Friday, March 30, 2012

Why We're Raising Our Kid Without TV

The short answer:

We're probably hippies I don't know.


The longer answer:

When people ask, and the short answer doesn't suffice, I tell them that Karen went to grade school in the Waldorf system, which has some great ideas, and some kind of loopy ones, but one of which was no television for kids. And we're considering sending Aki to Waldorf (which I'm not sure is even true, but we say it) and we like it and it works for us. So, hooray!

Which usually suffices. But that's not the whole truth. Generally, I avoid the whole truth, because I want to avoid sounding (or even being) judgmental. And TV is one of those weirdly hot-button issues, where every time it comes up, I get either the guilty-parent whisper: "I-know-it's-not-great-but-I-wouldn't-get-a-shower-otherwise-or-a-goddamn-half-second-to-myself-without-Dora." ...or I get the huffy stare and the unspoken reference to the short answer above. Once, when she thought I was out of earshot, I heard another mother exclaim "Well what is that poor child going talk to other kids about on the playground? How will she even know what a Pilgrim looks like?" (yeah. that one left me speechless).

But let me be clear: I am NOT making a judgment call for anyone else's kids. I think it's fine, (fine! really!) if you want to let your kids watch TV. Really. Raising a kid is tough. You do what you have to to get by. So I'm not pointing any fingers.

How


We're not being über-strict about this: we don't hiss like vampires when a screen is on in her presence. She skypes with godparents and grandparents. We've eaten in diners with the TVs on. We even have a TV in our house (which goes on after she goes to bed). But here's where I draw the line: no half hour of Sesame Street. No Nick Jr. Not even the kids' stuff we love. It's not a part of our day. We play with toys, read books, visit the park... and when I need her to play quietly by herself (to write this post for instance), I surround her with blocks and dolls, and let her go wild.

Why

The American Pediatrics's Association recommends against it.  But I don't consult with them on other ways to raise my kid (maybe I should!), so that's more a matter of them agreeing with me (or at least us both agreeing) than me agreeing with them. And I'm not kidding about the Waldorf thing — it plays a part. I grew up with lots of television (albeit intermittent attempts to limit and control it by my parents) and Karen grew up sneaking TV at friends' houses, and not really participating in mass culture until middle or high school. Karen has a much better-developed ability to focus and work long-term on tasks, and while that's not the only difference between us, I think the limited tv during her formative years helped, or at least didn't hurt any.

Years and years ago, when I was in high school, I found and read a book by an author, whose actual name is, delightfully, Jerry Mander. If he's known at all, it's for his book, the Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. That book went the furthest to convince me that tv -- not the content, but the medium is fundamentally troublesome. I don't want Aki to participate in it until she can at least understand some of the major complications (which is a whole separate post) with the way TV works at conveying information.

But most of all, maybe more than anything, I want Aki to have a fully developed imagination as early as possible. And TV is a storytelling device that we like because it does all the work -- it provides sound and image, narration and picture and noise all together. You don't have to imagine anything except, perhaps, how things smell or taste. 90% of the work is done, which limits the brain's need to develop its own imagination. Instead she'll get stories, and dolls, and blocks, and will have to make her own things up.  At least for a few years, she'll just have to imagine her own Pilgrims.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

May your poems never rest, Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich.  I have her Twenty Four Love Poems and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Thus Far on my shelf -- two books that I bought when I was young enough to love a poetry (or a poet, or anything, for that matter) without hesitation or interest in codifying or pacifying that love.

I haven't read her books in years. Mostly I've been afraid to open them up and find that they are merely, as NPR so classily put it, Feminist.  But I think I know better.

I saw her read in Middlebury way back when. Even then her skin was papery and see-through, covered in a net of wrinkles. I thought she must be the oldest person I'd ever seen. She was probably in her early 70s, or late 60s. She was also beautiful.

Over at AVClub, Steve Hyden has been musing philosophical about what it means to be a fan: "you end up forming a weird, sacred, and irrational bond that’s entirely one-sided and exists only in your mind." It's true. I loved Adrienne Rich with the full understanding that I didn't know or necessarily understand her. It was complicated even more by the fact that I was (and still am) male -- which would have made any actual interaction with her tense, I suspect (at one point she was banning men from attending her readings. A professor I had once told me he stood outside the room just to hear her).

But her poems made me want to be a better person, and they made me want a better world, and more importantly, they made me love her and love language.

It's customary to wish that the dead have a peaceful rest. I don't know where Adrienne Rich is, now, or if she is. I don't know if she exists enough to rest. But I don't really know her anyway -- I know her poems. And I hope they don't rest. I hope they keep affecting and infecting readers for a long, long time.