Tag Archives: childhood

Innocence is Being Lost, But It’s Not Stolen by an Elf

By Jay Menard

Instead of looking for nefarious motivations in life, perhaps we should spend a little more time seeing the world through the eyes of a kid. There’s a world of wonder, joy, magic, and mystery out there — but some adults are so far removed from their inner child that they seem to want nothing more than to squeeze the innocence out of those who are still in the throes of youth.

My daughter’s too old for the Elf on the Shelf. I’m not a huge fan of it, but not for the reason that seems to be gaining popularity — the idea that this elf is really a conduit for creating a subservient generation of brainwashed sheep for whom Big-Brother-esque surveillance and privacy invasion is not just accepted by welcome.

It’s an elf. On a shelf. Continue reading

A Matter of Perspective

By Jason Menard

One of the great things about life with my wife is the difference in our backgrounds – and our relationship has helped me to broaden my perspective on life. Oddly enough, I was reminded of this by the news that a new reality series focused on the creation of a new Menudo was in the offering.

That’s right. Menudo. Trust me, this will all make sense.

My wife is the daughter of a former diplomat. As such, much of her youth was spent living abroad: Algeria , Niger , Brazil , and Mexico . She spent a number of years in Mexico City , living at the embassy, but able to immerse herself in the language and the culture – a culture that included the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.

For young pre-teen and early teen girls in that area of the world Menudo and similar band Timbiriche were music idols. Unfortunately, for young pre-teen and early teens in this neck of the woods Menudo’s impact was felt in a significantly different manner.

This first came to light when we were going through our collection of vinyl albums. Sifting through a stack of appropriately named dust jackets, I came across my wife’s collection of old albums. Our reactions were quite different — her eyes misted over with youthful memories; my eyes were wide with shock.

Now, it was at this time that I realized that I take my youthful influences for granted. Popular culture references that, to me, are common are, in fact, restricted only to a certain sub-section of people who lived during a specific time in that specific area. I had always, to a certain extent, assumed that because my wife and I are both Canadians and of the same age, we’d share many common experiences – much in the same way that I could easily relate with other friends and acquaintances that I had met. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I believe my, “I can’t believe you actually own this,” was met with an icy cold stare in return. Once that look thawed, it was followed by her asking how it was I knew of Menudo, growing up in the Great White North.

And here’s where our perspectives differed greatly. To many Canadian kids of a certain age, our exposure to Menudo was limited to breaks between Saturday morning cartoons. After getting fit with Mary Lou Retton, we’d then be subjected to perfectly coiffed, pastel-wearing young boys galavanting about in highly choreographed routines. To us, Menudo was nothing more than a cheesy, kid-friendly, boy-band precursor. But to my wife and her friends in Mexico they were so much more.

A band that was a source of mockery for us was an object of reverence for them. While we viewed them as disposable filler to be endured until Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends came on, in fact they were filling concert halls throughout the Latin world. We cried tears of laughter, they cried tears of idolatry.

Since that moment, the tables have been turned time and time again between our youthful experiences. Movies, music, and films that I view as iconic touchstones of my youth and carry the full weight of being cherished memories pass over my wife’s head as if they were light as a feather. Pop culture references, key literary experiences, and other character-defining moments are met with a quizzical look and quiet acceptance.

And, very quickly, it reinforced the notion that while two people, both of whom were born three months apart and only a few kilometers apart in Montreal, may arrive at the same destination, our perspectives can be drastically different based upon the route we’ve taken to arrive where we are. No version is right, no version is better – and the sharing of these journeys have allowed us to grow as individuals because we’re able to see beyond our own entrenched views and be more appreciative of the diversity and complexity of life.

But in the end, if we end up watching the Menudo reality show, we’ll probably still do so for two separate reasons. And while she’s recapturing fond memories of youth, I’ll probably be doing my best to stifle any grins and chuckles. After all, I’ve learned to respect her perspective – even if the view is slightly different than my own.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Revisiting TV Memories Not Always Good Viewing

By Jason Menard

Despite the advent of personal video recorders, there are some cases when the television medium and the rewind button just don’t mix – especially when it comes to shows we prized in our youth.

An affiliate of the Cartoon Network, aimed at the 18-plus demographic, has purchased the entire run of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and intends to run it during the 11:00 p.m. slot – too late to be targeted to a new audience. And while the wannabe hipsters will embrace the show, the vast majority of us who saw the show in its first go-around will probably end up disappointed.

The adage of you can’t go home again has been disproved over and over. But while the phrase can’t be used as a generalization, it does still apply in certain areas, especially to the things we loved as a child.

The shows don’t change – it’s the way in which we see them that’s evolved. The wide-eyed wonder of our youth is replaced by a more jaundiced, discerning perspective that adulthood provides. We know more, we understand more, and it’s harder for us as adults to suspend disbelief.

And, in the case of Pee Wee Herman, our viewing experience will now be filtered through a bit of salacious knowledge that Mr. Reubens unfortunately had, uhm, exposed. Simple jokes, innocent banter, and personal interplay will now be heavily coloured by innuendo and double-entendres – even when they’re not there.

The gazillion-channel universe that we live in has almost ensured that no show will ever go unwatched again. Entire channels are dedicated to replaying so-called classic series to the nostalgic. So the chances are good that the show you loved as a child is either on some channel’s schedule, or will be in the near future. The choice of watching again is up to you.

But, from personal experience, I’d advise you not to.

