For the past four years I have had the pleasure of watching my enchanting daughter grow and evolve from adorable infant to precocious and intelligent child. It's a magical experience that transcends any other I have ever had or likely ever will.
Also for the past four years I have subsisted on an endless series of cartoons to the exclusion of all else. World news passes me by because it's not in Dora's back pack. I legitimately believe hugs are the cure to all the world's problems. In the three minutes between when I drop my daughter off at daycare and when I get to work I slam the heaviest, most evil heavy metal I can find into my ears simply to keep the constant rainbows and songs of the woodland creatures from sanding the ridges off my frontal lobe.
I've begin noticing a pattern over the years. Nick Jr., Disney Jr., or PBS Sprout will introduce a new show. We'll watch the new show until its initial season is completed, and then we'll dance along to the next new thing. There are eight distinct stages to the damage this cycle does the adult mind. They are...
1. The Gratitude: For the first couple of episodes you are ridiculously grateful to just not be watching whatever the child was previously obsessed with. Everything with the new show looks wonderful and bright and new, and you have some hope that maybe you'll be able to share this show on a level with your child that doesn't leave you fantasizing about that liquid that they executed cartoons with in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
2. The Appreciation: While that new show smell is still wafting from your cable box you will begin to objectively appreciate the lessons that the show is trying to teach your child. Are they picking up solid math preparation from Team Umizoomi or learning about the importance of calm conversation to resolve personal problems from Kai-Lan? While this sounds like a wonderful place to be it's actually the beginning of your brain shutting down and hallucinating as it dies.
3. The False Hope: As long as new episodes of the show hold out you maintain a pretty solid grip on your mind. Within six or eight of these though you're probably going to start hitting the repeats. You hope, beg, and plead for the child to go ahead and find another new show. Finally, you give in and the second, third, or more round of watching begins.
4. The Ear Worm: Children's television today is ridiculously musical to a level where I am convinced it was developed by an evil wizard trapped in a world where he must always sing. Having now seen every episode of the show at least twice the theme song and other interludes burrow into your head using your guilt derived from asking your child to please not sing the Doc McStuffins song any more. Next thing you know, you're a grown person doing whatever it is you do to earn money and realize that you are unable to stop humming verses about a child that pretends to be a doctor to teddy bears.
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5. The Realization: Though they're made for children these shows are made by adults. Having now lost count of how many times you've seen a single episode, you start to notice that the people that make them are either throwing in gags from the time when they were children (and which are increasingly becoming nonsensical as the art moves away from the source), or as in the case of the latest incarnation of Scooby-Doo they are just out and out throwing references to Andy Warhol and Hellraiser just for the heck of it. These are basically like animated anti-psychotic pills that your insurance doesn't cover so you have to parse them out for emergencies.
6. The Hatred: At this stage you start actively thinking horrible things about the characters in the show. It's moments like this that you start whispering out of the side of your mouth about how Diego's jungle adventures are clearly a cover up for his parent's drug smuggling operation, or make derogatory remarks about the implied homosexuality of Rainbow Dash. It's not that you become racist or homophobic... it's just that having love shoved un-lubricated into every sensory organ in your body for weeks on end makes you vomit hate.
7. The Bargain: Somewhere between the fourth and fifth play through of the show you look for even the most tenuous signs of boredom from your child, and you seize each one to try and steer the kid towards something that you hope will not continue the eviction of adult thoughts and skills from your brain like they're dead beat tenants. I bet you never thought you'd have to beg a person to watch Sesame Street, but plead you will.
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You can sometimes break the cycle here, and even introduce your child to a film or show you love, but be warned: do you think the film The Wiz is cool? You won't after the twentieth time in a row you see it. Christ, that film is long.
8. The End: Finally, there's a trailer or commercial for something new your kid can't wait to see! No more of the same thing. You set the DVR, talk about how much you're going to enjoy the show together, and then you sit down.
And at first you just so grateful.