On Repetition

Will Lev ever get bored of seeing the same video over and over and over? I know toddlers like repetition, but after I had showed him “Baby Einstein: On the go” every single day for two weeks straight, I thought, he must be getting sick of it by now. I tried to switch and showed him “Baby Neptune” — showcasing water-related concepts —since he had also been playing with water that day. He squirmed, ran his toy car on the desk, dropped it, wriggled down to get it, ran the car on my keyboard (a practice mommy frowns upon), cried when I took the keyboard away, dropped the car again, and cried to get me to pick it up. In other words, acted less than enthralled. So finally I switched back to “On the Go,” with the same old picture of the helicopters, trains and cars with the same old music, which even when I ignore it is beginning to get annoyingly over-familiar. Instantly Lev dropped his toy car and crawled up to the monitor to chatter excitedly (but still nonsensically) to me about the cars and trains appearing on the screen.

Saying ‘Train’ a Thousand Times

So I was back to half-watching the video and telling him the name of everything he pointed at — saying “car,” “train,” “helicopter,” “boat,” etc. just like i have every day this week, and last week too. My only complaint about Baby Einstein, which I think is otherwise close to the epitome of quality baby video, is that I wonder if they talk enough. The whole reason I started showing Lev videos was that I was worried that he wasn’t hearing people talk (or sing), and I just couldn’t manage hours and hours of baby patter myself. I couldn’t even read books to him because he turned the pages too fast; he had no interest in hearing the story. I’m not sure if his passion for Baby Einstein solves this problem, though. Their videos are organized in segments, like “goes in air,” and then they will introduce a bunch of new words with pictures: “airplane,” “helicopter,” “hang glider.” Once the words are introduced, they show a silent montage of images of the introduced objects, accompanied by classical music, alternating pictures of the real object and kid’s toy representations of them, and only then returning again to a systematic recitation of the names, this time often with kids instead of adults saying them. (There are also mostly silent puppet show interludes as well, which adds up to a lot of time without words.) It is during the silent montage that Lev will wriggle up close to the screen and point at things, and I’ll tell him what they are. Perhaps the silence is meant for exactly this sort of parental participation, but it does seem that the video’s voices are a bit sparse, so it demands some filling in.

Anyway, it makes me wonder: how will I know when I’ve shown him “On the Go” too many times? Right now his appetite for it feels insatiable. How much should I try to give him variety, or is it OK to get stuck in a rut of old standbys? If I hadn’t tried to get out of my original rut (of “Super Simple Songs” and “Storybots”) we never would have found “On the Go” in the first place.

Comforting Instead of Boring

Maybe I shouldn’t think of it as a rut — I dimly remember how I felt about one of the first stories that was read to me, about Pooh and Piglet going to Eeyore’s birthday party. I think I wanted to hear it so many times my parents got annoyed and recorded the story on a cassette tape — then I could just push a button and listen to it again. I didn’t feel stuck in a rut: it felt fantastically comforting to know what was going to happen next, and then, gosh, be thrilled to witness it happened exactly the way I expected it too! If I mine into my memories to figure out why, I realize that it was in the context of a life that felt essentially different: it was so packed with new and unpredictable events that familiar and predictable things were an total anomaly, and as a result, comforting instead of boring.

Hasn’t Seen Yet

It surprises me to reflect that even though the Baby Einstein videos are filled with fairly ordinary objects, Lev still hasn’t seen at least half of them. He hasn’t seen a helicopter or hang glider, and I doubt he remembers the airplanes he’s seen. He hasn’t seen an ocean liner or tugboat or speedboat. He hasn’t seen the farm animals his nursery rhymes talk about: he’s never seen a horse or a pig or a cow. It hard to find a video that contains entirely things he has seen: for instance, I had hopes for the “In your neighborhood” segment, with its talk of sidewalks, streets and playgrounds, but even that one talks about “bakery” and “florist.” Lev’s never been to a florist, unless I counts the time the Star Market lady took us to the floral section of the store to get him a balloon, which I don’t think I can. I also don’t think he remembers the single time he’s been in a bakery. Given that encounters with all these things we think of as ordinary are all entirely novel to Lev, familiarity is a quality that is in much shorter supply in his life than it is in ours. When I remember how much I enjoyed a story whose ending I could predict, the memory makes sense because I could predict very little of what would happen to me, so being able to predict was a wonderful novelty. I suppose if I said to Lev “let’s go see a horse,” it would be easy for me to predict more or less what that experience is going to be like, but it isn’t for Lev, because he’s never seen a horse before. Or any kind of boat. Or a helicopter. Or a flower shop. Or…. the list goes on and on. So maybe repetition is a relief from unrelenting novelty.