I have tried to be judicious with Abby’s TV time, but there’s only so much you can do with a barely-two-year-old when you’re on a budget and it’s too hot to go outside after 8 AM. So I’ve accepted the fact that until it cools off some or Abby is old enough to build ships in bottles (whichever comes first*), an hour or so of TV every day is just going to be part of our schedule.
I tried to keep Abby under the illusion that Baby Einstein videos were the only movies ever created. We rocked along to Baby Mozart et al. until the inevitable day that she learned that Mommy had been holding out on her, and her eyes were opened to the super-dee-duper world of Barney the Dinosaur. Our lives have not been the same since.
Now Abby is a two year old, a sucker for bright colors and peppy tunes and practical tips on personal hygiene and interpersonal relations. That she has become a fan of Barney is not that surprising. The real scandal of our family’s relationship with a singing dinosaur and his Backyard Gang is the way that I myself have been sucked into his little world.
Now, let me be clear: I do not watch Barney when Abby is not around. And when we do “watch him together,” I usually read a book. But I am strangely curious about Barney himself and the actors who join him on screen. What motivates a grown man to agree to put on the Barney suit? Is the money that good? Does he do it out of a genuine desire to teach kids valuable lessons such as “Keep Your Sneeze to Yourself” and “We Take Turns so We’ll All Have Fun”? And what about the kids in the Backyard Gang? I can believe the enthusiasm of the younger kids on the show, but what about the teenagers who come back for special guest appearances? What force under heaven could have possibly induced a seventeen year old boy to sing a duet of “You Can Count on Me” with Barney? When he knew the performance would be video taped and replayed in living rooms of children across America?
It was not my proudest moment when I sat at the computer late one night Googling “Who is Barney the Dinosaur?” (Answer: Quite an enigma. IMDB was helpful but did not satisfy all of my questions.)
I also find myself brooding over Barney’s song lyrics the way I once pondered Shakespeare and Milton. I rage over stanzas such as “We like colors; we like them a lot/We’ve got colors; colors we’ve got” as if I expect literary sublimity from preschool television. I remind myself: Yes, probably “Orange, it’s the color of an orange” really is the best Barney could do.
One day Abby and I may enjoy sitting side by side watching the full-length Pride and Prejudice, or we’ll make pilgrimages to NYC for Shakespeare in the Park. But for now I’ll enjoy the fact that we both can sit comfortably in the same recliner, that her head fits under my arm when she snuggles into my side, and that she acts it out when Barney sings the line “with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you.”
So come on in and stay a while, Barney. Because when she’s too old for you, we’ll be moving on to Justin Bieber and Troy Bolton and Edward vs. Jacob, and I am surely not going to rush us into that. Besides, I like colors a lot, too.
*It cooled off first. But we’re still watching TV.