Monthly Archives: October 2012

Even superheroes need to stop for their dinners…

Superheroes are huge in our house at the moment. The Avengers, the X-Men, Justice League, Spiderman, Kim Possible, Ben 10 and so it continues. There’s dressing up, watching movies and TV shows, a lot of made up stories and pictures drawn and coloured in.

The smaller boys are racing around in their capes (black Batman and pink Super Girl for those inquiring minds who want to know) partially dressed in various other bits of costume. The action has ranged from one room of the house to another, from under the water, to flying in the air (Batman of course has a gadget). They’ve rescued the imprisoned cats, the enspelled older sister and defeated the evil older brother. They are having a brilliant time.

Superheroes make me think. They stand for all that is good and right and just. But they’re also violent vigilantes who rarely outwit the bad guys, they just beat them in a fight. Actually, Green Lantern, Kim Possible and Batman are all fairly smart and do a lot of outwitting, but Superman? What kind of messaging are we sending to our kids when we glorify superheroes?  Are we saying it’s OK to fight someone who is doing evil? Are we saying that we should stand up for the weak, the downtrodden and the helpless? Are we saying that sometimes it takes just one person to make a stand to make a difference? Are we saying that it’s OK to excel, to strive to do your best to succeed in life? Are we saying that learning to work in a team and that using an individual’s strengths as part of that team to lead to success is a bad thing? Or that being a selfish little beast who won’t accept anyone’s advice or help isn’t going to lead to success? Suddenly these messages don’t seem so sinister to me, and in fact, these attributes are to be desired – the level of violence in superhero movies, programmes and comics notwithstanding.

For me, this argument is a bit like all the other ones to do with movies, programmes, comics and books. You take out of them what you want. Your children take out of them the messages that you already give them in your own home. These programmes can reinforce both negative and positive values, and it’s up to us as influencers of children to make sure the correct messaging gets across.

I still don’t like all the fighting in these programmes. And I could choose to ban them in my house. But you know what? I find I love watching my kids take on a character, invent a story – either in a pre-established world or one they’ve made up themselves – play happily for hours on end and debate whether it is better to make a bad man good or to put him in prison. I love watching them colour in and draw their own pictures which tell often hugely complicated stories. And along the way they learn to play together, to cooperate and to stand up for what is right. Maybe they’d be doing this no matter they watched, but I do also have to say that I find these programmes more interesting than a lot of the other children’s programming – less saccharine, better characters, better stories, better drawings and animation.

I wouldn’t love hearing that my boys had been fighting at school. But I  would be proud if I heard the reason they were fighting was because they were stopping one child hurting another, or stepping in to help out a child who needed a defender. I want my kids to help others. I want them care for others and believe that as one person, they can make a difference. I want them to try hard and understand that one defeat or failure is not the end of the world. If superheroes help them to get those messages, then I am all for it. And in the meantime, to make sure they grow up big and strong, to be defenders of all that is good and right and just, I will call time on their play for today, and make sure they eat their dinners!

Apparently, Captain American and Spiderman are twins. Who knew?

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kim Possible – separated at birth?

I was reading a post by Jim over at Wordslinger (he’s a great writer and about a million times funnier than me) the other day about children’s TV, which got me thinking about one of the shows I like best for kids – Kim Possible. Coincidentally, daughter number 2 has just begun watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As I was watching Buffy with her, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between the two shows. Let’s start with the characters:

Buffy Summers – a small kick-arse powerhouse. Independent, with a streak of romance. Fiercely loyal to her friends. Highly developed sense of responsibility. A knack with one-liners when demolishing bad guys. Extremely fashion conscious. Practical.

Kim Possible – a small kick-arse powerhouse. Independent, with a streak of romance. Fiercely loyal to her friends. Highly developed sense of responsibility. A knack with one-liners when demolishing bad guys. Extremely fashion conscious. Practical AND highly intelligent.

And they both have great puppy dog eyes when they really want something. OK, so Kimmy is really intelligent and Buffy not so much, but then look at the advantages Kim has – a physicist father and a surgeon mother. But otherwise? Definitely sisters under the skin.  That’s not uncommon though with lead characters – especially female ones – in this genre. Let’s check out the other match-ups in terms of their supporting crew.

