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A Classic Conundrum

Most of the women on my 4th grade teaching team are my contemporaries, born in the late 70s or early 80s. However, there’s one who always makes me feel old.

“You’ve never seen Say Anything?” I asked her one day at lunch, incredulous she had gotten so far in life without witnessing Lloyd Dobbler, boombox overhead, blasting “In Your Eyes”.

I’ve always been astonished, and also appalled, at the younger generation’s dearth of pop culture knowledge. So many John Hughes movies unwatched, Wham! songs unknown. It seems criminal and un-American. I felt the same when discussing certain books and movies with my students.

“Are you kidding? You’ve never heard of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?”

I wondered how this could be allowed – children turning nine without Willy Wonka or Dorothy Gale, Mickey Mouse or Tom & Jerry. Whenever encountering kids with such deprivation, I always vowed mine would be different.

Yes, my daughter would be well-versed in all the classics – whether it be books or movies, songs or plays. Now, at two years, eight months and five days, she names that Nutcracker tune in only three notes, regularly skips down her own Yellow Brick Road, and is getting to know the Seven famous Dwarfs. We witness Frosty melting and the Grinch stealing Christmas. Each medium has its own set of magic – snappy songs and cool colors, courageous characters and fancy phrases. But lately, I’ve been second guessing my judgment.

A few nights ago, my sister forwarded an email with this subject:

“Leapin’ Lizards! Early access to Annie tickets,” and then she wrote, “We should go!”

Of course we should. What’s a childhood without the sun coming out tomorrow? And besides, Annie has a special place in my heart. After all, Tod starred as Sandy in two separate productions. So, as usual prior to taking Autumn to the theater, I played the film and, once again, was reminded that no matter how many times I’ve watched something, it’s monumentally different with a two-year-old by my side.

Did you ever notice Mrs. Hanigan is a slutty alcoholic? Her presence got me thinking of all the other disturbing characters present in so many famous stories. There are too many real-life shootings nowadays for characters like Mike TeVee from Willy Wonka to be funny, and far too many independent and beautiful plus-size women for Disney to continue popularizing anorexic dependent princesses. I came to a realization: Perhaps the parents of my students weren’t negligent after all, but rather cognizant of the detrimental messages some of the classics might be sending. Among them, women should be size zero, and love from a man is essential to lift one from despair. Frankly, my dear, it’s a conundrum – between the way I thought I would raise my daughter, and what I’m learning might be better.

It’s a fact that pop culture affects development, and it’s also impossible to avoid. My nieces are teens, always Be Real-ing and TikTok-ing. It’s foreign and frightening, the thought of Autumn one day navigating the pop culture social media landscape. It’s too overwhelming to worry that far into the future, and so I focus on today’s problem: Am I making choices in her best interest?

Every night, we lie together, and I ask Autumn what the best part of her day was. Today, she reached her hand behind her and tapped my head. And even though she chooses me often, I’m still touched every time.

“Aww. Thank you,” I say, and I’m reminded that regardless of the plays and movies she watches, the books she reads, and the songs she hears, I’m still her biggest influence. I think of my own issues, and never have I attributed them to my watching hours of The Flintstones and The Great Space Coaster, or reading Cinderella and Dumbo. And all things considered, I didn’t turn out so bad. I also think about how the story themes – good triumphs over evil and never give up, benefits come to those who wait and treat others how you’d like to be treated – are everlasting, and with all that in mind, I take comfort, and I…

Mommy On.

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