Tonight, my three-year-old daughter, who almost never watches TV, stared at the celebrations in Egypt on a big screen TV at a restaurant, sound muted, with Thai karaoke music playing in the background. In Fairborn, Ohio. At the restaurant owned by the Malaysian couple who catered her parents’ wedding.
I was busy eating curry laksa, chatting with my mother and stepfather, impressed with how still my daughter was–eating a spring roll, sitting across the table from me. Usually it’s hard for her to sit very long at a restaurant. Then I turned around and saw what she was watching. I asked my mother (who was sitting next to her) if the images were disturbing. No. Just a lot of people jumping, talking passionately, but in this room, strangely silent, except for the ever-present crawl.
(Disclaimer: For many years, I had cable TV and watched plenty of junk. I did plenty of surfing. Now I just don’t have time for it. I do still watch movies, and “Top Chef,” and various other high and low brow items I can find on DVD or iTunes, but canceling cable was much less painful than I anticipated. From what I read about TV and kids, it seemed wise to have my daughter avoid TV for the first years. It has been a somewhat exhausting choice. I’m not judging how other parents handle this issue. Like everything about life, these decisions need to make sense and work for the people involved, and the choices are very personal. Missing TV, I’ve also missed a whole lot of the visual imagery of our moment in time. I’m not sure how I feel about that.)
Then my daughter said, “Look, there’s somebody with a cat!” It was an advertisement for catfood. I am proud and ambivalent that she doesn’t really know what an ad is. But I suppose the idea of “cat” is much more relevant to her life at this point than Hosni Mubarak resigning his presidency in Egypt. (And as I type this, my newest cat mewling offstage, my view might be similarly small, focussed on whether she will wake my child, or whether she’s caught a mouse. Meanwhile, a grandeur I can’t fully appreciate emerges across the world.)
Next on TV came Obama, again mute, and stately. My daughter might have recognized him, because she has a hand-me-down teeshirt from a friend with his image, and the slogan, “Yes We Did.”
But the thing she mentioned was the cat.