Monday, April 8, 2019

Bonus Material! The Nostalgia of Children's TV Theme Songs

In the weeks leading up to Mama, Mama, Only Mama's release, I am going to share some of my beloved chapters that didn't make the final book.  Here's the first:


The Nostalgia of Children’s Theme Songs 
Before I had children, I kept the television on for company any time I was home, mostly tuned to CNN or Law and Order. If I was cleaning the house, I turned on all the TV’s in the house to the same channel so I could move between rooms and not miss much. After Big Pants was born, I couldn’t stand to watch anything with any violence in it at all—my hands shook, my heart beat rapidly as I pictured all the mothers of the victims. Yet, I still couldn’t stomach silence, so I switched over to children’s programing during the day, and watched America’s Funniest Home Videos at night. The baby woke so frequently that I couldn’t follow a series from one week to the next. 

Big Pants watched the Boobahs as I got ready for work, and if for some reason they weren’t on, our day went to hell.  I had mocked my friends who let their babies watch TV before I had children, but I quickly learned that if I wanted to shower, the Boobahs were my best friends.  After I quit my job—he took his first steps when he was nine months old and I was at work, and I never went back to the office—our mornings were spent with Dora the Explorer, and Go, Diego, Go! (I once had a sexy dream about Murray on The Wiggles, as he was one of the only men to appear in my living room, albeit only on the screen.) I was fond of The Wonder Pets and the bizarre Yo, Gabba Gabba.  After we moved out, though, cable was the first thing I cut from the budget. Instead of the DVR and 8,000 channels Daddy Pants had, I paid $25 a month for the most basic of basic TV.  

            “Mama, can you pause this? I have to go potty,” Big Pants asked.
            “Mama’s TV doesn’t pause,” I replied. He was dumbstruck. How could a TV not pause? 

Daddy’s TV paused, and the DVR allowed him to watch whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it.  The idea that shows only came on at a certain time was incredibly frustrating to my three-year-old. Eventually, he adjusted, and managed to figure out the difference between DVDs, which did pause, and regular TV that didn’t. Luckily, our PBS station ran children’s shows all day long, though after Sesame Street at 5:30, they switched to grown up programing because they obviously didn’t care about our happiness. 

I don’t want you to think that all we did was watch TV, rather it was just always on. Mostly I sat on the floor and played Thomas the Tank Engine. Now, even though I had always considered myself a creative person, I was out of the habit of pretending. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the trains, so I mostly assembled the track and left the trains to Big Pants. Playdoh I was better at, but I didn’t get to really play with it, because it turns out that playdoh is very hard to get out of carpeting and babies are both quick and sneaky. But even though our playdoh time was spent in the dining room, the living room television sang to us: Sid the Science Kid, Super Why, and the dinging bells of Thomas, of course. Because our television shows changed with the divorce, their theme songs became triggers of wistfulness.   

When I now hear Dora, Dora, Dora the Explora! It brings me back to the time when I was married, just like The Red Hot Chili Peppers can flash me back to college. The theme song has become nostalgic, but loaded. I remember the clean carpeting of our house, and the hope I once had for our life there.  Also, though, it reminds me of the night that I knew I had to leave.  I had been clicking away at the computer in the corner of the playroom, ignoring Big Pants as he ran in circles around his play table. When I looked down, Tiny Pants had fallen asleep on a blanket on the floor.  It was the first time he had not fallen asleep in my arms. On the one hand, I was glad that he was an easy sleeper, but on the other, I knew that although I was physically present that evening, I might as well have been across town for all the attention I was paying to my children.  This wasn’t the type of mother I wanted to be.  I needed to stop obsessing about what to do about my marriage and just do something, otherwise my children would grow up while my face was turned towards computer screen. I couldn’t afford to live in the online world when my children needed me in the real one.  

Even now, ten plus years later, the cheery tunes of Go, Diego Go! send up a yearning, a feeling of trapped hopelessness in stark contrast to the cartoonish voices. Divorce is just weird sometimes.  Perhaps in ten more years it will be the theme from MythBusters or Young Sheldon that will return me to the past, but those memories will be of laughing with my children around the table, not of the angst of knowing it was time to go.