Everything’s bigger and better in our youth. The snows were higher, the games were more fun, and the shows were simply better. With an 11-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, I’ve been able to stay abreast of what’s on now: much of the older child’s programming features smart-alecky, pseudo-rebellious kids with a penchant for back talk and clichés. For my younger off-spring, her choices are more Princess-oriented and Disneyfied, along with some (absolutely entertaining) educational shows like Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Watching our eldest’s shows, my wife and I have occasionally fallen into the trap of turning up our noses at the shows and lamenting about the loss of intelligent viewing options. Fortunately, with alternative channels like Animal Planet and Discovery Kids, we can take solace in the fact that there are more opportunities of education and entertainment to blend. But, let’s face it, as a kid sometimes you just want to be entertained and put the ol’ brain on park.

Both my wife and I were fond of the Incredible Hulk, so we were excited about the chance of catching it again when it appeared on the schedule for one of our subscribed channels. After two episodes we began to question our intelligence. Maybe we weren’t as smart or discerning as we thought we were.

My wife was a Charlie’s Angels fan. Another memory tarnished by reality. Miami Vice? Terrible. A-Team? B rate. But the worst, most disappointing wasted childhood memory? V.

Whenever discussions of shows we loved came up, V was at the top of our list. We remembered it as a stylish, intelligent, exciting show – even though the only memories we could conjure up was the image of the aliens peeling off their fake human faces. In this case, the stature of the show continued to be built up due to its stubborn refusal to show up on my dial. My faith in the quality of the show was unwavering.

Until we saw it. Let’s just say I miss my memories.

And that’s the key. Few things are as good as we remember from youth, and it’s made me gun shy about what I’m willing to watch again. I picked up Schoolhouse Rock andUnderdog DVDs and was pleased that they still met my lofty expectations. I watched Sesame Street with my daughter, or the old Spider-Man cartoons (you know, the one that used stock images when he was swinging so that the Empire State Building would appear in any jungle or any country…) with my son and they’re still entertaining.

Yet, I’ve lost so much by revisiting my youth. Fond memories have been tainted by present-day realities. I remember loving the Electric Company, but do I really want to pick up the new DVD set and risk slaying Speed Reader?

When favourite shows return to the tube, your decision on whether or not you want to watch comes down to how much are you willing to gamble? How fond are your memories? Are you willing to compromise childhood reminisces? I’m finding, personally, the answer is less and less in the affirmative.

After all, absence does make the heart grow fonder – and those built-up memories rarely stand the test of time.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Parenting Lets Us Be a Kid Again

By Jason Menard

Children are truly a gift. They enrich our lives, make us put things into a new perspective, and help us see what’s truly important. Those of us who have had the good fortune to have children have been blessed with a gift that will grow and blossom as the years pass.

Oh, and let’s not forget the toys!

While the politically correct thing to do when talking about our children is to wax poetic about the profound impact they have on our lives. And while all of those things are true, we parents have to admit that the toys are a pretty cool benefit too.

Having children allows us to relive our childhood. Take a grown man playing with Barbies in his basement, and you’d be ready to write him off as a borderline-psycho loner who probably hasn’t had a date in the past few years. But throw a three-year old daughter into the equation, and this more-than-creepy image morphs into a heart-warming expression of love between a father and daughter. A man lining up alone to see a Star Wars film? Probably living at home in his parents’ basement. However, when you add a son to the mix, then you have a devoted dad sharing a bonding moment with his child!

The most enduring films and TV shows are the ones that capture the imagination of our children, while appealing on another level to the adults who watch along with them. Shows like The Muppets and movies like Aladdin and the Shrek series resonate with our children because of the characters and the slapstick-style humour, whereas the parents are privy to another level of appreciation through carefully crafted dialogue and pop culture references. As The Simpsons has shown, kids will be drawn to the Bart and Lisa characters, whereas parents gravitate to the parents and the social commentary underlying each episode.

Kids let us revert to our childhood and recapture the innocence and freedom we enjoyed in our youth. Many parents will sit and complain about the quality of cartoons or movies directed towards our youth. We grumble and grouse and state that the shows of our youth were so much better. But it’s not a matter of whether or not we think they’re better or not: we’re just not-so-subtly trying to coerce our kids into watching what we did, so that we can justify our adult enjoyment of such childish pastimes.

Recently I was walking through a store and a DVD caught my eye, an anniversary edition of Schoolhouse Rock. In my youth, these brief snippets of animation were the highlight of my day. Wedged between Mary Lou Retton imploring me to get off the couch and exercise and Menudo showcasing its Latin-lite, choreographed vignettes, these slyly produced cartoons that mixed education with entertainment were captivating to me and many of my peers. The memories stuck with me so much that on a trip to Washington a few years back, I made sure to sit on the steps of the Capitol, singing quietly “I’m Just a Bill.”

The fact that I have an 11-year-old son and a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter made the decision to buy it a no-brainer. Not only could I make the purchase guilt-free, I’d also have a built-in reason to watch them! Fortunately, both kids seem to enjoy them, so all works out well in the end.

Obviously, as parents, we want to encourage our children to forge their own identities and explore their world. Just as childhood remembrances of The Electric Company, Star Wars, and the like have become shared points of reference for my generation, so too do my kids need to experience the memories and the cultural phenomena that will act as a common bond with the people they meet in the future. But if I can expose them to the occasional reference from my youth — then all the better.

The funny thing about all of this is that as we age, we’re constantly worried about whether or not we’re ready for parenthood. We question whether we have the maturity and the wherewithal to be good parents. But maybe we focus too much on the responsibility component of parenthood and not enough on the joy.

Growing up is a part of life, but who knew that having children would let us be a kid again?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved