It is probably one of the most magical moments in cinematic history, and one that didn’t require much high-tech special effects.
In the 1939 musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz, we meet Dorothy Gale, who lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in a farm in sepia toned Kansas. Dorothy and her dog Toto get into trouble when Toto goes into Miss Almira Gulch’s garden and bites her. The cruel Miss Gulch secures permission from the sheriff to take Toto away. Toto manages to escape and when he gets back to Dorothy, she decides to run away. They meet Professor Marvel, a phony fortune teller, who manages to convince her to return home on account of her possibly sick aunt. A powerful tornado whirls through the land as Dorothy makes her way home. Unable to get into the cellar, she goes to her bedroom where she is knocked down by the window. When she regains consciousness, she realizes that their house has been lifted by the twister.
The house finally lands and when Dorothy opens the door, sepia gives way to brilliant technicolor as she steps into Munchkinland.
At that precise moment, our four year old daughter Ruby gasped and her beautiful almond eyes grew big with pure wonder. This was also my first time to watch this movie (I know, I know… where have I been right?) but my daughter’s excitement far exceeded my world-weary brand of awe. It was one of those priceless moments that simply cannot be replayed or rewinded and my husband and I were extremely lucky to have witnessed it.
“Mommy! Daddy! You should have your wedding there!” Ruby said, pointing to the colorful square of Munchkinland.
Throughout the movie, they would intermittently point to something and say “Did you just see that?” or declare “That’s so scary! Is it going to stop?” or “That’s so sad. I almost had a small cry.”
After we watched the movie in two installments (we rarely ever finish a movie in one sitting), the kids would recount their favorite scenes. For Ruby, it was when the Wicked Witch of the West melted upon contact with water. She also someday hopes to own a pair of ruby red shoes just like Dorothy’s. I would overhear the kids reenacting scenes from the film (i.e. “Chuckie, you are the bad witch and I’m the good witch”) or be directed on what to do (i.e. “Mommy, say, “Fly, monkeys! Fly!” then both of them would pretend to be the flying monkeys flying away from me as we walk to school.)
Watching TV (and movies for that matter) is often vilified in parenting do’s and don’ts, largely due to violent and sexual content, to commercialism and stereotypes unwittingly promoted, as well as the sedentary nature of watching, robbing kids of time that might have been spent outside in play. But it need not be all bad.
Since we’ve been married, we never had a television in the house (and my husband has not had a television for even longer than that) and we never really felt like we’ve been missing anything. We both have laptops on which we can play DVDs and watch TV shows and other videos streamed on the internet. A few months ago, we received a sizable flat screen TV from a friend who moved and it’s been perfect to watch movies with — an almost theater-like experience with no need to crowd around the tiny screen of the laptop (with little voices complaining “I can’t see! I can’t see!”). We bring in the super soft and generous fake patch of grass we got from the home center and set it up in front of the TV, turn off the lights and it feels like we have combined movie theater and park.
I could see, though, how easy it is to slip into using the TV (or iPad) as a babysitter to get some uninterrupted periods of time. Turn on the moving pictures and kids sit quietly. I confess to employing this free babysitter many times myself. Sesame Street clips and 25-minute Cat in the Hat cartoons have helped keep the kids out of trouble while I prepare dinner. They give me enough time to do the parts of cooking that require my full attention like deep frying.
Most of the time though, I like watching with the kids. I enjoy learning what things tickle them, what things catch their attention, what things they find curious. Recently, we have begun watching Doraemon cartoons together – me to learn colloquial Japanese and the kids, well, who doesn’t like Doraemon and all the wonderful gadgets he has? TV can be a great tool for meaningful connection and interaction with the kids. Had I told my husband, “Go watch The Wizard of Oz with the kids while I catch up on my emails and my reading,” I would have missed a golden opportunity to connect with my family.
One of our favorite series to watch is Charlie and Lola, a British animated series based on children’s books written by Lauren Child. Each episode is about 11-12 minutes long (a perfect length for toddlers) and begins with Charlie saying “I have this little sister Lola. She is very small and very funny”. I love how Charlie and Lola are delightfully playful, imaginative, and yes, funny in a way that real children are. The series provide stimulus for the kids’ own play. In the episode “I really absolutely must have glasses” Lola is going to the optician and has decided that she must have glasses. Charlie tells her that she will only get glasses if she really needed them and so Lola pretends not to be able to see properly. In the end, Charlie comes up with the creative solution of making Lola a pair of glasses from cardboard. The desire to wear glasses is something Ruby can relate to – she wants to wear one just like I do even though she doesn’t need to. Just like Charlie and Lola, we had a lot of fun making her a pair of heart-shaped cardboard glasses studded with glitters.
There is a lot of good stuff on TV but the key is to allow children talk about what they are seeing even though it interrupts the movie (the pause button is helpful here!) and to ask them questions later to process what they have seen. It is also very important to direct and limit usage so that TV doesn’t become their go-to source of entertainment. TV is a lot of fun but there are many many many other fun things to do as well. As Ruby authoritatively tells her brother when he wants to watch TV, “Sometimes we watch and sometimes we don’t.”