In Defense of Daniel

No matter what boundaries we parents swore we’d set (or still attempt to enforce), kids do an awful lot of TV watching. So, as parents to toddlers, we also ingest a ton of the stuff. Some of it’s awesome. Some of it’s pointless. Some of it’s downright stupid. Then, there’s “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”. 

There seems to be a clearly-drawn line between parents who hate-hate-hate “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and those who truly love it. I’ve seen fights erupt online (I’m not kidding) over whether the songs are the “most annoying things EVER” or if they’re useful tools to help our children learn, grow and understand how to deal with life’s little challenges. I’m usually put at ease, at least, by the fact that everyone agrees that we all miss Mr. Rogers, himself and the original show.

Image courtesy of PBS Kids

For those of you who don’t have little ones in your house (and presumably don’t have the opportunity to partake in the PBS Kids’ fare), “Daniel” is a cartoon-based show that loosely utilizes some of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe characters from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to teach the new generation a plethora of positive life lessons. Daniel, himself, is actually the son of Daniel Striped Tiger (the original adorable puppet character) and is about pre-K aged. His friends are the children of other known characters – O the Owl (lives with his uncle, X), Katerina Pussycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (the daughter of Music Man Stan and Lady Elaine Fairchilde), and Prince Wednesday (whose old brother is Prince Tuesday, and parents are King Friday and Queen Sara).

The story lines are simple but incredibly realistic. So many of the topics – potty time, feeling left out, a new sibling, bath time, and many more – are ones that I either see firsthand with our own son or have seen over the years with my younger students.  

As a passionate fan of Mr. Rogers (the man AND the show), I was immediately skeptical a couple years back when Dave happened upon that familiar trolley sound, accompanied by unfamiliar cartoon characters. The questions arose: “Wait, are those the same characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, or…they’re their kids. Lady Elaine’s not a b**** anymore? Get out!” and “What would Fred think?” and “There’s something way too basic yet not at all pandering about this…” So. Many. Questions.

But, after awhile, the questions died down and we all found ourselves truly enjoying the thing. Yes, most of the songs are definite earworms that we find ourselves humming while doing dishes, but that’s the charm. They’re so simple yet so memorable that they fit perfectly into our lives, good for calming down both child and parent when an emotionally-charged moment could be turning out badly. And the GET kids. Like, really GET them. (One reason we’ve finally, after a long-felt annoyance over Caillou, given in. We like it because it’s exactly the stuff a young child goes through, said the exact way a child would.)

Plus, the show is actually produced by the Fred Rogers Company (which is also partly responsible for “Peg + Cat”, which we LOVE; that one’s just as enjoyable for the parents, if not more so). Not only is it funding the project, but it’s letting viewers know that, yes, Fred Rogers would appreciate this and encourage its use. If we can’t have Fred, Daniel’s the next best thing.

In fact, I like to think that Daniel’s “neighborhood” is actually an actualization of the world Mr. Rogers hoped to create. The kids on the show (be they animal or otherwise) are the next generation to reap the benefits of those raised on his ideals of love, acceptance, specialness and patience (among others); just as we were raised with these warm thoughts, we can pass them on through Daniel (as well as through the innate lessons we learned from him). The fact that every adult seems to universally know the exact same song for potty use may seem ridiculous to us as adults, but in fact it’s showing an environment filled with adults who all completely love, support and nurture the children in the neighborhood, giving them the ultimate sense of security. It’s idealistic, but if one can’t have some ideals, one can’t have a future worth looking forward to.

So, sure. We’re Daniel fans. We love that he’s still young enough to have his insecure, need-your-parents moments yet gaining his independence in leaps and bounds. We love that Miss Elaina wears backwards clothes and is boisterous. We love that O the Owl is highly literal and far more into books than playing pretend. We even love the ridiculousness that Prince Wednesday’s brother, although an heir to the throne, works as a babysitter and waiter. It’s all good.

And we’re sure that Hadley’s gaining from that good, in turn.

To Avoid or Not – Teaching About Death

For many, death is the scariest part of life. It’s not often discussed openly, making it more difficult for people to deal with when it does inevitably strike a loved one. It’s grim, it’s frightening, and there are tons of emotions tied to it, so it’s best just to not talk about it. Right?

Wrong. At least, I think it’s wrong to avoid it. For my family, it was an early fact-of-life lesson. Our dad passed away after a long battle with an aggressive skin cancer in 1986, leaving a wife and four kids broken. I was just shy of four years old, and while I was told what happened, I wish I had been given a better understanding behind it. It wasn’t until months later when Sesame Street taught me via Mr. Hooper’s death that I would never see him again. It was agonizing, but I finally got it.

So, the concept of loss, a general loneliness, and a premature sense of adulthood followed me through my childhood (and quite possibly my siblings, of course). But, because of it, I worked on my issues and became better able to handle the hardest points of life (eventually). I still miss the crap out of my dad and wish I’d known him better than a three-year-old can know someone, but we’re lucky for the family we have.

I decided long ago that, while my wonderfully kind stepfather would be known to Hadley as one of his true grandfathers (“Papa”), he would know and remember that my father, well, existed. Which means that I would inevitably have to discuss with him the topic of death.

And guess what. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

 

Yes, our son is just over two years old. But, he’s already experienced some loss. My dear, dear grandfather passed away last year, and Had’s grandparents had to put down a beloved dog that used to greet and play with him everyday.

