Merry Puppets

            My mother-in-law, emerging from a catatonic state brought on by watching Wonder Pets for four days in a row, recently sent the boys a couple of DVDs.  The first to arrive was The Sound of Music, which I quietly buried under a stack of old Baby Einstein boxes.  While I am happy for the hills to be alive and all that crap, I am not quite ready to explain the Nazis to Zachary.  The second movie was Mary Poppins.

            It seemed benign enough, so one afternoon when I had no help and needed Tweedledee and Tweedledum to stop fighting for a half-hour while I fed their Twedledette, I stuck it in.  The one-show-a-day rule is, like all other rules, made to be broken by exasperated mothers. 

            If you haven’t seen this movie recently, you probably remember a bunch of chimney sweeps and in interminable sequence when everyone goes into the chalk drawings.  But, the movie is not all spoons filled with sugar.  Oh no, it certainly is not.  In this movie, there is a mother who is so busy parading around with a bunch of suffragists that she cannot seem to make time to raise her children.  That’s why she needs a nanny.

            It actually reminds me of quite a few families I know that have full-time help, two kids, and a stay-at-home parent, yet somehow always seem completely overwhelmed.  (OK, that was kind of bitchy, especially since until this week I had half-time help and an au pair arriving next month.)

            Anyway, in the movie my children now fondly refer to as Merry Puppets, the suffragettes march around the house a little at the beginning of the movie in sashes, before they head out into the streets to demand the right to vote.  Zachary looked a little confused. 

            I told him that women weren’t allowed to vote back then and the mommy is asking the government to change the law so women could vote.  Zach sort of nodded as he fixed his attention on the screen, so I decided to pass on explaining that the entire premise of Mary Poppins is that Mrs. Banks is a deficient mother for wasting her time agitating for the vote when she should be home minding the children.  We’ll save feminist film theory for another day.  Gotta leave something for them to learn in second grade.

            If I had any ability to learn from past experience, I would have realized that the conversation had merely been tabled for another day.  Anyone who has ever spent longer than 90 seconds with a four-year-old knows that, two weeks later, as we were walking to the library, Zach busted out with: “But, why were the women not allowed to vote?”

            So I explained that some people thought women weren’t smart enough to vote.  “Does that sound fair?” I asked, which was probably a leading question.  What ensued was a string of questions on his part about legislative history and a string of lame attempts on my part to explain the nineteenth amendment.  (Because I was already over my head, I was not going to get into the suffrage fight in two different countries.)

            “Mommy, how do they,” pause to search for the word, “cancel unfair laws?”  Somehow, this line of questioning landed us in Prop 8 territory, as he wondered about how laws change.  But, then it occurred to him: “What happens to the people who were married before Proposition 8?”  At which point I found myself trying to explain Supreme Courts and lawyers to a four-year-old.

            I was really fucking relieved when the conversation finally ended and resolved that we would be reverting to our old viewing habits.  Tinkerbell, at least, doesn’t require an entire civics lesson.

            Unfortunately, Passover is coming, and the preschool teachers explained to the children that the last plague made the Egyptians really sad, but they didn’t tell the kids the precise nature of that plague.  Come on.  Really?  Did it not occur to you that this would only pique their curiosity?  There’s nothing like trying to explain the Death of the Firstborn while merging onto the Freeway.

            “But, Mommy.  Why was God mean to the Egyptians?”

            I think I’ll book him an appointment with the rabbi.  And I’ll probably stop opening packages from my mother-in-law.

23 responses to “Merry Puppets

  1. Oh, I have so been down that conversational rabbit hole. Well, maybe not the exact same one, but I have tried to explain war to a 4-year-old, and why people do bad things. And you’re right, even when you think the conversation’s over, you suddenly find yourself apropos of nothing trying to explain why someone would steal something that didn’t belong to them.

    Fun times! I would totally book the appointment with the rabbi.

  2. Hilarious – that’s the problem with organized religion, they leave the actual explaining to the parents. Hooray for Tinkerbale!

