Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Such a Good Feeling

We have a dilemma in our house. I have already written multiple times about how much Calvin loves Cars. Unfortunately, this love has become an obsession. We have pajamas, placemats, eating utensils, sippy cups, action figures, books...You get the picture. Since my husband and I are both against product tie-ins in general and against the way our culture teaches children to be consumers so early, I am not sure how this happened. We just didn't let our principles and our actions line up, and we didn't let grandparents know about those principles. It happened so quickly, and it was so easy to buy Calvin a Cars item just to see the big smile on his face.

Now we have a decision to make. Hobbes is becoming obsessed with Thomas, and I already bought him a Thomas train (just the one car) for his birthday. We do allow our children to watch a bit of TV (lately more than I should be), and I don't mind my kids knowing about Thomas or Lightning McQueen or other age appropriate characters. But I think we need to break them, and me, of this tendency to become consumers of our favorite characters. More than that, we want their imaginations to be fueled by truly good stories and by the freedom to make up their own worlds. I am not sure how to change our home to foster this sort of environment without seeming cruel for taking away the boys' favorite toys and videos.

I was thinking of all of this today when the boys and I sat down to watch Mr. Roger's Neighboorhood. We actually watch this show more than any of the others, and today, I realized one more reason that I love Mr.Rogers so much. (I'll happily elaborate on all of the other reasons for you if you wish.) He took a ride on a trolley today and then started talking about his little trolley that he uses for make-believe. He said that children often ask him where they can get a trolley like his, and he tells them to make one -- NOT to call this number or go to this web address or go to your local Wal-Mart. No, he said to make one. He then proceeded to show the children how he might make one using a cardboard box, markers, and paper.

What a remarkably unusual moment in children's television that was, even twenty or so years after it was filmed. Mr. Rogers is as refreshingly counter-cultural today as he was when I was a child, perhaps even more. Watching that show always leaves me and the boys with such a good feeling, a very good feeling...

Now, I'd love to hear your advice on this area of product tie-ins and what we can do to change course in our home before we are overrun with Lightning McQueens. I wouldn't mind knowing how to break the news to Calvin that Mr. Rogers passed away some years ago, either.


Catherine said...

Well, I don't have much advice for you since my kid(s) are behind in age. But I 100% share your consumerism and tie-in values, and have begun to think about discussing them with grandparents. Thanks for keeping this on my radar...because I also can relate to the desire for that smile...

Elizabeth said...

If you can believe it, I just watched Cars for the first time this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have no advice about the product tie-in issue, but I'm glad to hear that Mr. Rogers is still on the air and winning the hearts of another generation. He was my favorite.

Rebekka said...

Disclaimer: I don't have kids yet. (Most of our friends do, though, and I see this kind of stuff a lot.)

But I'd say that the things involved - placemats and sippy cups - are mostly practical items, so why not use them? He'll grow out of the pjs. Talk to the grandparents and stop buying the stuff. If your son begs for the newest and latest point out that he's got lots of goodies at home he can play with and then stick to your guns. If you notice that there is something that he doesn't play with or seems to have lost interest in, let it quietly disappear.

Yea for Mr. Rogers!

Missy said...

mmmm, I wish I had good advice on this-- maybe I'll get some from your comments. I can only commiserate because we have been amazed at, though it sounds simple-minded to say, how well the marketing works. Esp. since our kids watch almost no commercials.

I feel it has gotten a bit easier with the boys a bit older (7 and almost 5). They seem more interested in "generic" toys, and even when they get the "Star Wars legos," they are quickly building their own thing from them. We just try to gently steer them in other directions when it seems like one thing has taken too firm a hold.

Ah, Mr. Rogers. (Thursday would have been his 80th birthday, and is "Wear a Sweater Day" in his memory. I share a birthday with him.) Some time ago, I told both boys that though we still get to see Mr. Rogers on tv, really he is in heaven with Jesus, since he was a believer. They asked if they will see him again when they go to heaven.

wheelsonthebus said...

I am afraid my advice is not very helpful, since Thomas has quite a place in our house. We just try to make sure that it is in books and toys that promote imagination, and we try to make sure they do not get every train they request. We like the wooden trains; the kids build and make up stories. And the underpants were helpful for potty training.

So, we live in a house overrun with pink and Thomas.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Thanks for the good advice!

Cath, I'll be interested to hear how this goes with you as Asher gets older.

E-beth, isn't Cars great? I love the redneck humor, which you and I get so much more than most people!

Rebekka, not sure I know you, but thanks for stopping in and leaving some practical advice. I feel much better about our Lightning McQueen plates now. Come back and visit.

Missy, a belated "Happy Birthday."

Emily, the pink thing cracks me up!