*click here to read an addendum I made to this post.
So anyone who has been around my boys, 6-yr-old-twins Luke and Taj, in the same vicinity as a television, knows that they are nervous-Nellies when it comes to what they see on a screen. When they were younger, if we were visiting a home where a TV was on, they would either run out of the room, or, when they were feeling especially brave, hide behind the couch so they could peek over the edge for a glimpse and then dart back down. Now that they’ve gained some self-awareness and a broader vocabulary, they will politely inform the host, “We don’t feel comfortable watching something we’ve never seen,” as reported by a friend a of mine recently. She, a mother of twins herself, was helping me out by having my boys over and is already cautious about how much and what kind of TV her kids see. She was hoping to get a break from entertaining 4 six-year-old boys by turning on 30-minutes of Bugs Bunny. Fine, right?
It was a no-go with the Polonchek boys.
Here is a comprehensive list of the full-length movies they can watch without running out of the room or begging for the movie to be stopped:
- Cars (A mother-of-three-girls thought my boys needed to “toughen up” and gave it to us for their 3rd birthday. we had to fast-forward through the combine scene for about a year before they would finally sit through it.)
- White Christmas (Yes, the 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.)
They’ve been able to watch a few documentaries: Walking with Dinosaurs, Wildlife of Yellowstone, and Planet Earth. Needless to say, we aren’t exactly famous with the neighborhood kids for endless viewing entertainment.
How have they gotten this way? There are a few obvious reasons:
- Neither Chris nor I owned a TV from our college years through marriage until 2008, the year we decided we wanted to watch KU basketball without having to go to a bar or a friend’s house (who will remain unidentified, but had “control issues” with the remote) and, coincidentally (and awesomely), the Jayhawks won the National Championship.
- (This is not because we wanted to be elitist snobs, but mainly because we wanted to spend the money on other things and also because neither of us can stay interested in any one thing for too long a time, with the exception of The Biggest Loser, a show we followed religiously and often finished in tears.)
- When we did get a TV, in 2008, the boys were three, and we only paid for cable 3 months out of the year, during basketball season. For the next three years, the boys only saw college basketball (the DVR let us pause and fast-forward the commercials). We didn’t watch anything else. (While they were present, anyway.)
- It’s possible that my own issues with The Suspension of Disbelief are coming into play. I have traumatic memories of bizarre things I saw on the screen before I could understand what they were and why I was seeing them. It didn’t help that my older brother told me that the actors who died on television REALLY DIED, but got paid a lot of money before they filmed the scene. I believed this way longer than was healthy.
- As I’m writing out this list, it occurs to me that none of it really culminates enough to make sense out of why my children are so sensitive when it comes to television.
Yes, this all seemed laudable when the twins were two, three, even four, when the pre-school they attended had a special viewing of an episode of Backyardigans that the boys couldn’t stop talking about for days. After all, to the dismay and annoyance of toddler-parents everywhere, the American Academy of Pediatrics has re-instated their original statement that kids shouldn’t watch TV before they’re two. (No, not even Baby-Einstein, which I received at my baby-shower in 2005 and happily played for my propped-up, slobbering, 5-month-olds. I got suspicious when the boys weren’t counting to 10 in 5 different languages by the time they were one and returned the stupid videos to stupid Disney for a full-fucking-refund.) (Oh, you want my opinion of Disney? That’ll have to wait until we know each other better.)
So anyway, by the time the boys got to kindergarten, their “viewing delicacies” became a sensitive topic of conversation for anyone who spent time with them. Taj’s kindergarten teacher ended the school year with a viewing of The Land Before Time. He endured most of it on her lap,with his head buried in her chest. When my mom graciously had them for overnights, she would put them to bed and tune in to watch The Office. They came home and gave me a play-by-play of the commercials they had overheard, demanding explanations. What is life insurance? Are you going to die? Can geckos really talk? When they stayed long weekends at my in-laws, everything was great except for when, “Grandpa tried to make us watch A Bug’s Life.” (Grandpa, I don’t blame you. It was made in 1998 and is rated G, for gosh-sakes.)
Now, they are rounding the bases of their 1st-grade year. Like most boys their age, (sorry to my gender-study friends who don’t want me to stereotype, but I have yet to hear a 6-yr-old girl slice through the air with a light-saber) they are fascinated with Star Wars. (This seems especially tricky for Chris, now that the “first”–not to be confused with the “original” –Star Wars movies have come out. The “firsts”–not to be confused with the “originals”– aren’t really Star Wars movies and have no business being identified as such, according to my husband, which is very confusing to Taj and Luke, who have yet to see ANY OF THEM.)
So, they have Star Wars Legos. They have Star Wars books. They know the Star Wars characters and minor plot-lines. They make Star Wars sounds effects. And now, they have a Star Wars Wii game. (Did I mention we have a Wii? Probably not, since the only games we have for it are Star Wars Legos and Michael Jackson: The Experience. Guess how many of those I picked.)
But I won’t let them see the movies. Chris doesn’t particularly feel they are ready, either, but is getting nervous that they’re learning so much about it, it won’t have the effect he wants it to when they do see it. (Did I mention this is a Very Special Moment to him? After all, he made me watch all 3 original (not-to-be-confused-with-first) episodes with him before he would marry me. And they were good. I’m definitely not anti-Star Wars.) But I’m holding my ground. I did what any good parent does and Googled it, and I found reasons here, here, and here, that I can use for back-up.
But, ironically, Luke recently came up with the reason I like best for explaining why I’m in no rush for my kids to take in television and movies before they’re ready. We had just been to dinner at a friend’s house, where four other kids there had not only seen a Star Wars movie, but were wanting to watch it again. Luke and Taj said they didn’t want to see it. (And why should they? Really: give me a good reason and you might change my mind.) So the other kids watched it in one room while Luke and Taj watched Phineas and Ferb in another. At one point, Luke’s curiosity got the best of him and he snuck a peek at the screen of temptation. I didn’t know until the next day:
“Mom,” he said. “You know Jabba the Hut?”
“Yes…” I replied.
“He took off all of Princess-Leia’s clothes. He made her sit there in her underwear.”
As always, I fiddled. “Well…I think it was a bathing suit. Yes. He made her wear a bathing suit. A gold bathing suit”
“Well, anyway,” Luke said, with a heavy sadness in his voice. “I bet that was really embarrassing for her.”
As happens more than I would have predicted before I had kids, my son stopped me in my I’m-a-grown-up-and-have-all-the-answers tracks. His child-mind understood something innate and brutal and primary about a scene that the rest of us dismiss as fun. The metal-bikini fetishes. The Carrie Fisher obsessions. (Because us adults know she’s an actress, after all.) The Princess Leia Halloween costumes.
Have I—the self-proclaimed feminist, progressive, critical-thinking, sensitive woman—ever stopped to consider what this iconic scene is really about?
No; it has no real meaning, right? It’s just a classic movie, after all. Why shouldn’t a 6-year-old see it?
Finally, after a long, humiliating pause, I agreed. “You’re right. I bet it was really embarrassing for her.”
And with that, explanation fails me.