We visited my grandfather regularly, so the night that I drove home from the hospital after witnessing his last breath, I knew I’d have to explain it. At age 7, I was in a tonsillectomy-induced stupor when my great aunt Kate had passed. While my mother insists she told me when it happened, the following summer I asked about it and was shut down immediately. It stung. I didn’t want a repeat when one day, out of the blue, Hadley starts asking about “Mama Gampa.” (My grandpa.)  

The first thing to remember, whether you’re just talking about the general concept of death or a particular person or pet, is to keep it simple. Like, stupid simple. I’ve come to learn that over-talking anything is an easy way to have a kid zone you out and not understand. Hmph. Maybe I should stop over-explaining stuff for you guys when blogging. 😉

I told him in two short sentences, tops. I first made sure he remembered the proper individual I was talking about, then explained that Grandpa had gotten sick and had to go away. Watching it sink in, his head slowly nodding, I then told him that we wouldn’t be seeing him again, but that we can always enjoy the memories we made with him. He totally got it, and even told me he was sorry for ME. Talk about tears — but, that’s actually another important point…

Crying is totally okay. This is more for the grown-ups than the kids, but regardless, it’s important for everyone to remember it. We had family cry sessions after Dad passed away, but it eventually became a very private thing to do. I still cry about him (and Grandpa, actually, who was more than a second father); it’s not a loss you ever get over, nor should one have to, but how we deal with the feelings is what’s important.

So, when I explained to Hadley what had happened with Grandpa, or talk to him about Dad, or when I told him that his poor grandmother had to put down Dawg, I was tearful, openly. I didn’t try to hide it. It was part of the lesson. YES. DEATH IS SAD, AND THAT’S NORMAL AND OKAY.

Kids get it.
They’re more astute about others’ emotions at times than we are as adults. It’s best to respect them enough to be open with the facts and open with those emotions.

Speaking of kids totally being aware, here’s where things get creepy. We’re not super religious. Hadman thinks a cross is the letter “T” (I’m equally embarrassed and proud about that — letter recognition, y’know). But, both times I spoke with him about the deaths were at bedtime, in his crib, in a dark room when he was calming down for the day. Both times, he pointed over my shoulder as if he saw something…or someone. He barked when Dawg was put down. He talked to Grandpa when he passed. “Hi, Gampa! Hi, Gampa!” Both terrifying; both somehow strangely calming.

They know and “see” better than we do sometimes.  

One final word of advice is to help them remember those who have passed. Pretending that the person never existed sometimes makes an individual feel like they need to do the same; that they’re not allowed to ask questions or talk about the person.

I’ve asked a lot about my dad over the years, and there were times I knew my mother wasn’t in the mood to discuss it, but she always answered my questions. Sometimes short responses; sometimes longer. Plus, his picture has always been around our house as a constant welcome reminder, and we helped out at the cemetery all the time.

The tree next to his headstone was quite young when he was buried. Over the years, I took a lot of comfort visiting to help plant new flowers and dusty millers and to clean off the stone. We’d excitedly ask for the empty plastic jug we used to fast-walk (running in a cemetery = not okay) back from the filling spigot. As a teen, I would go to the cemetery to sit at atop a large mausoleum built into a hill to enjoy the peace and feel closer to him.

Today, the tree is matured. Both of my mom’s parents have joined him, just two rows away. But, the peace is still there. So, I feel it’s important to bring Hadley there from time to time so that he realizes how normal death is and that, if he has any questions, it’s totally fine to share them.

Besides, for a stick and rock collecting boy, it makes for an awesome nature walk.

Flashing What We Know

I recently mentioned falling in love with a few homemade birthday presents for our monkey. Thank you, dear friend Pinterest. I call her “Pinny” and she looks remarkably like Kaley Cuoco (whatever her married last name is, I can’t be bothered to Google) in my head. Pinny’s my new enabling BFF.

Anyhoo, one of the super easy projects I just HAD to stay up past midnight working on was the toddler flashcards. See, the kid’s a toddler genius (but what mom doesn’t think that, really?) who is starting to pick words out (for real), LOVES reading, and knows tons of letters, numbers, and animal sounds. Kid’s got it goin’ on, thanks to his Grandma’s diligent work with him daily. So, I don’t want all her hard work to go down the toilet while he’s lazing about spending intellectually stimulating summer days with me.

So, I spent some time on PicMonkey making and saving a few sets of flashcards. Here are a few wicked easy samples (not the whole sets, that’d be cray-cray):

Numbers!

Shapes!
(Boring as all get-out with the gray, but didn’t want to detract.
Side note: I did a rhombus AND separate diamond. We’ll throw the spaghetti on the wall and see which one sticks. Child-led learning. ;-))


Matching Game!
(Printing an extra set of the above shapes, he has to match them to the “real life” objects; moon goes with “crescent”, by the way. I’m tricky. I would accept star there, too, though.)

Colors!


Now, to print, *evenly* cut, and laminate them! Actually…first, to head to my mom’s basement to track down my tiny old laminator. *wink, wink*

By the way, I’m still thinking of making up a few cards for matching with colors as well as a set of friends ‘n family ones with pictures and names (especially to learn the folks who love us who happen to live far away, or whom we just don’t get to see often).

I am wondering, though — the game ones I’m obviously going to keep loose for matching purposes, but the others I’m thinking of putting on a metal ring. Whatchya think? Loose or ready-for-car-use?