Timeline of Family Growth and Development Milestones, As They Relate to Dora the Explorer

2008-9: Small, new, baby–too small even to watch television–arrives. I have never seen Dora the Explorer. My world is about to change.

2010: Family trip to Asia with an 18-month old in coach. I unveil the magic of television watching for the first time, hoping it will be a spellbinding gift that will buy hours of peaceful time on the plane. 18 month old watches Dora the Explorer–in English and Korean–for about ten minutes. Seems. . .unimpressed. Crushing maternal disappointment for the first–perhaps only?–time that my kid will *NOT* watch TV. The flight is so very, very long. (Its completion is still one of my top five lifetime accomplishments.)

2011: Dora–and general TV watching–finally take. At first she silently observes with dora backpacksaucer-wide eyes and the slightest of smiles. By the end of the year, mini-marathon sessions are possible–30 to 45 minutes of free hands for parents!–and the characters have become well-loved family friends. We love music and know all the songs. (Not hard. One is just the word “backpack,” repeated 37 times with different inflection.)

2012: Someone gives us a plastic, purple, talking backpack and a book that does not fit on the shelf and includes 12 micro Dora figurines. The backpack sings its own theme song, or name, or life mantra: “backpack, backpack;” we listen again and again, longing to uncover the mystery. The figurines possess a strong sedative power but, if they are lost, as they often are, sleep is a stranger to us. We learn the best places to search for objects lost by the nonsensical and barely verbal, the best ways to distract emotional toddlers from unpleasant realities, and the occasions when you just have to cry it out.

–Suddenly, mid-year, the Dora love dries up: Swiper the rule-breaking-Fox is no longer cute in his capers. He is a dangerous social menace who can’t be trusted. We develop empathy for Dora and Tico and Roberto the Robot–who are often the victims of Swiper’s TRULY SENSELESS crimes. Hysterical crying makes even the most innocent-seeming episode a bridge too far. So we focus on reading books and playing with other kids and Dora briefly exits our life.

2013: A new toddler enters the scene, seemingly born knowing how to stream from Netflix, and she wants to watch Dora. She sits, saucer-eyed and smiles; but her older sister continues the Swiper-the-Fox freak out. So it is that they learn to fight over controlling the television, to tease each other about irrational fears, and to pretend nothing happened when parents arrive, skills that–as I remember it–will be heavily used in coming years.

2014: A trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house–CABLE! Nick Junior!!–reveals the existence of “Dora and Friends,” in-to-the-ci-ty. A catchier theme song and more mature content (Dora is a tween! in the city! with a changing wardrobe!), make this an instant hit. Upon returning home to our basic-TV-channels-only home, we begin learning the rule that we don’t always have and won’t always get all of the cool things other people have. This lesson is hard, and they test it weekly, just to make sure.

2015: We finally get cable. Not for Dora; I feel confident no one does that. It is maybe for MI to watch baseball, or to allow more movie recording options, or just so I feel hip (irony of using “hip” to be hip is not lost. The irony of “being hip” by getting cable during the 2015 cable-cutting era was lost, though, until MI pointed it out while proofreading. Whatever, haters.) We now have to and can record Dora and Friends in-to-the-ci-ty. The entertainment grail. We must now learn the secret of moderation–a lifelong human pursuit that applies to everything except smiling and cookies. We learn about finishing work before play, turning things off when it is time to leave, and not singing theme songs around people who are hungry.


They’re growing up, and the lessons are getting deep. It struck me how Dora has been woven through the early years of my children’s development in a way the show’s creators perhaps didn’t anticipate. We didn’t learn about passing first through the Coconut Forest, past the place with the bubbles that can be repaired with duct tape, to the big red hill that is actually a large chicken. We already knew that. We learned about family and fears and relationships and compromise…

…and this pearl of wisdom, which I heard Ella passing along to D2 at dinner:

Dora and Friends is not just a show. Dora and Friends is actually a non-fiction movie. It is about 2060 years ago, about *real* life, told in a fun, fiction-like way so that kids can understand. It. is. REAL.

D2 nodded sagely.

My kids are taking me, literally

My brilliant gymnastics teammate from college, Carolyn, is a real-life actress. And I really love one of her recent comedy sketches about children as the “Literal Police.”  First, check it out:

So, this video hit close to home because I always use hyperbole, and my kids have literally become the Literal Police at our house.

Just a Minute

There is no possible way to parent without saying, “Just a minute!” I feel completely certain and confident about this. I also feel confident that it is completely impossible to remain calm when a small person starts counting to 60 after you tell them to wait a minute. You just have to completely lose it.  It is the only way.