Xander and Ron Stoppable – on the surface, complete incompetents. Dig a little deeper, and yep, still incompetents. They get cursed, taken over, have crushes on people who turn out to be insects or bad guys and are totally accident prone. They are the comic relief. Every now and again, they have an unexpected success which totally goes to their heads. And they need Kim and Buffy to look after them. But keep looking, and you see that in many ways, they are the moral compasses for Kim and Buffy. As the series go on, they both develop a kind of Zen wisdom and learn and grow. And in their very incompetence, they progress the plot and often help to come to a resolution. And Kim and Buffy both view them as essential parts of the team.

Cordelia and Bonnie – the arch-rivals. Both selfish, horrible, cheer leaders, rich, fashionistas, cruel and shallow. They are mean and nasty, need rescuing frequently and become an integral part of the story as time goes by and you kinda come to like them.

Giles and Wade – at first I was thinking that Wade and Willow were the analogues, but no. Wade and Giles are both watchers – in fact, Giles is even called “The Watcher”, and how long does it take before KP actually meets Wade in person? They rarely get involved in the action, but provide the requisite information to our heroes. They are organised, excellent at information gathering, and have secret caches of cool toys to give to our heroes.

Willow and Rufus. Yes, I am comparing the incomparable Alyson Hannigan to Rufus the naked mole rat. They both seem defenceless and harmless, but actually have fantastic ideas, and are surprisingly hard to kill. Their longevity is outstanding and when they get to be the powerful ones, they are truly powerful. And they are in the shows from the very beginning to the very end. Willow gets to change more throughout the series, but their “are you serious?”  and “how stupid are you really?” eye rolls are identical. Rufus does like food more than Willow, although that may be the influence of Ron!

Dawn and the Tweebs – OK, I know there are two tweebs, and they are boys. They also have mad inventing skills and get into trouble all the time. But I’m sorry, Dawn was The Key, and after that, she was a bratty younger sister. The trouble she got into was world-shattering. These three are definitely the same characters!

And now the bad guys. Well there’s Drakken. He even LOOKS like a vampire, but he’s that ambiguous bad guy – sometimes bad, sometimes good. Just like, say Spike, or Angel. And then there’s Shego, and it’s hard to find an equivalent to her, but again, I’d have to go with Spike I think, although clearly she is not a love interest for Kim Possible. She does see all of Kim though, and seems to be more aware of Kim’s imperfections than any of the other characters.

The villains in Buffy are clearly nastier than the ones in Kim Possible, but that’s a function of the ages the shows are rated for. But there are a fair share of cheesy villains in Buffy, just as there are in Kim (Duff Killigan anyone?). But both shows do not shrink from having bad things happen to good people – just check out the number of teenagers in both that get turned into something else (Gil in the Camp Wannaweep episodes in KP, Jesse in the first couple of Buffy episodes and the list goes on).

One of the things I really like about both shows is that they do turn gender stereotyping on its head. The girls are strong, independent, capable characters, who are still allowed to look attractive. The shows also turn the notion that adults are all-powerful and always right upside down. The adults in both shows do their best, and in some cases that is more than good enough. But in some cases it’s not. The parents in these shows clearly love their daughters and support them as best they can. And it has to be said that both mothers are truly awesome when they get a chance to show their stuff. The other commonality about both shows is that they are set throughout the characters’ high school years and they are not afraid to progress the characters through high school and beyond. And while they’re at high school, not only are the two gangs saving the world, they’re also having to do homework and attend class – juggling cheerleading and slaying/ helping people.

So I guess at the end of the day, transitioning my kids from Kim Possible to Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a logical progression. And I can only assume that the creators of Kim Possible are huge Buffy fans! And that perhaps I have spent altogether too much time watching both Buffy and Kim Possible! I blame the children…

In case you’ve been living in a cave and have not watched either of these great shows, here are their Wikipedia pages – Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kim Possible. I highly recommend them both.

What are some kids’ shows that you have found with real similarities to each other? And which ones are you keen to show your own children (or other people’s borrowed children)?

