Posted by jdg | Monday, August 06, 2007 | ,

I get a lot of e-mails asking whether we've remained as rigid with our no-television policy for Juniper as we set out to be. I'm not going to write much about it. I just don't have it in me to write a post about how she flies kites and plays pick-up-sticks and whittles her own wooden toys and makes dolls out of corn husks and does all the sorts of things that children did before the advent of television. Writing about your elitist attitude towards television---no matter how sincere---is no different from writing about your elitist attitude towards anything: you can hold up your hands and claim you're just expressing your personal beliefs about breastfeeding or cloth diapers or natural childbirth or, ahem, blog advertising, but even if you attempt to drain all sanctimony from your message, you're going to piss someone off and it's your own damn fault for not keeping those self-proclaimed "personal beliefs" to yourself.

Truth be told, it's pretty easy to be an elitist about television when your kid won't sit still for it. At this age I wouldn't mind if Juniper took some interest in watching TV. Apparently it is great for occupying a child so you can take a shit without a wingman, get some housework done, or even spend some time on the internet. I wouldn't know. Once in awhile I will turn on PBS, but the only thing she'll sit still for is this show about a whiny 4-year-old French-Canadian cancer patient. I can understand why his family puts up with all the whining, considering the chemotherapy and all, but as far as I can tell all Caillou has taught Juniper is how to be a more accomplished whiner, and frankly I could do with less of that.

What I really want to write about today is how Juniper is obsessed with getting the dog to talk. Wendell has proven to be a blessedly quiet dog. He does not bark or growl, and, perhaps sensing that our household is currently experiencing a glut of it, he never, ever whines. Juniper is uneasy with this silence. She has been trying to teach him the words she learned first. "Talk Wendell!" she shouts at him. "Talk, now! Say ball!" He just sits there, wagging his tail, staring at the ball in her hand. "Wendell won't talk, dada," she says to me. "Get him to talk."

I just shrug. I won't break the news to her that she will never have a conversation with her beloved German Shorthair. Not yet. Instead, I've inflamed her hopes by going back to my old standby of televised toddler entertainment: the easily digested 2-3 minute fare on YouTube. Remembering that a simple search in YouTube has solved a half dozen dilemmas caused by Juniper's strange obsessions, I searched for "talking dogs." The search yielded this.

We have watched it many dozens of times. It never ceases to crack her up, the last dog in particular. Talking dogs, like bike-riding bears and cigar-smoking chimps, are mildly amusing at first, but it doesn't take long before you look into their sad, empty eyes and realize what depraved creatures we humans are to enjoy forcing animals to act like us. I now sit there overanalyzing the video, wondering about these women who have taught their dogs to say, " I wuv woo!" or "I want my momma!" How long did that take? What drove them to teach their pets to express such complex emotions beyond their ordinary vocal range, to articulate such words with no actual understanding behind them? What satisfaction do they get from the blank eagerness in those canine eyes, merely watching for the milk bone to be tossed their way? And don't get me started on all the people who have taught their cats to say, "I love you."

Other than YouTube, just about the only other thing I can get Juniper to watch are the dozen-or-so DV tapes of footage I took while we were living in San Francisco. I'll sit there and watch them with her, cringing at the sound of my own voice talking to her, acting like a blabbering 4-month-old is having some kind of conversation with me, then, on another tape, reading far more into guttural 14-month-old proclamations than they clearly deserved, as though I was privy to some hilarious Bruce-Willisy voiceover about drool that the mic just didn't pick up. God, what a douchebag.

[I am in the process of updating that "Anthology of Televised Toddler Entertainment" I started last summer; there is a lot of brush to clear from the Sesame Street section where videos have been removed from YouTube, but I am more concerned about adding some great new short videos that 2-5 year olds enjoy. Is there anything on YouTube your kids love to watch over and over? Let me know and I'll be sure to add it to the video page]