After all, “wait a minute,” is secret, polite-sounding parenting code for, “I have to/want to do something else, you won’t leave me alone, I sort of hate you right now, I wish were by myself.” So, when your adorable, adoring tormentor stands right next to you and counts slowly to 60, well, I am actually so annoyed just remembering times when this happened that I can’t finish writing this sentence.

I blame the whole thing on Frozen. (I feel internet readers nodding their heads in understanding approval. I mean, I’ve heard some children–like my sister–did the ‘count to 60’ thing back in B.F. (the time ‘Before Frozen’), but I can’t remember specifics about the era before Frozen, and suspect it is all just legend). Other parents of Frozen fanatics, do you remember the part of the movie where Anna tells Olaf to wait ‘for a minute’? Then Olaf counts to 60 before barging in? I remember seeing that scene unfold in the theater for the first time like it was yesterday (I think I did see that scene yesterday, like I see Frozen scenes most days. But I remember the emotion of that first time: the foreboding; the horror).

“1, 2, 3 . . .”

“Nooooo. Disney would never teach children . . .”

“59, 60!”

“OH, NO. You. Did. Not.”

Yup, Disney did. Within days, Ella was counting to 60 when I asked her to wait for a minute. I quickly converted to “moment” but it was too late. A whole world of literal-ity had literally been born. And I had paid Disney for it. 

I’ll be right there.
Just one more minute.
We’ll talk about that later.
I am almost ready.

All of a sudden, there was no safe way to talk about time or the future. All was lost. Forever.

But, after a minute of reflection, I see the other side of my kids’ taking me literally: it can be wonderfully hilarious. I love the way their minds work. For example, Ella had her first soccer game earlier this week. She was excited. I was nervous. It was her first game, her first team sport, maybe her first time listening, and I didn’t know how it would go since she doesn’t have . . . an established track record of strong athletic performance or a record of listening to anyone ever.

On the way to the game, I tried to build up her confidence and impart my sports wisdom. Engage with her team. Pay attention to her coach (MI). Run fast. Be aggressive with the ball. Listen to instructions. Be fierce.

Be fierce

The game started and she really got in there, running with the feral pack of other six-year olds arrayed in an electron-like circle around the ball. She was an outer electron, to be sure, but she was responsive and generally moving with the atom, so I was happy.

Max_and his clawsExcept her run. She was running in this wild way, swinging her arms in front of her body, in strange arcs above her head. Her fingers were spread and rigid, scrunched like talon-ed claws. She looked pretty much exactly like Max when he dances with the wild things.

When her (dad) coach finally subbed her out, I whisper-yelled for her to come over and asked her what she was doing with that crazy run. So looked confused and answered that she was just doing it how I told her to.

Uhhhh. . . when did I say, run like Grendel? Zombie manicure barbie? Deranged beekeeper? Raptor in the Jurassic Park kitchen?

She clarified: I told her to “BE FIERCE.” Animals are the things that people usually describe as “fierce.” Fierce animals are hunters. They have claws. So, to be fierce, you need claws. If a soccer player wants to “be fierce” she should channel the behavior of a cat of prey, and run with her outstretched claws.

How do you respond to that? I gave her her water and went back to cheering for her team, looking closely for other kids who were as strange as mine. (There were several. I love kids.)

Take-a-ways

  1. Ella’s team needs to discuss and practice some of the basic principals of soccer, and I should probably stay out of it until the basics have solidified.
  2. “Just a minute” is no longer a safe place for me, so I need to just hide in the bathroom sometimes.
  3. “Frozen,” beautiful American cinematic animated masterpiece that it is, also has the power to ruin lives. Watch with care. And Disney, teach no pranks, complaints, or annoyances if you want me to buy any more beaded plastic shoes or princess-branded pink yogurt. (As I typed that, I realized we already need to not buy plastic shoes or pink princess yogurt. So that’s, like, take-a-way 3b.)
  4. Be fierce.

The Modernization of School Projects

Last week I attended Ella’s school’s “Art Showcase” to learn about how the teachers incorporate arts and technology into the standard curriculum. Ella loves school, brings home cool art, and seems to be learning a lot, so I was prepared to be generally impressed. Any organization that wants to provide the paint and glitter and do all of the clean up has my complete blessing. After all, at home we mostly just color computer-printed pictures of the Disney Princess Palace Pet “Blondie” over and over, so we probably need artistic backup.

D2's growing collection of Palace Pet print-outs.
D2’s growing collection of Palace Pet print-outs.

