When I first started writing this blog, I sought advice from a lot of people I trusted. One of my oldest mentors wrote back and sugarcoated nothing, calling the subject matter “treacley.” He went on to say, “It was a very lively read chock full of felicitous phrases –– but I don’t envy you the assignment, which will invariably entail a lot of hackneyed stuff about wacky bustling parades and bars that don’t close yada yada. My advice is start to home in on the smaller picture: little episodes in your everyday life that are emblematic and let the big picture resonate without spelling it out too much. E.B. White had to write his ‘One Man’s Meat’ column for Harper’s and ‘Talk of the Town’ column for the New Yorker about living in NYC, and in both cases he generally wrote sparkling little vignettes about his very personal observations, since, again, you can only do so much whacking away at the Big Themes with a croquet mallet.”
He was right, of course, and I absolutely worship E.B. White (though don’t get me started on Elements of Style, which is not in any way my favorite manual). E.B. White is an amazing and unattainable standard for which to strive.
But the problem is that I don’t have many episodes in my everyday life that are emblematic of anything. Most of my everyday life is typical and mundane –– pleasant and blessedly not newsworthy. I work in an office building in Metairie for most of my day, and then I go home and make tacos or chicken nuggets or spaghetti. I put on my sister-in-law’s old prom dress, and we play Cinderella. We play My Little Ponies. We watch a lot of television. We read a lot of books.
And so that’s the stuff I have insights on. That’s the stuff that makes my world go ‘round. Grocery store organization. One-pot suppers. Hidden sources of fiber. How bad meter in rhyming children’s stories makes me insane. How it’s hard to turn off the editor part of my brain –– it is a sad truth that I once methodically counted all the distinct words in I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words, fact-checking even during our beloved bedtime ritual. How good some kids’ shows are and how awful others are.
When Ruby was first old enough to watch TV, she loved Yo Gabba Gabba, and I did, too. It was quirky (“Don’t Bite Your Friends,” “There’s a Party in My Tummy”) with really great music and guest stars, like Amy Sedaris as the world’s creepiest tooth fairy. I’d hoped we could stretch Yo Gabba Gabba out until at least age 5. But no. No such luck. She quickly moved on to the barely tolerable Dora the Explorer and Wonder Pets and Max and Ruby.
Dora is OK, I guess, although the repetition of “I’m the Map” kind of makes me want to shoot my television, and Max and Ruby is sweet even though I wonder where the parents are and why Baby Huffington has no apparent first name. Is his first name just “Baby”? Who calls their child “Baby Last Name”? Is it a Canadian thing? Wonder Pets is often funny on a level that adults can appreciate, but I just cannot abide Ming Ming.
But the worst was yet to come. Ruby’s new favorite show is Pinky Dinky Doo. This show angers me in an irrational way that I can’t even begin to articulate. It’s just … just so needlessly weird. The worst part is that it teaches skills I really value: vocabulary, literacy, plot and character development. But it teaches these with a cheese sandwich-Gameboy hybrid and the insipid request, “Say cheese, please!” Why? Who thought to combine cheese sandwiches and handheld electronics? Why would someone do that? What does it mean? And the characters: Pinky Dinky Doo, Mommy Dinky Doo, Daddy Dinky Doo … and Tyler. Oh, and Mr. Guinea Pig, who pops up with a trumpet fanfare every time Pinky or anyone else uses a “great big fancy word.” I love great big fancy words, don’t get me wrong. But “panic” and “vanish” are not great or big or fancy; they’re just words. They don’t deserve a trumpet fanfare. Oh, and then there’s the song that plays twice an episode, the “yesarooni positooni” song. I started grinding my teeth just thinking about it. Even the theme song is annoying, and I generally love theme songs.
I know that I could just not let her watch it; I do. But the problem is that it comes on at 7:30 a.m., right around the time she wakes up and climbs into bed with me, and I always think I can get a few more minutes of sleep if I just let her cuddle up and watch TV in my bed. It doesn’t work that way, of course: I lie awake just thinking about how much the show annoys me, and I end up scrambling to get us ready for school and work, and really, I know, I should just get up at 7:30 and make my peace with it and make some coffee and not have to rush around last-minute-crazy trying to comb Ruby’s curls and pack her lunch and make sure my shoes match. But I don’t do that. I never do that. I say, “Climb on in, baby,” and turn on Pinky Dinky Doo and seethe. Some patterns are just so hard to break.
And maybe that’s the lesson here, maybe that’s emblematic of something, maybe that’s something universal I can extract from this privileged middle-class tale of woe.
So what patterns can you not seem to break out of? What bad habits do you cherish?