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Seeing Red

Last week’s poll results are in, and it’s an animated world, after all.

I asked who your child’s favorite character is, and we had a four-way tie between Dora the Explorer, Winnie the Pooh, Elmo, and “other”. As for our household, we fall squarely into the “Elmo” category.

But not without a fight. 

We’ve decided that we won’t allow Maddie to watch television until she’s at least two, following current AAP recommendations. If your family is different, that’s fine; I’m not going to lecture you or put up statistics or make you feel bad; that’s simply the choice we’ve made for our household.

So when Maddie’s first birthday rolled around and her Uncle Daniel sent her one of those Dance and Shout Elmo dolls – by the way, have I said thank you, Daniel? I think I’ll wait until after you’ve had kids to thank you properly- it was the first time Maddie had ever seen Elmo. She didn’t know him from Adam. Or I guess I should say Ernie. I was nervous about allowing her to become attached to a television character, but reassured myself that she’d never know he’s a television character; as far as she was concerned, he’s just the red guy in her living room. How bad could it be?

vacation_sept_06_128.jpgAs you can imagine if you’ve got kids, Maddie fell in love with Elmo. She watched her lazy mommy turn Elmo on by prodding him with her feet, and soon Maddie was poking Elmo with her tiny toes, getting him to sing and dance on command. She’d turn him on, pick him up to dance with him, put him down when he went into his “Uh-oh! Elmo fell down!” routine, and start all over again. Besotted, she’d turn him on, back up to sit in front of him, and have him pat her back, like a friend giving a massage. Occasionally, she’d turn around and kiss Elmo on the cheek.

But still, one red guy.

Then she went on a play date and discovered more Elmos. At her friend Naomi’s house she saw an Elmo who could do the hokey pokey, and an Elmo who did the Chicken Dance. Maddie was in Red Heaven.

Then we went to a toy store, and Maddie saw her red guy everywhere! Sippy cups, stuffed versions, hard toys, soft toys, even a Potty-Training Elmo. Suddenly it was a red, red world.

I’ve discovered that not having television privileges does not mean your child will escape the mass marketing machine. You can’t buy a toothbrush, a straw cup, a band-aid, a juice box, or a sleeping bag without buying into one television character or another. Before Maddie was born, I searched store after store for a box of Pampers that didn’t have Sesame Street characters on them, before I realized it was a merchandise tie-in and ALL Pampers have Sesame Street characters on them. What kind of choice is that?

We try our hardest to keep our kids from being influenced by the media; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope we can shield them at least until they start school. But it seems that now even the diapered set is being assaulted with “commercials” – in the form of some character or promotional tie-in or another – everywhere you turn. It’s impossible for me to have complete control over what my daughter sees and is introduced to, even in the home.

I’m not saying it’s all bad: I know that if brushing with a Dora toothbrush makes kids brush longer, then God bless them. I just wish I had a bit more of a choice about the thing.

For now, our household rolls along, enslaved by the Red Menace. He came along with us on our recent vacation (stuffed version as carry-on, automated version in checked baggage). When Maddie’s melting down on the changing table, showing her the Elmo on her (Pampers) diaper is sure to calm her down. And we’ve even got a finger-puppet Elmo for those desperate times in the car.

And on a side note, I’ve figured out why Elmo always refers to himself in the third person: “Hi there! Elmo likes new friends! Elmo wants to hug you! Elmo fell down! Elmo thinks you are pretty! Elmo loves you!” The cunning little devil is taking every chance he can to drill his name into kids’ heads. If you think I’m crazy, “Melmo!” is the first non-family name she said.

So far, Maddie thinks he’s just a friend that shows up – everywhere. Will we buy that fancy TMX Elmo for Christmas? Maybe, if we can pay sticker price and not some crazy Ebay price for it. Will I go out of my way to find it? Nope. And I know it’s just a matter of time before she starts watching him on television, and I’m thankful he’s on one of the better shows and is a good role model for her.

As a matter of fact, Maddie’s already caught a glimpse of her buddy onstage. When we were shopping on vacation, we went into a children’s store that had the television on. Right as we walked in, Elmo himself came on television and started singing. Ecstatic, Maddie ran over and banged on the screen: “Melmo! It’s me! Your friend, Maddie!” Riveted, she dragged a plastic chair over without once taking her eyes off her friend.

Fortunately, we left right as his sketch ended. She skipped out of the store, as if she was saying, “Can you believe it? My friend is so talented! He’s everywhere!”

Ok, kiddo, if you only knew. 


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