Moving outside the Muppets
After a year of nonstop “Muppets,” it’s finally happening. My 17-month-old son will actually sit — with varying degrees of success — through other programs. “Sesame Street” is rising in the ranks, as is “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Animated movies like “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” have been distracting Oliver long enough for me to empty the dishwasher without little hands reaching for butter knives. They also hold his attention when my husband and I need to sit for a moment — just one tiny, tiny moment.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t plunk the kid in front of the ol’ boob tube and take off. But I’d love to meet a parent who doesn’t occasionally rely on Mickey Mouse or “Paw Patrol” to entertain a busy toddler, even for 10 minutes, because . . . well, because I’d love for you to tell me all your secrets. I’ll make coffee.
Since Oliver was 6 months old, the Muppets — Jim Henson’s lovable, colorful puppet-monsters — have been our constant companions. When Ollie came down with a nasty virus last fall, the sight of Kermit the Frog was literally the only thing to calm him.
Miss Piggy, Scooter and Dr. Teeth are honorary members of the Johnson family. When their ABC reboot show was cancelled earlier this year, I went into mourning. The new TV show has seen us through some dark days and even darker nights — nights when our baby’s cheeks would stream with tears until Animal appeared to soothe him. And us.
The Muppet movies have been mildly entertaining for Ollie, but nothing has topped the 22-ish minutes of peace that the TV episodes have granted us. Spencer and I can recite every word of the eight episodes still on our DVR, and we often reenact them for Oliver. (I’m Miss Piggy, of course.)
This bothers me less than I thought it would. Before I had kids, the thought of having to watch children’s programming would turn my brain to mush. Fresh from my parents’ house, I was excited to finally have power over the remote control. Spencer is pretty laid back, content to work on his laptop in the evenings, so I was typically free to binge on all the cooking shows I wanted.
Why would I want Elmo to come in and ruin the fun?
What I couldn’t have realized was how little I would soon care what — if anything — was on television. (Provided it was age-appropriate, of course.) If a half hour of Abby, Big Bird and friends explaining rainbows would give me a chance to sip my long-cold coffee, let’s do this.
Now that Oliver is walking, getting him to focus on something that isn’t his feet carrying him away in a game of cat-andmouse is even more challenging. He delights in jogging away from us, heading to one of the few parts of the downstairs that remain off-limits to him. We’ve had most of the house baby-proofed for months, but sometimes I’ll still slip up and leave my purse on a low table or forget a water bottle where he can reach.
Ollie is obsessed with caps and lids, so finding the water bottle creates a power struggle that wears me out. Handing him an uncapped bottle is like giving a 16-year-old his own sparkly car keys — until Oliver goes to “drink,” essentially falling into a dunk tank instead. (We’re working on that.)
Spencer and I got a little arrogant with this whole “watching non-Muppets programming” thing. Desperate for a break last Friday, Spencer scrolled through a list of available cable flicks until he found a childhood favorite: “A Goofy Movie.”
This 1995 Disney classic enjoys a cult following. The soundtrack is undeniably catchy, with Powerline’s anthems being the type to get stuck in your head for decades. When the film started, I was surprised by how quickly the dialogue came back to me . . . likely from my sister and I watching it on repeat as kids.
Spencer and I don’t share many childhood memories, despite being born just a year apart — so it was sweet for me to sing along to these old songs with my husband, laughing at our middle-school selves. It was also one of our first attempts at sharing something we once loved with Oliver, a cross-generational moment where you hope your child will take to a film like you did. He did not, of course. It was too soon. He’s only a year and a half. The “classic” animation failed to hold his attention the way, say, a Pixar-produced film does, and I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. I’m a Millennial raising a child in an age far more modern than I enjoyed as a kid, so I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked when my toddler reaches for our smartphones.
Well, he reaches for them . . . but we don’t let him touch them. Yet.
So I guess we have that going for us.