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7 great things about having children in my life

I’ve had a fair chunk of time lately away from the family. It’s  made me appreciate them all the more. And I’ve seen a few “how having kids has ruined my life” stories lately. So here’s my antidote to that – my Top 7 list of great things about being a parent – or if you’re not a parent, having children in your life:

Part of the Christmas scrum – decorating the tree

Holidays are more fun – think how jaded we all are as adults about Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and even Halloween. Applying a child’s filter to the holidays makes it fresh and new. Suddenly Christmas, and gift-giving, becomes so much more.

One of the many joys of twins – double the hugs

Hugs – OK, can’t say enough about these. From the baby snuggles, the small child on the lap with their arms curled around your neck to the one-armed  “I’m actually too cool for this, but I’m going to humour you” teenage hug. They’re the best. And let’s not forget the magic healing power of hugs when it comes to scrapes and bumps, bruises and cuts in the under 7-year old brigade. Amazing stuff! I’m not an especially touchy-feely person when it comes to adults, but it turns out kids are different!

Walk the talk – once you have the kids, and they’re of a certain age, you can no longer maintain a double standard. So if you say that they should do something, you have to do it too. Some excellent examples of this include profanity (yes, no longer do I swear at other drivers – now I say that they’re “silly people”), smacking (“Mama, we don’t hit in this house”) and assorted other items including picking up litter, helping people cross the street and the like.  It forces you to follow through with all the things that you’ ve preached and pontificated about as an adult. Nothing like having the filter of a brutally honest child applied to your actions to make you stop being a hypocrite. They hold you to your word.

Challenges – nothing says “I love you Mama” like throwing up on your parent. From vomit to poo, to sleepless nights, to sitting up all night with a sick baby – and that’s just the easy part! Then they get older and there are the logistical challenges of getting them where they need to be. There are the emotional challenges when you just want to whack the person who hurt them upside the head (except of course “we don’t hit in this house”) or when you can’t figure out what advice to give them, or you stress as you wait for them to come home late. And learning how to loosen the reins a little and accept that you’re not the one in ultimate control. That’s a pretty hard ask. Then there are physical challenges – for me, playing waterpolo with the teenagers, wrist wrestling, sit up and planking competitions! Challenges keep you young!

Scaling the "chimney" a few years earlier than their siblings didFun – kids are so much fun. They are funny. They are full of life. They add a level of silliness that grown-ups have long-since lost. Life is never boring with kids around. Not restful either, but never boring. Here are my guys, one climbing up the hall wall ‘chimney’ and the other photo bombing! I can hear some people tut tutting now at the climbing the walls, but hey, they had their shoes off!

Company – you’re almost never alone. This is not always a good thing, but for the most part it is! Especially once the children get a little older, they become good company. You can have awesome conversations, even with a fairly small child. Once you get to the teenage years, their personalities are fully fledged. And the conversations are detailed, intense and frequently funny. Sometimes it’s just a “duh”or a grunt, sometimes a snappy comeback  or an incisive summary of something which has been going on. Sometimes it’s sitting watching a favourite TV show or movie or discussing a book. And there’s nothing more fun than sitting around the table with your teenage kids -and their friends – and being in the middle of a debate over whether Matt Smith is a better Doctor Who than David Tennant (he’s not, by the way, and neither of them are as good as Christopher Eccleston). And dissecting movies (yes Taylor Lautner has great abs, but can he really act? In Abduction, he’s OK, but mainly I think my 16-year old is watching it for the abs.

Technology – the main reason I can operate an iPhone, iPad, iPod and run this blog successfully is because my children keep me up to date with the technology. Daughter no 2 (12 at the time) instructed me in the use of tags. Son no 1 taught me how to use his iPod. Son no 2 saved up and bought an iPad and now I kind of get how those work as well. I was already on Facebook, but from time to time they show me some enhancement or neat feature like tagging in photos. I return the favour with security tips. Kids keep you up to date with technology.  They keep you interested in it, and you want to stay one step ahead. Very good for what might otherwise be my atrophied brain.

Actually generally? Kids keep you current! How else would I know what gangnam style was and be able to discuss it with my Gen-Y co-workers? Go on, I challenge you to search for it on You Tube and then I defy you to not tap your feet along with it!

Don’t be shy – tell me what your great things are about having kids! If you don’t have kids of your own, but borrow other people’s, tell me the great things about them!

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