Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alphabet Pal and other bad influences



Before Graham was born Aron and I planned to forbid battery-operated toys in our house. Aron and I both have nieces and nephews who play with toys that yell at them in unintelligible mechanical voices and sing songs that sound like a car breaking down. Finding those sounds insufferably aggravating as an aunt made me worry about my maternal prospects. I worried that feeling overwhelmed at times by all things children—the way they enjoy being tossed onto a pile of pillows for hours; the way they like shows like Veggie Tales; the way they whine and are indefatigable—was a clear indicator of my parental unfitness. Anyway, we all know that beggars can't be choosers, and neither, evidently, can acceptors. Aron and I have accepted lots of battery-operated toys from generous (and disobedient) family members. They haven't threatened our sanity as I expected. The noises that amuse Graham don't annoy me at all. And although I get physically tired from chasing and emotionally tired from caring, it's never an overwhelming drag to crawl on the floor with Graham. Graham's good moods are so contagious. Because he likes his noisy toys, I like them too. But I still worry that singy, blinky toys encourage passivity—I don't know whether that's a reasonable worry, but it's an intuition I have. And I also worry that Graham will learn to repeat silly toy sentences, and a certain noisy toy called Alphabet Pal makes me think that's a valid worry, because Alphabet Pal, featured above with Graham, has been designed to avoid certain words.

Alphabet Pal is a plastic caterpillar with, yep, alphabet letters running along both sides of its body. The toy has a few different settings:  one makes Alphabet Pal sing the alphabet, one makes Alphabet Pal say the alphabet, and one gives the phonetics of each letter (so A is "ah.") If Alphabet Pal is on the phonetic setting, it won't play the S-sound if the P-, E-, -N-, and I-sounds are hit first; instead, Alphabet Pal giggles and exclaims, "That tickles!" I don't know if a giggly "That tickles!" is the best response the toy could give after a user nearly touches penis

I know that Alphabet Pal is ticklish because my husband I have the curiosity of children and the dirty minds of pre-teens. With each other's help, Aron and I got Alphabet Pal to pronounce handjob—cooperation was necessary because handjob is a longish word and its letters are spaced far from one another along Alphabet Pal's body. We were going to try cunnilingus after having success with handjob, but I think some sort of parenting task got in the way of our figuring out the sequencing. "Okay, I'll get the C, I, L, and G if you can hit the U's and the N's." Timing is the real challenge. I'm determined to try again soon:  does cunnilingus tickle Alphabet Pal? I've never seen Veggie Tales, but I know the show stars a penis and a vagina disguised as a cucumber and a tomato, so I didn't start the fire.

Graham isn't allowed to watch TV until he's three (for real), at which point he'll be restricted to high-quality, slow-paced, non-violent films, like … I don't know. Is there a director who combines the slow, meditative cinematography of Terrence Malick and (pre-Pineapple Express) David Gordon Green with the tenderly dark humor of Robert Altman's family dramas? It's fine if he's bored.

Graham reads neither my blog nor my thoughts, and he hasn't yet repeated anything Alphabet Pal has happened or been made to say. I hardly ever utter bad words in front of him, and Aron's teaching him Italian, and the occasions that I attempt to read him Latin are the ones when I, out of frustration, let bad words slip. "Tantum religio potuit, ummm, sadere, oops, shit, suadere malorum. That's why you can't watch Veggie Tales. Because Lucretius said so."      

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