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The Diva is watching TV. It is a strange turn of events.

Before, it was simply another piece of furniture, albeit one that occasionally displayed colorful images she adored. Baby Mozart, the toddler set's MTV created by the evil genius Julie Aigner-Clark, was a perennial fave and reliable enough that it could provide 23 minutes worth of unencumbered time to grab a shower or load the dishwasher or scream in the freezer. Sometimes, those 23 minutes of having the tot glued to the big glass teat and out of your hair are worth sacrificing a few points off of her future standardized test scores. 

Baby Mozart and his other composer buddies Beethoven and Bach used to keep the Diva enthralled, eager to find out which toy would be next up for the disembodied hand to play with or which puppets would fall prey to a spot of slapstick. As she got older, she would act out what was coming next. If a picture of a cow was next up, the Diva would holler "moo!" If shapes were next, she'd name them all as they were manipulated. 

But, soon, Baby Mozart didn't grease her wheel anymore. She knew all of his infantile tricks. The Diva was craving the hard stuff. The first step to treats beyond Aigner-Clark's empire was Paz, that lovable penguin from TLC's commercial-free children's programming block. Paz, unfortunately, doesn't have his own show and is dosed out in seven minute increments between the "real" programs like Brum, a very British show with a narrator who explains how brave a battery-operated car can be. Bad people are easy to spot on Brum, simply because they always steal the wackiest things, like sequined dresses or golden toilets. If you make it through Brum, there's the Save-Ums, a very Canadian cartoon about little aliens who pal around with monkeys and bats. I suspect it's an allegory about U.S./Canuck relations, otherwise it just makes no sense whatsoever.

But, soon, maintenance doses of Paz and his dim little friends Pig and Dog weren't enough for the child. She needed more. More! And so we discovered Noggin, the crack of kid's TV. Unlike it's older sibling Nickelodeon, Noggin offers up the treats that make a toddler's blood race. Like, Dora the Explorer, who, until two weeks ago, was the Diva's favorite cartoon character. She can easily identify all of the principle players. "Boots," she'll enthuse when the galoshes-wearing monkey appears. (Yeah, I don't know why he wears 'em either.) "Swiper," she'll hiss when the sneaky fox turns up. While she likes Dora and her adventures, the Diva seems most taken with Tiko, the lovable squirrel in a colorful vest. Just like the motions of the celestial spheres, the ways of the toddler are beyond my ken.

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Dora and the Diva drifted apart not long ago, over issues known only to them. Perhaps it was simply because we've seen all of the episodes Noggin has available -- the only downside of commercial-free TV is the limited number of episodes. Perhaps it was simply an imagined slight, one unintended by both parties. Regardless of the cause, the Diva has moved on. Sure, she still wants to read her Dora books, but the magic of the show has waned. 

What has replaced it is Oobi, the world's most cost-effective puppet. Oobi is simply a hand and two plastic eyes affixed to said hand. Despite its simplicity, the result is magical -- even I have to agree. Somehow, these talking hands -- Oobi, his sister Uma, his caretaker Grandpu and his best friend Kako -- can craft nuance and meaning with sparse tools and language. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must mention that through some strange coincidence -- mostly because I'm one of those freaks who reads credits -- I discovered that I know Oobi's art director from my high school debate years. Malchus Janocko, a name one doesn't easily forget, went to the academically- challenging Catholic school. I went to the open-to-all public school across town. We would see each other at speech and debate meets that both our schools frequented. He was a cutie, who seemed to have eyes for one of my friends, whose name was, I kid you not, Laura Ashley. But I digress.)

Only one kids' show tops Oobi in my eyes: Bear in the Big Blue House -- which I find delightful and the Diva wants nothing to do with. Instead she is drawn to Maisy, which makes my teeth grind, and Oswald, which makes my fists clench. Toddlers these days, I tell you.

I find all of this surprising, to tell you the truth. It's not so much that her fascination with the idiot box that is startling as it is my response to it. I wanted to be all hard-core about mindless entertainment and keep her away from it as much as possible. It hasn't worked out that way. A lot of it has to do with the quality of children's programming. When I was a kid, with the exception of the PBS stuff like Sesame Street, Electric Company and Zoom, TV was a sugary paradise with little nutritional value. Thanks to those PBS shows, the bar was raised on what was acceptable. Now you'll still find the junk food, but there are quite a few apples and bran in the mix, too. Plus it all tastes better than it should. 

The credit is also with the Diva herself. There are moments, certainly, where she does the whole couch potato thing, eyes glassy and hypnotized by the pretty lights. But those moments are few. Usually, we're reading books or she's chasing the cat or climbing the furniture. When there is music, she'll stop long enough to dance, then continue on her path of wanton chaos. She takes what she needs. Lately, it's been words that she hears on the tube, which then later turn up in conversation. First time it happened, I was stunned, convinced that nothing good could come from the telly. After a while, I remembered how I wouldn't know much about our legislative system or conjunctions had it not been for Schoolhouse Rock. Easy Reader helped me decode words. You take knowledge where you find it. 

Granted, this is one of those parenting divides, with a firm line drawn between the laissez-faire and the anti-advocates. Others may feel that my liberal TV policies are akin to abuse, that the Diva should be forced to do flashcards instead of bonding with Oobi. So be it. Personally, though, a world without Blue, Steve and Tickety is not one that is nearly is rich as it can be.

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About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper and pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. She is a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse and recently picked up an AAN award for feature writing. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and crams knowledge into the heads of college students in Upstate New York. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, and wife to Scott. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com

 

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