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Pop-culturizing our kids: Tales from the school bus and WDW

Today's post topic was really two subjects floating around in my head this morning until I realized they're actually the same theme. Integrating our kids into popular culture. That can be a tough topic for parents as we try to figure out what's right for our children, try to resist the temptation to "keep up," and try to foster independence...while at the same time socializing our kids.

My son has started riding the school bus. A fact which would have been unbelievable at the beginning of the school year. He hated the idea. We didn't really care for the idea. We have a car, a bike trailer, one parent home, so why try to force the bus on him?

He's made amazing progress this school year--gaining friends, improving his communication, trying new things. And it got to the point where I was maybe 1 of 3 parents in the school driveway at pickup time. Peer pressure, a cool machine, his friends, and ease of commute all brought a perfect storm together about a month ago. He wanted to ride the bus.

We made the arrangements with the teacher, district, and bus company. There was a false start of wrong information, no communication, and then Wednesday was ride-day, finally. What would have once brought tears and tantrums had him proud of himself and he got off the bus at school bragging to his teachers how much of a big boy he was.

Then there was yesterday. About pickup time, as we were putting on boots and coat, he figured out we were taking him to the bus stop, not the car. And it was a messy wreck of preschooler breakdown. Kelly managed to get him to the bus, but only with the promise that we'd never, ever make him ride the bus again. We promised to pick him up from school and the tears stopped. But after all the work we'd done getting him ON the bus, it seemed wrong to cancel right away. We talked to the teacher.

Looking back, I think he thought it was a one-time event. Perhaps we could have done a better job of explaining that the bus would be everyday. But, as parents, we learn to only project so far into the future because there's no use upsetting our kids about things too far off to really deal with now. We had groceries to buy yesterday morning during the school day, so we all picked him up. Turns out, school never would have known he wasn't happy about the bus. He was fine. Normal.

Then it hit me while we were driving home and he pointed out a friend's house that he'd seen while dropping her off on the bus. The surprise of a new routine was scary, but he got over it. He's turning into a pretty flexible little man lately if you lay it out in fair terms, so I casually mentioned a couple times that he could try to ride the bus again this morning if he wanted.

He did.

So much of the world for preschoolers is about expectations. Knowing what to expect, what not to expect. I think we often mistake this for "liking routine" but in reality kids' only method of really wrapping their minds around the world is through us. My latest parenting method to deal with (sometimes) irrational fears is telling them to look to me. If Daddy isn't scared, you don't need to be scared either. But then that puts a lot of pressure on us--as parents--to show them the range of what they will encounter so they see how they should react.

In short, I think there is a strong argument for immersing our kids in mainstream, good old American pop culture. And this is coming from a family that only lets the kids watch PBS Kids. They know who Sponge Bob is. They sometimes eat McDonald's.

* * *

If you want to prompt parents into a fit of rage, mention the princess thing. It drives parents of little girls nuts the way young ladies are turned into consumers of everything pink and glittery. Me? I've had a mild change of heart. (More about boys, later.)

It started with a basic love of some Disney classics. They kids know their Buzz Lightyear, their Lady and the Tramp, and their Lilo and Stitch.

Then it turned into listening to Disney music at naptime, bedtime, and even play time.

Then it turned into questions about some of the music from the Disney parks. And the more I explained, the more questions they had.

So I made the "mistake" of bringing home a Birbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World. And now it's all over. The kids both love the idea of a trip to Disney to see Mickey Mouse. They want to eat breakfast with Winnie the Pooh. They want to ride Dumbo. They even think they want to see fireworks.

The Mama hates Disney so I'm sure she's not thrilled with this latest development. I tease. She's actually promised to be a good sport. Even if it isn't high on her list of things to do, she wants the family to go and have fun.

As someone raised on Disney movies, Disney parks, and who has happy memories of childhood vacations, high school band trips, and even the Disney fan culture (Mama won't be joining a Disney fan club any time soon), it seems less creepy as many anti-Disney types make it out to be.

Yes, Disney wants my money. Yes, Disney wants to build customers for life so that my children, in turn, take their children to WDW. But if you acknowledge that jaded fact, the whole thing is less annoying. Especially if you make the argument in favor of a collective pop conscious. As American diversity splits us into factions of interest, politics, and the like, how many things do we really have left that unite us culturally? The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade jumps out to me. Santa Claus. Fourth of July. That's about it.

As a psychology geek and parent, I appreciate two things about a family vacation to Disney World. The first is that it is one of the few places in society where family is expected, catered to, and fully accepted. We complain all the time about wanting a more family-friendly culture...well, Disney is one of the few companies that gets what it takes to really do that. But, even more, it's a great starting point for our next generation to begin to understand shared memory, cultural iconography, and the joys of rites of passage so lacking elsewhere. We artificially invent, say, an 8th grade "graduation" to mark the transition to high school. But Disney has been helping us transition our children from childhood fantasy to adult reality for a century.

Which is why I think it's easy to pooh-pooh the commercialization of Winnie the Pooh, but I see greater value in it. Back to that princess thing, I don't mind if my daughter wishes to indulge in a bit of fairy castle hugging with a woman in a costume tiara. It doesn't mean she has to get sucked into the idiocy of everything coming up pink. What we fail to differentiate between in the "princess" argument is that it isn't the princess pink that is the problem per se. It's parents who don't know how to say no or alter their children obsessively lingering in one area of life for too long. It's not enough to let our kids enjoy their one Barbie doll. They have 20.

It's also why you don't see...yet...a backlash against the boys-as-pirates trend. Or boys loving superheroes too much. We're uneasy with the idea that little girls will take to princess life too much. We want them to know there's more out there and better examples of strong, confident, smart women. I submit that the reason we're ok with boys dressing up as pirates and loving race cars is that we cling to anything we can with role models for boys. There aren't enough examples of the variety of manhood out there so we like that they're attracted to anything masculine especially as they lack decent men in their lives to guide them.

Latley, I've been having fond memories of the old Davy Crockett series my grandmother used to borrow for me when I came to her house. The theme song comes on some of the Disney music we've been listening to and it hit me that Cole doesn't know--nor will he ever maybe--who Davy Crockett is. Davy Crockett isn't cool anymore. He's not even acknowledged anymore, collectively I mean. He was a real person. But the minute you start taking about pioneer spirit, the Indian Wars, the Alamo, you're instantly in a culture war these days about political correctness and what we teach our kids about history.

Meh. I'm not getting into all that now other than to say that if we decide together that some aspects of our past are so controversial we can't even bring them up, perhaps we're missing out on some role models for our boys that we now are desperate to have. We have to consider what we're losing if we try to whitewash.

In short, there are consequences for us all if we don't pop-culturize our kids.

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