The showcase was also going to be a good chance for me to learn more about architecture class, one of her “specials.” I have heretofore been skeptical about architecture class because I figured it:

  1. Was in reality a class to appease the increasing number of helicopter parents trying to prep children too early and too aggressively for college, a northern-Virginia trend I fight hard to beat down.
  2. Would actually teach her about architecture and she would love it and then I’d have multiple people in the family who want to ‘appreciate and explore’ architecture. MI doesn’t need a partner in that crime.

After just one fourth-grade demo, though, I was completely on board. It was amazing to watch 8 year-old kids making scale models of Fort James on design software to complement a social studies project. I felt proud–if obsolete–to be raising, driving, and providing snacks to such geniuses. I now look forward to the future house Ella will design for me on her island.

Then I went to the demo of technology in storytelling–in Ella’s class!  She was so excited and reminded me beforehand to “remember my smartphone!” (I figured she wanted to star in lots of pictures and I was ready to snap away. Nope.) The demo included a project by each kindergartener where they had used a computer drawing program to illustrate the story of the Three Little Pigs. The children each recorded themselves narrating the story and then they pulled everything together into a video. I needed my smartphone to scan the QR code to pull up her specific project. After I hunted around the Google Play store for a QR reader ap, which I had not used before, I was ready to watch:

So, wow, right? I shared the link with my family (saving well over two dollars in postage, since you used to have to mail such things) and then had a few good laughs with my brother and sister about how we used to make dioramas in shoe boxes and I once won a state-wide prize for building a model that used parts from a toilet.

This is kindergarten education now, huh? Well, I am not backing away, afraid. (Why would you even think that?) The art showcase was school’s shot across the bow. And I will prepare. I am downloading apps. I am going to start reading all the fliers that come home (sorry, dear teachers, that we missed the one about recommended costumes for today’s 100th day of school festivities. Just saw that. . . Don’t worry, I recycled it.) And I am thinking of enrolling myself in the new STEM preschool that just opened in my neighborhood so that I can keep up.


 Time to step up art with Mom:

The time we took a piece of yellow paper and. . . painted it blue.
A tribute to the time we took a piece of yellow paper and… painted it blue.

Friends.

Friends never wake up at night, except to go independently to the bathroom or quietly solve their own problems.

Our family’s semi-annual trip to the dentist was a highlight of my day. They had this new, super comfy headrest and the hygienist hardly spoke while she polished my teeth, so I could just lay there with my eyes closed. Ahh, it was a day of appreciating the dentist chair.

The rest of the day had too much crying and whining and work presentations with mathematical content. While I was cooking dinner, I reached the end of my patience–hours earlier than usual. I normally make it smoothly until second bedtime until I lose it. Today, I lost it in the kitchen at a pan of potstickers that were supposed to be dinner and got unyieldingly stuck to the pan. (I just heard that in my head as I wrote it. WTF, potstickers!? I should probably feel like a moron, but I feel mad. Instead of just calling them “potstickers,” why don’t we address the underlying problem, Trader Joe’s?) Any way, as I was throwing a seventh-grade style fit at the Asian food in my kitchen, Ella interrupted to ask me to come help her find something. Something I had JUST handed her. (Originally, I blamed her first distraction for the potsticker situation. I’ll have to reevaluate that, given the new information.)

I told her to go look by herself. Three times. She got that I wasn’t caving, so she left. Not to look; to write me a note about my behavior.

To those who don't speak kindergarten phonetic, no-vowel spelling, it says, "Friends help each other [who knows] look for things."

To those who don’t speak kindergarten phonetic, no-vowel spelling, it says, “Friends help each other [who knows] look for things.

She brought it in, hung it on the dishwasher next to me, and cleared her throat.

Friends help each other. A beautiful lesson I taught her. Or Dora the Explorer. I am an advocate of “helping.” Not maybe at earlier today in the kitchen, but going forward, I think I can get behind this new model of friendship and communication. I have sayings ready for several new signs to deck out the house:

  • Friends appreciate a good stretch of silence every so often.
  • Friends moderate their use of hand soap. Seriously, D2.
  • Friends never wake up at night, except to go independently to the bathroom or quietly solve their own problems.
  • Friends do NOT need poop assistance of any kind. Ever.
  • Friends enjoy a wide variety of music, with each song in daily moderation.
  • Friends understand and make peace with the inevitable instance we forget something when leaving the house. They never just sob “I need my ___________” over and over in the car.
  • Friends LOVE having their hair fixed. Brushed, even styled. When it is time to style it, they hold still, admire your braiding skills, and remember not to immediately practice somersaults.
  • Friends always know the location of both mates to at least one pair of shoes at all times.

Excuse me. I am off to make these signs. And look for Ella’s thing.