  3. Here’s hoping at least one of those unfair laws is overturned soon.

    Maybe we should call in Merry Puppets to stuff the ballot box.

  4. now that was adorable!! The questions DO get exhausting! Can’t we just buy a tape somewhere for them to watch? All you ever wanted to know, or something like that….

  5. Having smart kids that ask questions is a good thing. But sometimes, it’s really friggin hard.

  6. Good that he’s asking – although probably a bit much during a morning commute! The movie Mary Poppins irritates me to no end, particularly as it bears only the most superficial resemblance to the books which I loved.

  7. I always loved Mary Poppins, but didn’t realize the dangers in allowing my children to watch it 🙂 What a thinker you have.

  8. Ah, the dangers of having a smart and thoughtful child. This reminds me of the time I had to explain to my five year old why mommy gets so pissed off at the people marching around outside the local women’s health clinic.

  9. We have friends whose children (age 4) think that Sound of Music ends with Maria’s wedding. (Apparently, a version that ended there was actually released in Germany when the movie first came out!)

  10. I have never told my children about the plagues. It just doesn’t fit my belief system one iota. Instead I wrote my own expurgated version of the story, which I read to them. It made much of the legend of Miriam and her well (which followed her through the desert), Moses’ gentleness with lambs (there is a midrash that he was chosen for his kindness to young animals). Every year we did a shorter and shorter version of the traditional seder. The last couple of years we chucked it altogether and just acted out the (expurgated–no plagues) story without a set script.

  11. The questions, the QUESTIONS! All those parenting books teach you to explain things in an “age appropriate manner.” The problem is finding that level. Ugh.

    While it’s not the Nazis, Peter Pan 2 led us to trying to explain WWII. And recently he keeps asking if the US is in a war. Are we? Sometimes I’m not sure, but generally we tell him yes. Thus are the struggles of educating a bright young man!

  12. Duh, WWII DOES involve the Nazis, but the movie doesn’t exactly touch on that part — it’s just the whole bombing of London and shipping off of the children. Although that is tough to explain also.

  13. I guess I wasn’t as curious as a child and just took all these weird film events at face value!

  14. Recently I have been in a snit about the kids’ school (Catholic), so I picked up a picture book about the war in Northern Ireland. After reading it together, I felt guilty because this did not stem from my daughter’s curiosity and it was unfair of me to foist it on her.

  15. Smart kid. And smart parent it goes without saying to remember all that stuff about Prop 8 etc. I never realised parenting was such a minefield. I guess “go and ask your father” would be a cop-out!

  16. Yeah — once I turned on the computer with my son standing behind me and the Sympatico news page had a picture of that pregnant ‘man’. THAT was a fun day.

  17. Thats good that he asks so many questions, and gets real answers from you! Its definitely hard to explain these things to kids, isn’t it? Sicne they don’t really have any background knowledge on a lot of things, you end up having to find ways to define more and more things, until pretty soon you feel like you’re giving them TOO much information for them to digest!

  18. Funny. I always thought Mary Poppins was a fairly obvious indictment on men.

  19. My boys recently watched Mary Poppins for the first time. After reading your post, I went rushing off to ask them what they understood about what Mrs. Banks was doing in the film. I got a very matter-of-fact explanation about women not being able to vote then, even using the term suffragette. Who knew they knew? I guess they understood the lyrics (and those kids’ versions of Don’t Know Much About History books that they love may have had something to do with this).

    At some point, I’ll look forward to the conversations about saving money in a bank/investing in banks vs. investing in people/ philanthropic giving. Can feeding the birds be considered philanthropy???

  20. As far as the nanny thing – surely your English days will have reminded you that in many countries it’s very common to have full-time help and is an accepted part of the culture!

    We had our own “Mary”, that was her real name, and she made all my birthday party cupcakes as a kid. Then again, look how I turned out.

  21. he he he he he

    regarding passover… Easter is always a fun concept to deal with with children…. Jesus was nailed to a cross and it was horrible and painful and sad, but now it’s ALL GOOD…

    yup, that’s what I’m dealing with in my life, my jobs and my various voluteer stuff at church right now!