed while Charlotte arranged her toys with one eye and watched the screen with the other. She assembled a wooden Curious George puzzle on my lap, and then gave her baby doll a carriage ride. Suddenly play would stop, and she would be riveted by the screen. It's hard to tell what catches her attention, but there is no doubt she can follow a story line.
Yesterday we watched "Ni Hao, Kai-lan" about a young Chinese girl and her friends. Of course, my favorite character is her grandpa, who makes them dumplings and tea. I have already forgotten what Kai-lan was up to, but in each show the kids learn a lesson about friendship, helping and Chinese culture. I like Kai-Lan and her little sidekick, Rintoo, although I'm not sure what Rintoo actually is. It doesn't matter in kids' TV. Everyone shows up in one shape or another and all are welcome. Even a sponge can be a character and have its own special voice.
"Wonder Pets" is about a group of tiny creatures who work together to save other animals in trouble. The theme here is clearly "teamwork" as they sing in unison throughout the show. I find the little yellow bird too chirpy and annoying, but you can't find fault with her good work. When they hear about an animal in distress anywhere in the world, they take a cute little flying boat to the scene. Things happen. A baby bird is about to fall from a branch, a dinosaur gets separated from his mommy, baby sea lions get lost in a storm. Happily, everyone is rescued in the end, and the heroes come back home to bed.
Charlotte's favorite is Dora, a spunky little girl who speaks Spanish and goes on adventures with her cousin Diego. Charlotte looks a little like Dora with her dark hair and big eyes. Dora wears sneakers and a back pack and uses a singing map on her searches. She will cross bridges, climb mountains and jump off cliffs. Nothing holds her back. She is that rare combination of confidence and common sense. She also keeps her friends in line. The lesson here is to be assertive as a female. Girls don't have to be sissies any more. They can tackle life head on. Dora reminds me a lot of my own granddaughter.
As Charlotte plays, I recall the Grimm's fairy tales I knew as a child with wolves and giants and witches. Children's T.V. is definitely sugar-coated today, but there are elements of danger in even the tamest of stories. I'm not sure what kids get from these shows, but I suspect it's mostly positive and educational. They learn to sing and dance and celebrate life but also to travel carefully through this world. What else can we teach our young?
On the other channels the world news programs are all about violence and war. And our own home-grown problems of alcohol, drugs and crime can reach right down into a child's life. There is an awful lot we want to protect our children from, but we really can't. All we can do is to help them stand on their own two feet as they make their way through the forest. Evil is underrated in America today, and we like to pretend that it is a temporary thing like a sad story on the evening news.
Children are more resilient than we can imagine. Generations of humans have made their way through life with goodness, compassion and endurance. It is we the elders who have grown more cautious about the enterprise over time. We've seen so much and wonder how we survived it. We realize how precious and fragile life is.
The best thing for me on these afternoons is not the TV shows, but being with my favorite little girl. Sometimes she will even climb up on my lap and watch with me. I marvel at this tiny person, so filled with life and spirit. I never want to let her go from my arms, but I know I will have to. In time I will be just one of the flickering shadows that crossed her consciousness as a child. But I hope there will be some magic to her memories -- some fairyland of bright colors, and a home, always a home, where she can return to find her roots.
Barry Wallace's inside the Lines column normally appears each Wednesday but is appearing on Friday this week.