Though Joshua isn’t quite reading yet, I think he’s been reading my blog. No sooner than I wrote about his general apathy toward music, he began earnestly seeking out music for his daily life. He has me singing songs throughout the day, partly because it helps his teething brother calm down and take a break from the hours of screaming. He’s taken a real interest in a CD that came with one of Jack’s books (On The Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier). The CD features the author reading through the book (she will not be confused by any as a professional vocalist), accompanied by a soundtrack of music of indeterminate ethnic origin (I say this as someone who knows a LOT about world musics). That’s the first track. The other seven tracks are elaborations on the two or three melodic/textural ideas presented in the story’s accompaniment. After the first couple of tracks, I’ve had my fill of the rhythm which the musicians stubbornly refuse to vary in any interesting or substantial way. Joshua, on the other hand, is enraptured by the repetitive nature of it. This is quite normal for his age, but geez I’m done with this CD.
Of course, all of this is fine, but his real leap forward musically has been his renewed interest in a quirky, animated children’s program called “Taratabong.” This program is Italian in origin, though it’s available in the US via Netflix’s streaming service. It features a number of characters, all of whom are musical instruments with less-than-clever names (the snare drum is called “Snarey,” the trumpet called “Trumpy,” and a French horn appropriately called — you guessed it — “Frenchie”). They speak to each other and the audience only via the sounds/music they make, interacting with an unseen narrator who is the only one that speaks a recognizable language (dubbed quite well in English, but with a few curious pronunciations here and there). Anyway, it’s a wonderful way for young kids to experience the many sounds of the orchestra, but its simplistic plots and brief run times make the whole experience downright asinine. No matter. Joshua is in love. He asks for it by name, and then to watch it endlessly. As a one-time musician and music educator, I have a hard time saying no. As a guy who’s seen it over and over, I don’t have that hard a time.
We don’t have cable or satellite, opting solely for streaming video and whatever our antenna brings in over the air. Combined with our probably-too-strict-but-we-don’t-care time limits for Joshua’s viewing habits (thirty minutes per day), Joshua has very little interest in television, and next to no knowledge of anything other kids his age might watch. While getting his haircut yesterday, a movie was playing on their televisions mounted in front of the chairs. His hair stylist asked him if he’d ever seen this particular movie before. Joshua responded honestly — he hadn’t — and the stylist appeared somewhat surprised. I take it that the film in question is a popular one, but I didn’t recognize it. (It had robots, but I’ve no idea what they were on about.) Anyway, Joshua has been a big fan of Leap Frog’s videos, especially the “Phonics Farm” and “Numberland” titles, watching them each and every day ad nauseum until Netflix’s tapes must be worn nano-wafer thin. Now that he’s finally diverted away from them, I’m ecstatic to experience something else.
A bonus of him not watching broadcast TV is that he doesn’t see commercials. He has no idea what toys and games are available, and thus, his wish list for new things is virtually non-existent. He likes stickers, books, workbooks, and letters in all their forms. His favorite possession, stuffed animals notwithstanding, is a set of foam letters, each standing about six inches high, all of which can interlock to make a large floor mat. He’s seen just enough Sesame Street to identify most of the common characters, but his interest in the program as a whole is minute.
The downside to this is that his grandparents struggle to shop for him for his birthday and other gift-giving occasions (which for grandparents is every time they see their grandchildren). Jen’s parents have done a bang-up job of finding books, stickers, and the like. Jen’s mom even went so far as to hand-stitch complete alphabets, uppercase and lowercase, out of felt. My mother has had a harder time, as she’s a more traditional gift-giver. Whatever toys are most popular and/or recommended by her co-workers that have young children, she seeks out. If she had normal grandchildren, this would be great. Her grandson is, well, abnormal. She’s finally adapted, mostly, and scours her local used bookstore with abandon. That’s one more Tickle-Me-Elmo for the other kids. You’re welcome, other parents.
As for the boy himself, he’s whip-smart, and a good bit ahead of his peers. It’s come at a price, though, because he has no peers. He has no friends his age, or really of any age. He sees some kids at the gym, at the park, and on play-dates, but he identifies his stuffed dog as his best friend. Except when it’s the neighbors’ cat. So every time I feel like we’re doing well as parents, I try to remind myself that my child prefers to interact with animals or inanimate objects before other humans. Can’t go getting a big head about these things.