Until Zoe was about 13 months old, I had a parenting philosophy that we were not going to “do” characters in our family.
Laugh all you want, experienced parents: I was convinced that I could shield my daughter from becoming a pawn in the merchandising machine of Disney, Nickelodeon, and company. We would spend our time playing with natural wood toys, painting, exploring the outdoors, eating organic food, and reading books with watercolor illustrations. Our trips to Target would remain peaceful; Zoe would never demand Sponge Bob fruit snacks or throw a tantrum over not getting the Big Bird toothbrush because she wouldn’t know who they were.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
When Zoe was 13 months, she discovered Elmo. We had never watched Elmo at home, but she discovered a small Elmo doll at Target, picked him up and hugged him, and wouldn’t let go. For the price of a latte and a small part of my soul, I could make her smile this big?! Okay, I thought. We’ll let Elmo in our cart and into our house and maybe even into our hearts. BUT JUST ELMO. She’ll never discover his friends.
Zoe with her favorite Elmo of the multiple Elmo dolls we now own.
Apparently these kid marketing people are, like, good at their jobs. These little Sesame Street characters are everywhere, and once our family and friends realized that Zoe liked Elmo, they made sure that she owned the whole neighborhood.
Ok, so we’re sticking to Sesame Street characters. They’re at least associated with education, I reasoned. We won’t do any “fluffy” non-educational characters though, and she is definitely not watching TV.
I held strong until she was 18 months old and I was at my parents’ house trying to watch three kids and finish two grants. It was miraculous: fifteen minutes of “Elmo’s World” once a day gave me the time to check my work, make a meal for Sam or Olivia, or do the dishes while Zoe sat still! Ok, but TV is only at Gigi and Papa’s house! I said.
A week after we got home, Zoe had an ear infection followed by the stomach bug and stopped eating or drinking for three days. “She needs to stay as still as possible,” her doctor said. “Try TV.”
Two weeks after Zoe recovered, Riley joined our family.
Let’s just say that I can recite entire episodes of Elmo’s World now. (“Birthday” is my favorite. Only a real Scrooge doesn’t like to celebrate a fictional fish’s birthday for 17 minutes and 34 seconds, and Mr. Noodle’s attempts to “wrap a present” on this particular episode are far better than his groan-worthy acting on “Play Ball.”)
Flash forward to two weeks ago, when David and I had the following conversation:
David: So, I’m still signed up to go to that conference at a Disney resort in two weeks.
Me: Can you get out of it? We have a newborn.
David: (checks) Nope.
Me: Well, I guess I’ll stay home alone with them for three days and three nights…
David: Don’t do that. You guys should come for at least part of the time. If you can handle them during the day, I’ll be able to help you at night.
Me: Okay. “Night” and “help” in the same sentence? We’re in. But I’m not taking both of them to a theme park. I haven’t even taken them both to Publix yet. What can I do around the hotel?
David: Hmm. Do you think Zoe would like a character meal?
Me: She doesn’t really know any of the characters. (Brightens) Wait! We have two weeks. That’s enough time for her to learn their names. I’ll show her some videos on YouTube.
I’ll pause and let you re-read that last sentence.
MY MORALS HAVE SLIPPED SO LOW, GUYS.
And last night, as I sat across from my chicken-nugget-eating, dessert-buffet-partaking, character-knowing, HAPPY little girl, I thought: I’m so glad!
But seriously, as I adjust to two kids, I have to have SO MUCH GRACE for myself. It is hard work, and it would be easy to drown in guilt because I’m not as good as I want to be at it. This night was a great reminder that sometimes, my expectations of what I “should” do and the rules I’ve created for myself about what kind of mom I want to be are actually blocking fun and enjoyment from my life as a mom.
Last night was the best night of Zoe’s life. I am so glad I got to enjoy it with her!