Maybe we are weird. We don’t like writing on clothes or accessories. We don’t like characters of any kind. Except Thomas the Tank, and even that took us a while to make peace with.
When Mom first started buying stuff for Shlomo, she bought almost exactly to our taste. 98% of the things she bought for him, I would have bought myself. The other 2% of things were tolerable, even if they weren’t great. When Shlomo was about 18 months, or maybe 2 years, old, that started changing. Slowly, of course. At first, I was still using most of the stuff she sent. But little by little, that changed.
There started being more words (those I still usually tolerate), more characters (I’ve tolerated most of these, too), and more black-and-red stuff and synthetic stuff (these I usually can’t stomach).
When Mom came to visit last summer, she brought a Dusty stuffed plane, and three or four Dusty books. And a Thomas book, too, but Diesel was naughty and Shlomo thought that it was funny – so even though Diesel changes his ways at the end, the book went to China.
Last week, I spoke to Mom, and her newest thing is Mario. She redecorated her basement, not because she had to, but because she wants to have an apartment for us for when we visit (?? Um, when we were there in your little apartment when Shlomo was a baby, it was great). And she made Shlomo a Mario room. Mario?! Seriously?!? She said, “He doesn’t have to know who that is, if you don’t want him to.” I said, “That depends; it’s limited, and it doesn’t always work.”
I tried to think of a way to politely tell Mom that we don’t like this American pop-star, movie-character culture. Honestly, I think she should understand; when raising their kids, she and Dad had a lot of the same opinions. Somehow, grandkids are different. So I said, as nicely as I could, “Ummm, Mom? Yitzchak and I are kind of anti-all-characters. Like, except for Thomas, because he’s pretty old and he has morals.” To which Mom replied, “Mario is as old as Thomas and he teaches some things, too.” I said, “Yes, well, Mario wasn’t written by a reverend who put tons of morals into every story.” On that point, she had to agree.
There are a few problems with these characters, Disney and otherwise:
- Children identify with them very strongly. This means that children learn from everything these characters do, and every little thing becomes increasingly poignant in their minds.
- If that weren’t enough, an entire industry has been created that revolves around persuading children that they need things with these characters on them. Clothes, backpacks, toys, books, blankets, dolls, building blocks, Lego sets – anything and everything is a valid target for “characterization.” This creates an unncessary, unhealthy, and undesirable obsession.
- And in addition, this obsession severely limits imagination, free thinking, and creative play.
- Instead of learning to buy simple, quality items, and make them last, children become obsessive and insistent on having everything include their favorite character. In other words, it feeds the “me” culture, which is a culture that, personally, I see as not only egoistic, but destructive as well.
- Since chances are that each child will obsess about a different character, passing things down can become a problem. If you want more than two or three children, not being able to pass things down the line becomes an even bigger problem.
- Most of these characters come with language issues: lines that they always say, ways (not necessarily respectful) that they say things, and sometimes swear words as well.
- Even if a child does not have television or video games in his house, his friends probably do, and so television, movies, and video games featuring the chosen character start to fill the child’s time, and head, replacing more valuable, genuine aspects of childhood.
And therefore, we heavily censor. We were given blankets and sheets with Thomas, but in practice, only the very-benign bottom sheet shows; the pillowcase and top sheet are stuffed away, and two blankets are covered by the bottom sheet, making a mattress on the floor of our room. We do not have TV, movies, or video games, nor do we have friends who have them. In fact, our son is the odd one out, the only one who has a Thomas character anything (Dusty, unfortunately, is more common). We do have books, and Thomas toys, but the moral is good and we are fine with it. Diesel, as we said, got put up high.
But the Dusty – oh, the Dusty. The small plane stays; the stuffed plane is advertised to be given away. Two puzzles will either be swapped, if I can find someone to swap with, or simply hidden or donated. The books – I will choose one, the one with the best lesson and the least stupidity (Dusty books are dripping with stupidity and bad lessons), and the rest will be donated to the library. The comforter and pillowcase he has never seen; the sheets are pretty benign, and they are in use, but soon I would like to get rid of them, because despite their benign-ness, Shlomo has recently identified the planes on them.
We may be weird, we may be obsessive, but please, do not send us anything with characters. Because from now on, please G-d, I will simply give it away. The world is full of bad teachers; I don’t want any in my house.