September 26, 2013 by Julia
My daughter used to be really, really, really into the literary character Madeline from the classic Ludwig Bemelmans books.
It started around the time I gave birth to Jack in the hospital. Fiona was three and half years old, and we borrowed the first Madeline book from the library for nine weeks before finally just buying our own copy. In the story, Madeline is whisked away in the middle of the night for an emergency appendix removal. I conjectured that maybe Fiona liked it so much because Madeline’s hospital stay comforted her while I was recovering in the hospital myself.
But it totally snowballed beyond that, and lasted for a full year. People came out of the woodwork to give her Madeline memorabilia because she was JUST SO THRILLED every single time she got anything related to Madeline. At first it was just the books. Then we found some dolls in Barnes and Noble, and then found more used dolls on Ebay, and they were all she wanted to play with, ever.
She didn’t care if she had replicas of the same exact dolls – THE MORE MADELINES, THE BETTER. Then we found some You Tube videos of the TV specials based on the books, and then I think there were some seasons of the TV show streaming on Netflix, and that was all she wanted to watch.
Now, at first, we were a little taken aback by parts of the subject matter in some of the Madeline books. They were written in the 1930s and 40s, so there are certain things like…Pepito, the son of the Spanish Ambassador next door, building a guillotine to cut the heads off chickens and then eat the same chicken for dinner, much to the horror of the girls at Madeline’s boarding school. You don’t really find guillotines in many modern children’s books these days, much less an acknowledgment that the chicken on their dinner plates actually comes from live chickens that go cluck-cluck. We weren’t ready to go into that yet – we were just happy that at 3 ½, Fiona would gladly eat chicken nuggets.
But, on the other hand, I was also thrilled with her Madeline obsession. I’ve always loved the illustrations (who doesn’t?), and Fiona had become familiar with landmarks of Paris, with certain French words, and it was all just so lovely and particular.
We could all recite the book by heart, because we read it to her every night. I mean, how often does a kid actually like the stuff that is equally charming to adults? She could’ve been into those Bratz dolls or something equally tasteless. The only downside was that it’s not like there’s a Madeline section in the toy stores.
Of course she wanted to be Madeline for Halloween, and we all played along – Dennis as Dr. Cohn, who removes Madeline’s appendix, myself as Miss Clavel, the guardian and teacher of the girls at the school (most repeated line: “Something is not right!”), and even poor Jack, who was stuck in a dog costume as Genevieve the mutt who saves Madeline in the river. (At least he didn’t realize he was dressed as a female dog for his first Hallowen .)
And then her 4th birthday party, at a McDonald’s Playplace. I would’ve done it at home, but we just don’t have the space…so McDonald’s it was. We found the Madeline/McDonald’s juxtaposition funny.
The Madeline obsession calmed down somewhat by Jack’s first birthday. It had been so intense and all-consuming, I had somehow thought it might last forever. I was relieved to get a little more variety in our play, but I was also a little sad to see her interest in Madeline wane. Her new interests were strong, but scattered: the Pocoyo TV show (another lesser-known character), the Harry Potter Lego video game, which prompted an overriding interest in actual Harry Potter Legos despite the fact that we still deemed the books and movies too scary for her, and the Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
Those were all well and good. But a new obsession has taken hold over the past few months, one that actually rivals the Madeline obsession. It is everywhere. It is all the time. We live in a house of mirrors, all reflecting THE POWERPUFF GIRLS.
It started with a song. Dear God, that song. I want to stab it.
Blossom! Commander and the Leader!
Bubbles! She is the Joy and the Laughter!
Buttercup! She’s the Toughest Fighter!
Powerpuffs Save the Day!
I had no intention of showing her The Powerpuff Girls for another 3-5 years, but she heard the series theme song on a friend’s birthday mix CD, and after listening to it on repeat in the car twelve-thousand times, I finally explained to her that it came from a TV show. One thing led to another, and suddenly the whole family was sitting on the couch watching a violent rumble between the girls and their evil boy-versions, the Rowdyruff Boys.
Don’t get me wrong – The Powerpuff Girls cartoon series is truly great. Professor Utonium mixes “Sugar, spice and everything nice” together in an attempt to create himself some daughters…who turn out to be flying superheroes when “Chemical X!” is accidentally added into the mix. The city of Townsville is constantly under attack, and it’s up to these adorable pre-schoolers to protect its inhabitants. I loved it in college (about twelve years ago) for the snappy wit, the cuteness, the POW! fighting, the mod design, the girl power.
But it’s not exactly…appropriate, by today’s standards, for a five-year-old girl.
One-eyed monsters drool while the Girls karate-chop tentacles off. Buttercup (the tough one) says things like “stupid” or “time to kick some butt!” or “shut up!” The fighting is an intense homage to or parody of kung-fu monster movies, depending on the tone of the episode. And I’ve already written about the villain “Him” as the creepiest cartoon character ever in 17 Things I Hate. Just your basic transvestite Devil-Santa with mechanical crab-claws and a wispy, echoing voice that turns to a growl when he/she’s mad. *Shudder.*
But I have a half-baked theory (like many of my theories: “Meh. I guess so?”) that we can’t keep kids/people from something they really love and/or are obsessed with (within reason). So, while I have reservations about certain aspects of The Powerpuff Girls, I kind of love that Fiona gets the humor of it…that she loves something that I love. (If she loved those Bratz dolls, I might feel differently about the whole thing.) We’ve explained that she is not allowed to use the rude language, that friends are not allowed to watch the show with her unless I have permission from their parents, that if an episode is too scary for Jack, we have to turn it off. She’s responded well to these rules, and so I allow it, even if I don’t feel like Mother of the Year.
Okay, I more than “allow” it. I play Powerpuff Girls with her, doing the scratchy, mad voice of Buttercup and pipsqueak voice of Bubbles until I start to lose my own voice.
I let Fiona listen to the song at least once every single time we get into the car. (And let me be clear on this: not really a fan of repetition. So, quite the sacrifice on my part.) I find new Youtube videos of later seasons that aren’t available to stream on Netflix. I sit and laugh at episodes with her and point out my favorite parts.
And I’ve spend an inordinate amount of time on Ebay, trying to find the version of the dolls that she really wants for Christmas, for less than $40 each. (There are three of them.)
It’s a blessing and a curse that Fiona usually becomes obsessed with things that are not currently popular. As a sort-of hipster (I know that’s an insult, these days, but who are we kidding, my indie-music-loving, film-watching, coffee-shop-frequenting, quirk-loving fellow artistes?), of course I love her independent, unique, good taste. The difficulty, just like with Madeline, is finding the stuff to feed her habit.
People do love to make donations, though. Just today our neighbor brought over a ten-year-old Powerpuff Girls bath towel that belonged to her teenaged daughter. Fiona is upstairs sleeping with it on her bed.
What’s next? Tiny Toons Youtube videos from the early 90s? Nancy Drew action figures? Plush dolls from The Neverending Story? Cannibal the Musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone from their pre-South Park days? Tintin??