So, the thing is...  Iím having an identity crisis. 

Until now, my three-year-old, Ana, has been successfully sheltered from the grand commercial onslaught of advertising directed at small children.  For about the first two years of her life, she was familiar only with the Sesame Street characters and Barney, the purple dinosaur.  When I was childless, I thought Barney was, well, SATAN but since I've seen roughly every show ever made and read every book ever written about him, I have mellowed.  Indeed, Santa brought a huge Barney to Ana for Christmas last December and I might have had some inside knowledge of that particular present.  And although I started out loving Elmo (a very sweet monster), after roughly two years of hearing him on cassettes in the car, I am sure that his rendition of the Beatles "Baby You Can Drive My Car" looms large on the soundtrack in Hell. 

At about age two-and-a-half, we learned all of the astronauts when Ana developed a huge interest in space and space travel and astronauts.  She did confuse Neil Armstrong with LANCE Armstrong (which she pronounced LAMB Armstrong, much to my hilarity) but other than that, she knows them all.  My spouse was really supportive of this particular obsession because his father used to work with NASA and most of the kids he grew up with had parents involved in the space program.  He's actually MET some of the astronauts we introduced to Ana through books and the Internet.  So, when Ana started devouring books on space, we not only fanned the flame, we also eagerly embraced the beginnings of role-playing.  She became Astronaut Ana and had to wear her bike --er --SPACE helmet everywhere she went.  I mean, EVERYWHERE --in the car, in the grocery store, in restaurants, at the breakfast table.  Frankly, I thought this was so funny that I encouraged it.  I love that she tells people sheís starting pre-school in the Fall so she can learn to be an astronaut. 

For the past three or four months, we've been spending a lot of time at the local library and we've become familiar with a whole new set of characters.  There are the Arthur books, which revolve around an eight-year-old aardvark and his family and friends.  Then, there are the Thomas the Tank Engine books, which incorporate a dizzying array of Really Useful Engines and some ancillary vehicles like a bus, a tractor and a helicopter --all of whom have faces and all of whom have names.  Then we bought three Veggie Tales books and the accompanying tiny stuffed vegetables that Ana insists on sleeping with every night.  Finally, we found Blues Clues --where even the mailbox and the bar of soap are characters.  The Blues Clues books aren't as good as the others so far but there are some good videos available for Blues Clues and as much as I try to limit Ana's television exposure, I think the show teaches a certain type of deductive reasoning so she gets to watch them sometimes. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)   

So, that's a LOT of characters to keep up with for the average sleep-deprived mommy!  And now we are fast and furious into role-playing with ALL of them.  And they cross stories! Just when I thought I was talking to Larry the Cucumber about not sharing her toys with Smiley Sally Ride, I find out that Larry is now Steve from Blueís Clues and Sally is now Little Paprika.  (As an aside, do the creators of Blues Clues think we are STUPID?  I mean, everyone knows that if Mrs. Pepper and Mr. Salt had a baby, it wouldn't be PAPRIKA!!  (Well, unless you want to cast aspersions on the moral fiber of Mrs. Salt and I refuse to lower myself to that level.))  So, not only do the characters appear in each other's stories but frequently, the characters change based on new bits of information that came about after the acquisition of a new toy.  I had just figured out that our car was named Caroline because that's the name of the car in the Thomas series, when the car suddenly became Percy because Percy is green like our car.  But the real Percy is a TRAIN --doesn't that bother anyone else? 

My husband has taken all of this in stride.  He comes home after a long day at the office and enters the house staring at me, hoping for a hint as to his identity.  Ana frequently greets him with a warm "Hi, Shovel!" and that's all he needs to hear to know that he's been assigned a Blues Clues character.  He did seem a bit put out the last time we had a space-themed dinner and *I* got to be Mission Control but he got over it when the first name Ana learned to type on the computer was "Jeffrey" (for Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman) since he is frequently the Designated Jeffrey in our household.  (So is the inflatable astronaut Ana carries around but I didn't want to burst his bubble.) 

I did completely bust him the other day as I was going to get my hair cut.  "Donít get it cut too short," he said.  "Donít get a mom haircut."  I stared at him, already regretting my request for his input.  "You know," he said.  "A MOM haircut.  Like Arthurís mom." 

"She's an AARDVARK!!" 

"Yeah, but sheís got mom hair," he said, shrugging. 

And speaking of Arthur, am I the only one who finds it implausible that, although he has a friend who is a bulldog, he still owns a dog named Pal as a pet?  Since when do aardvarks own dogs?  Not to mention that his circle of friends includes a rabbit, a bear, two monkeys and a cat and they are all the same size!  And they're all taught by a rat!  

But anyway, I am doing my best.  It's sort of like being in a never-ending theater improvisation class and I have some theater background, after all.  I can hang.  Most days I can even stay one step ahead of the action.  But there was this day last week when my spouse came home to find me drinking a glass of wine in the kitchen.  "Uh oh," he said, sympathetically.  "Bad day?" 

"Well, Steve couldn't find Thomas all day and she's been in a stinker of a mood.  I finally sent her to her room after she threw Bob the Tomato at little Paprika and poked a hole in Jeffrey.  Then Pal got out of the fence and I had chase her down the street.  Caroline has developed a strange sound in her transmission but there is no day next week when I can be without Percy, I am sorry.  And little Sally Ride is teething and she doesn't know whether to smile or cry.  PLUS, I hate my hair!" 

"Oh, Iím sorry, Barb." 



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(c) Barbara Cooper 2001

 Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (3) and Jane (seven months).  She lives in Austin, Texas and really does think she's Mission Control.