quick and easy

Shipoopi! Shipoopi! Shipoopi!

“Say MAP!”

Anyone who has a small child in the United States probably recognizes that line. And you probably started wincing, just hearing the sound of it in your head.

I hate Dora.

Yes, I know. Hate is a strong word. It’s a vile word, in most ways. And I’m very aware of my words these days. A couple of weeks ago, we were having lunch with dear friends. Lu and Hickory were giggling with each other at the table, licking each other’s hands and laughing. Gypsy told me something funny and I laughed. Then I said, as I always do, “Oh my god, you’re killing me.” Lucy looked up immediately, grew very quiet, and then said, “Mama, killing is wrong. It means someone dies. You cannot say killing.”

I gulped in a breath. She was right. And I told her so. That moment, I realized I need to choose my words as consciously in speech as I do in writing.

Lucy’s starting to read. She told us the other day about a book we had checked out from the library, “Mama, I was sort of kind of reading a lot of those words by myself.” We weren’t surprised, since she has been pointing out words on buildings and signs. And we can’t even spell around her anymore. Recently I said to Danny on a sunny day, “Hey, should we stop at the P L A Y G R O U N D, if we have time?” Lucy rose up enthusiastically. “Yes, yes! We must go to the playground.” Damnit. I guess we can’t spell around her anymore.

But she doesn’t read this site yet.

So I can still write it: I hate Dora.

I know it’s supposed to be pleasant and educational, with a loveable band of tumbled-together friends. And it’s lovely that a major television show uses Spanish. But if Latina girls are supposed to feel proud they are being represented in mainstream media, they need a better role model. That Dora is annoying.

Lucy watches a little television each day. She’s so visual, swallowing images with her eyes and breathing it all in. The other day, we were at Children’s Hospital in Seattle for her once-every-two-years checkup after her skull surgery. (She’s good! And she’s probably the only kid I know who took her CT photos of her skull to preschoool show and tell.) After a day of waiting, appointments, CT scans, and walking through the hospital, she started drawing on a white board in the doctor’s office. Her drawing looked vaguely familiar. When we asked her about it, she said, “This is the hospital, where we have walked so far. Here’s the aquarium near the entrance. Here’s the long hall Mama and I walked down for the cat scan. Here’s the doctor’s office where we’re sitting.” Damned if it wasn’t entirely accurate. This girl remembers everything.

And stories. Oh my, how she loves stories. We read Charlotte’s Web and The Wizard of Oz and the junior novelization of Brave (she loved that movie, the only one she’s seen in the movie theater) together in bed, she and Danny and I. At least once a day she settles a stack of books next to me on the couch and climbs into my lap so we can read 20 books in a row. She lives in her imagination. I’d like to live there. She imagines good stories, with many imaginary friends. Tell her a story if you want her to understand something. Sometimes, all it takes to calm her when she’s frustrated about not getting something she wants is for me to lean down, put a hand on her shoulder, and say in a soft voice, “You know, I remember when I was a little girl, I felt frustrated about this too.” It’s Once Upon a Time and she quiets, immediately.

So visual + stories + never stops moving + swims every day for an hour + plays outside even in the cold and rain + the thousand brilliant lights and funny noises of the day swarming through her head = an hour of television in the late afternoon when she needs a little down time.

(Please don’t write to me to tell me I’m ruining my child’s mind by letting her watch some movies. Last year a very well-meaning woman wrote that I was damaging Lucy by letting her watch Sesame Street. That’s just plain silly.)

And so, she loves Curious George and Madeline. We seem to have grown out of the Wiggles, thank god. There’s a little bit of Bob the Builder or Fireman Sam. Mama still loves the old Electric Company. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader is a revelation now. I was busting happy when she fell in love with Free to Be You and Me. But mostly, it’s old musicals.

A couple of years ago now, I showed her That’s Entertainment, a great compliation of the best moments from MGM musicals that I remember loving in the 1970s. She didn’t move. She stared at the screen, mesmerized, until she stood up to dance. Within a few days, she was telling people how much she loved Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She has music in her heart, this one.

(The real star, for her, is Esther Williams. Do we have the only four-year-old who adores Esther Williams? Perhaps. But combine swimming and music and Busby Berkeley? She wants to be Esther Williams when she grows up. And a baker.)

So we started watching the movies themselves, this year, when she was ready for the longer form. There was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (I was singing Truly Scrumptious for months.) And then The Sound of Music, which caused her to bound up and down the stairs, singing So Long, Farewell! many many times. Shirley Temple came next. And then Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

(We might have the only four-year-old who has a running dialogue about the Nazis, since they’re the bad guys in both The Sound of Music and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But she grows confused because the Nazis are so polite in both of them.)

Fridays are family movie night here. Pizza and a movie. This past Friday, we started her on The Music Man. She hasn’t stopped singing Shipoopi! since then.

This is why I hate Dora. (Ah, you thought I’d lost the thread, didn’t you?) Old musicals, The Electric Company, Free to Be You and Me — they’re about relationships between people, about complex situations, with humor that’s pretty far above the head of a four-year-old. But somehow, she’s getting it.

Dora’s bossy. She’s vapid. And that voice. Cheese grater on fingertips, that voice. Stop talking like that.

I’d rather Lucy be exposed to something smart that she doesn’t entirely understand than watch a show programmed by advertising executives and tv producers to be right at her perceived maturation level.

But then again, she’s a kid. It can’t all be as rational as the sentence I wrote above.

So, the other day, when she put a Dora book about manners on the top of our pile of books from the library, I said Sure. When she asked me to read it to her, again and again, I kissed the top of her head and said, You bet.

And when she pointed out the bowl of arroz con leche on the feast table on the last pages, I had an idea. We moved to the kitchen together. She stood on a chair and scooped some warm brown rice from the rice cooker. I combined a little coconut milk and some date puree we’ve been playing with lately. (Soak dates in hot water and then put it in the blender. It’s a great sweetener.) Some scrapings from a vanilla bean. A scratch of nutmeg. We mixed it all up together in the pot, and I let Lucy stir at the stove. She felt so important. At the last moment, I tossed in an egg and let Lucy stir until the last traces of egg disappeared. The rice pudding thickened.

We sat down at the table with Danny to eat our breakfast.

Okay, Dora, I’ll give you that. You gave us arroz con leche with Lucy one day.

But seriously, I don’t want to say MAP.