I liked to be in the house, often on the computer, engaging in online message boards and blogging: the best way, as a young mother, to find information that was in keeping with my core values, to think about parenting and political conundrums or issues of psychological, social, or spiritual significance, or to simply find a sense of community. It's sad really, but then travel with a baby or toddler (and for some time while exhausted from a second pregnancy) is exhausting and often difficult. Better to just stay home.
Not to mention the fact that when Aleks was but ten days old, we moved from near my family to 2000 miles away. When he was 2, we moved to within four hours of family, but the distance was of little difference. Women were not intended to be alone at home with their children without support. The nuclear family does not work and community takes time and considerable effort to build from scratch. It's no wonder that we, as a culture, rely so heavily on electronic media as a babysitter. Our culture has been created around it, and now depends on it to function as it does. If televisions disappeared, the economy would collapse.
After Bastian's birth, we did disappear our television. Luckily, by then, we had computers, so the effect was minimal. Instead of watching PBS all day, Aleks learned to operate the DVD drive and how to point and click. But at least it had some modicum of interaction involved. One had to find the media and use it with intention. There was no more simple passively receiving information and entertainment. Which is not to entirely demonize television. When we visit my parents, we love the TV, but we don't need it at home and it's hard for us to not rely on it heavier than I would like.
I go back and forth on the matter. My children use the computer to watch movies, play video games, and look things up (including, but not limited to leopard geckos, Tom and Jerry cartoons, Bakugan toys, Lego sets, the Thriller video, aye-ayes, hypnotism instructions, and timelines of prehistory). Most of Aleks' reading skills come from Googling things.
But then they get sucked into some cartoon for 48 hours straight, watching the same episodes on Cartoon Network's website over and over again, while I'm in some late-winter funk, paying bills and doing laundry, and I get a little sick of it all. I begin to feel like it's all they ever do and they'll never learn to read or do anything truly fantastic like all those homeschooling prodigies that build working robots and play Mozart before their 7th birthdays.
And the advertising! Oh the advertising! The McDonald's Happy Meal commercials and Aleks' desire for ridiculous toys he would never ever desire to own were it not for constant marketing. It's the machine working its way into my living room! And it sucks! All the character merchandise out there, its cheap plastic manufacture filling up all those coal-burning factories in China, creating new first-world economies to further the environmental degradation of a globalized world culminating in a worldwide post-industrial wasteland! It all runs counter to my values in so many ways...
Then I think of all of history, the re-use of characters and archetypes throughout time - through mythology and religion and campfire stories. I think of my brief addiction to Harry Potter fanfic a few years back, and I remember that the people creating these stories are not necessarily simply seeking to sell something, that there are creative people behind some of our favorite shows, who just want to draw for a living, to have a fun job where they can still support themselves. The artists behind these creatures aren't bad people. They're just trying to make a go of it like everyone else. And as an artist, I can appreciate that.
And then my son borrows from these artists and does things I wouldn't have thought of. Like building this robot after watching an episode of Curious George.
And creating these cutouts of Zak Saturday and Zak Monday after fixating for the last several days on The Secret Saturdays, a show on Cartoon Network. Not only that, but Aleks dictated two lengthy letters to Santa about wanting a real version of the Zaks' tools - the Fang and the Claw - for he and his brother, along with costumes. Today he spiked his hair like Zak and wanted me to dye it as well as paint his skin brown to look like Zak (which resulted in a lengthy kitchen discussion about racial politics in America from Plymouth Rock to the present).
Aleks also drew the associated high tech, magic, and mythical gadgets the Saturdays use in their travel as cryptozoologists, trying to protect the world from knowing about cryptids. He's carrying them all around in his Lego box: To decipher all this, I made a guide based on Aleks' explanations:
- Alonium Death Warmth Venom
- Fang Booster
- Smoke Mirror
- Snow Crystal
- Claw Booster
- Kamari Kandem Demon
- Alkali Horn
- Person Controller
- Cortex Destructor
- Power Glove
- Kur Stone
- Electrocute Collar
- Methuselah Tree Sap Flower
- Shocking Glove
- Kamari Kandem Medallion
- Map to Tomb's Kur
- Atmosphere Jellyfish Controller Video Game
- Salt Crystal
- Dragon Arm
- Dragon Arm
Then I wonder, what is the difference, really, between Aleks taking the ideas in these shows and making something of his own out of the things around him and his learning to draw dragons from a book about drawing dragons that we checked out from the library? Aren't both instances where someone else's art is being borrowed to create something new? And don't both instances result in my child exploring new methods of creativity?