twinkies.jpgWhen I told Caleb that he could watch “Super Why” a few weeks ago, he said “Cool. Is there gonna be fighting? Because super in the name means there’s gonna be fighting.”

Okay, I think this means that my kid has gotten way too familiar with super-hero culture (which I think he gets by osmosis, because we don’t watch superhero stuff at home and we don’t have superhero comics, either) – I was afraid that when we turned on “Super Why,” he would be bored silly: he expected smash! crash! pow! and was getting a show about reading, instead.

But you know what? Despite the lack of swords, guns, bazookas, and other weaponry, Caleb loved “Super Why.” Just as the show’s designers intended, Caleb called out responses to the questions, pointed to the letters on the TV screen, and clapped with satisfaction when he was right. Later in the week, when we did a Super Why jigsaw puzzle (with hidden words in the pictures), Caleb flopped on the floor with his Super Why magnifying glass and started spelling out the words he found: “C-L-O-U-D, what’s that?” “Look, I found T-O-W-E-R!” 

Full disclosure: asking Caleb to watch Super Why was homework, of a sort; he was my test-case for the claims made about the show at a lunch I went to a few weeks ago.

This lunch, at PBS, was my first-ever blog-related event: as one of the contributors to the NYMom’s Blog, I was invited to a lunch with other bloggers (a word I’ve decided I really don’t like) in order to learn about “Super Why!”

superwhy.jpgGoing into the lunch, I carried three secrets:
first, ignorance: prior to the lunch, I’d never seen the show, didn’t know it existed, had to watch it on youtube even to know what it was about.

second, superciliousness (a word that I should use more because it’s so fun to say, like Episcopalian and azure): my kids mostly don’t watch TV during the day, unless they’re sick, and even then I try to ration it out so that being sick doesn’t become “fun.” (One of the most satisfying moments of early motherhood for me was hearing three-year-old Liam say to a friend who was over for a playdate, “oh, no, you can’t watch TV in the daytime,” as if he were explaining some incontrovertible natural law.)

third, an ongoing marital discussion (a word I use instead of argument): Husband says screens (TVs, computers, etc) are just screens and that what matters is what’s on the screen. I say screens create a kind of passivity, or, at best, encourage only limited creativity.
So as you might imagine, I went off to this lunch filled with curiosity but aware that I might not be the ideal audience.

Reader, I have to say: the food was good, the questions excellent, and this show – really, really smart: it knows how to reach its young audience without creating the parental ARGH that something like “Barney” causes. It’s so smart, in fact, that your kid will get excited about calling out letters, words, directions. So smart, in fact, that some in the audience may have entertained thoughts about wrong career paths being chosen…wondered why she’s chosen a life of slogging through badly written student papers instead of helping to craft terrific children’s programming…

At the end of the lunch, we were given PBS-related swag (my first swag!) to use with our kids and asked to write about their experiences (and ours) with “Super Why” and other PBS shows, like “Cyber Chase.” Being a part of the conversation about media and kids filled me with energetic thoughts about how it was time to change my children’s media habits and that if, as Husband says, a screen is just a screen, then I was going to bloody well make sure that what came out of the screen wasn’t just the equivalent of brain twinkies.

Well, my good intentions smashed first into the obdurate surface of stubborn, eight-year-old Liam, who claimed that “Cyber Chase” seemed too much like homework and the stuff he did in his computer class at school. My resolve smashed secondly into Caleb’s love of “Scooby Doo,” which he won’t give up, despite having seen every episode a gazillion times. “Super Why” can’t persuade him to turn off the cartoon (yes, I know, I could turn it off, but it’s his end-of-day forty-five minutes of TV, and let’s be honest people, by the end of the day, I’m tired).

So here it is: I’m willing to concede Husband’s point that a screen is just a screen, and that what comes out of the screen is what matters. But now that I’ve been presented with smart, nutritious programming, in the form of Super Why and other PBS shows, I’m realizing just how addictive brain twinkies can be.