Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Entertainment, envy and exotic fauna

My kids are both nuts about "Go Diego Go", the Nickelodeon television show. Diego is Dora the Explorer's cousin, his spinoff show is the "Knots landing" to Dora's "Dallas". He rescues animals in distress, aided by his cousin Alicia, who always gets to drive the big truck, pilot the helicopter or captain the ice breaker ship. I like the show too, it is admirably gender equitable, has a healthy dose of conservationism, and teaches interesting facts about a dizzying array of exotic animals.

We are little peculiar about TV in our house, "one of those families" who listened to the American Academy of Pediatrics and decided to limit TV time. Geekygirl had barely seen the television until she was two years old. Since then we have introduced it, and we watch DVD's of my choosing for a couple of hours on weekend mornings. Now my kids are in daycare/preschool every day, I hasten to add, where there is no TV. Were I home with them more often I have no doubt far more TV would be consumed. I like TV myself, and think that the quality of what is watched is more important than pure screen time. You can read rubbish and you can watch good things on TV. (Sometimes at the same time, I often watch a NOVA special while reading Us magazine).

But still, we ration it, and the result of this rationing means that Geekygirl loves television with a passion, and clamors voiciferously for more than her alloted allowance. Geekyboy has watched TV from a much younger age, as I"m sure most younger siblings do, and is also quite the addict. We have a selection of preschool shows on DVD, British ones like Charlie and Lola, Peppa Pig and Bob the buildler (who has been dubbed with a midwestern accent, sadly), and US classics like Blues Clues, Sesame St, and the aforementioned Dora and Diego.

The kids play "Diego" all the time, saving imaginary exotic animals from equally unusual predators. I'm convinced of the intellectual value of the show when I hear my kids say things like:

"No, I a Chinchilla" (geekyboy, when asked if he was pretending to be a mouse)

"Mummy, this is a caymen, which is smaller than an alligator" (Geekygirl, playing with a small plastic crocodilian)

"Mummy, Geekydog is an okapi. Have long purple tongue " (Geekyboy upon being licked by the dog. An okapi is a member of the giraffe family, in case you were wondering. I told you it was an educational show!)

It has made for some hilarious linguistic mistakes too, the best being when Geekygirl, misremembering "Howler Monkey" told us that she was rescuing "Humper monkeys"!

Geekyboy has just turned two. Before the birthday arrived I popped to Toys r us on the way home from work to get him a gift or two. I found with the first child each birthday was an opportunity to expand our toy collection, to get something newly age appropriate. With Geekyboy I struggle with the idea of buying yet another toy to add to the vast collection we seem to have accumulated. But in the store I noticed something perfect. A Diego toy set, with the adventurer himself in poseable plastic, a lovely "Gentle Ben" style fan boat for him to pilot and best of all a couple of animals to rescue, a crocodile and what looks like a wild pig.

Geekyboy loved the gift on first sight. He was jumping up and down waiting for me to get Diego and his accessories out of the package and once freed, immediately took them off on an adventure.  He decided the pig-like animal was an okapi, based on his favourite episode, and I have yet to correct him. This would have been a lovely moment, there is nothing I love more than giving my kids something special that fills them with happiness. However I had not factored in the green eyed monster. Geekygirl couldn't stand it. She wanted so badly for that toy to be hers. No matter that she had just five days before had her own birthday and a not inconsiderable pile of loot. I had even given her a small present to open, while Geekyboy opened his, anticipating some jealously over her brother's gifts (My parents had to do this with me, apparently), but her desire for his toy was uncontrollable. Her frustration that she couldn't have it was extreme and very loud. It wasn't a happy birthday moment. It made me wonder if she gets her own way too often, so incapable was she of dealing with her feelings of desire and disappointment.

Diego and his boat were the source of contention for the rest of the day. I had what I thought was a good solution. The kids both had some birthday money to spend. I also needed to get a  gift for a birthday party we were going to so the following day I took the kids to the store and let them both choose another toy in the "Diego + rescue vehicle" series (the birthday party boy got one too. I'm sincerely hoping that this toy is not the cause of the same intense sibling rivalry in his home, or his mother will be cursing me).

Problem solved, I thought. How wrong I was. We now have three Diego's, three vehicles (the boat, an ATV with a trailer, and a truck with a extendable bucket like a telephone pole fixing van), two alligator/caymens, two wild pig/okapis and two humper howler monkeys. But both kids always seem to want the same Diego (the one with the crash helemet that goes with the ATV), and the same vehicle (the bucket truck). They have been fighting and howling over these toys for days now.

I'm at my wits end. When they place nicely it is lovely imaginative play, fascinating to observe. I have even seen some moments of generosity and some evidence of negotiation ("you can have crash helmet Diego and I'll have the truck, then we can switch in ten minutes"). But more often than not I hear wailing, Diegos get chucked across the room and everyone is in hysterics. I finally took them all away for a while.

I"m still a little mystified as to why these particular toys have brought out the demons in my children. Learning how to resolve conflict over resources is supposed to be one the the great life lessons we learn from having siblings, I tell myself as I wonder whether, when and how to intervene in the latest Diego induced spat, sorely regretting the day I let the little buggers into the house. The Diegos, not the children, I mean!

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who's children went to a Waldorf philosophy preschool. When she asked how the teachers deal with conflicts over toys she was told "Oh, the kids don't really fight over the toys, because the toys they have are all really boring"!

Right now I'm sorely tempted to take all of their colorful bounty away and replace it with a couple of hoops and sticks.