Archive for October, 2006

Watching TV

October 16, 2006

Slate is reporting today on a new study from Cornell University that links increased television watching with increased autism rates.  It’s nice to have some scientific backing for a philosophy Kate and I think is important just on the face of it.

Surprisingly, we have received a bit of push-back on our desire to not expose Ruby to any television until she’s a few years old — generally from people a generation older than us.  The most common argument in favor of early TV is that it gives the parent a much-needed break, or time away from the child to cook dinner or take care of other chores.  Trust me, I understand how powerful those arguments are.  But Kate and I feel that the short-term benefits are outweighed by the long-term negatives.

The single most important reason we don’t want Ruby to watch TV now is because we don’t want Ruby to want to watch TV later.  In a few months, when she becomes able to make requests (and then demands), I want her to be clamoring for a trip to the park, not for another Dora video.  One of the things she’s learning right now is what kinds of fun things we do.  We go to the park, we run around the lake, we play with toys, we sing and wrestle and play the piano.  We don’t watch TV.

That still doesn’t answer the question about why we think TV is bad, though.  Autism studies aside, I don’t like the passive nature of watching TV.  I’d prefer Ruby to be active — not just physically, but mentally.  Her downtime can be filled with quiet reflection, reading, daydreaming, and wild bouts of imagining.  The ability to enjoy quiet time without depending on outside stimulation is an important skill that (IMHO) is sorely lacking in modern society.  Her spiritual and mental development will be greatly enhanced by learning to contemplate.

Another reason to avoid TV is the mass-consumption mythologies it peddles.  Dora and Spongebob and the latest Disney animation are all for sale, and the people marketing to children are very good at what they do.  I don’t want Ruby to get hooked on other people’s stories.  And I don’t want Ruby to learn to view the world through a Disney lens.  When we go to the zoo, I hear kids calling the lions “Simba” and the giraffes “Geoffrey”.  At the aquarium, all the clown fish are “Nemos”.  Although it’s nice to give these kids a way to relate to the animals, I worry that it’s a dead-end road.  The natural world is much more complicated (and interesting) than a cartoon.  (For similar reasons, we’ve tried to avoid mass-market characters in our house — and, curiously, received similar pushback from the same people.)

There are so many stories that we can tell each other — about our pasts, our futures, our dreams, and our feelings — and I want those to be our family mythology.  When Ruby sees a clownfish, I want her to think about her Mama and Papa swimming in Mayalsia.  When she sees a pygmy marmoset, I want her to remember that she’s the Queen of the Tiny Monkeys.  These stories are important, they belong to us, and they are a part of us and our family.  Those family stories are something that television can never provide.


How to kiss a baby

October 15, 2006

The season premier of Battlestar Galactica contained a noteworthy scene.  In it a woman is lying on a cot, holding her baby.  She’s having a conversation with her husband who is sitting behind her.  During the conversation, she bends over and gives her baby a kiss on the cheek.

I immediately paused the Tivo and called Kate in from the next room.  “Watch this,” I said, and played the scene for her. 

The issue?  The actress was kissing the baby all wrong.  The way she did it was not how you kiss a baby — especially your own baby.  She gave it a perfunctory peck and bounced off quickly, with a slight smugness when she was done. 

It’s weird that I notice something like this, but that’s what fatherhood does to you.  Your view of the world gets just a little skewed. 

When considering the kissing of babies and how you should or shouldn’t do it, two points come to mind:

  1. You should keep in your mind that you don’t want to kiss the baby.  No, what you really want to do is eat the baby.  But since you can’t have your baby and eat it too, you’re limited to kisses.  Bend over with the word “devour” in your head and you’re on the right track.  On the TV show, the actress seemed to be pushing the baby away with her kiss instead of wanting to consume him.
  2. Secondly, you want to inhale.  Babies smell great, and your own baby smells awesome.  Linger a moment, nuzzle a bit, and let the smell recharge you.  Ruby smells like a warm cedar-lined sauna with a hint of cinnamon.

Remember, you’re kissing the baby because of what that kiss does for you.  The baby doesn’t care, and probably wishes you’d get out of her face already so she can see That Thing Over There.  But you do it anyway, because, ultimately, kissing the baby is not about giving — it’s about taking.


Hope for the Princesses

October 14, 2006

Ruby and I went down to the park yesterday.  She rolled around on a blanket while I kicked a soccer ball around the field.  After I’d been there a while, a few girls (maybe 10 or 11 years old?) came by and started playing a game.  Guess what they were playing?


There were no boys or parents to impress or goad them on.  Just three girls who figured the best way they could spend a sunny fall afternoon was tossing the pigskin around the park.  Awesome.