Dora the Explorer, eponymous Latina star of the animated Nickelodeon series, is a bilingual problem solver who confidently traverses unknown territory in every episode. In “City of Lost Toys,” a typical episode, Dora sets out to find her missing teddy bear, Osito, and other toys her friends have lost. She’s helped along the way by her sidekick (a monkey named Boots), her trusty map, and a group of magical stars she and Boots catch. The first landmark Dora reaches on her journey is a Mesoamerican-style pyramid where she must complete basic counting and arithmetic problems.
When I think back on my own childhood, I find that my memories are sepia-toned, by which I do not mean that I am especially nostalgic, but, rather, that I grew up in the 1970s, and brown was hot. Yellow, too. Those two colors comprised the entire palette of the complete Little Tikes line and many other elements of my visual universe. Everything else was red, green, or blue. All little kids had pageboy haircuts, and boys and girls wore the same Garanimals and played with the same Legos.
Not long ago, homeschooling was thought of as the domain of hippie earth mothers letting their kids “do their own thing” or creationist Christians shielding their kids from monkey science and premarital sex. As recently as 1980, homeschooling was illegal in 30 states. Despite the fact that such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Atwood, Sandra Day O’Connor, and, um, Jennifer Love Hewitt were products of a home education, the practice is still often seen as strange and even detrimental.
When she was presented with the state of Arkansas’s Young Mother of the Year award in April 2004, Michelle Duggar was 37 years old and seven months pregnant. A USA Today profile on the award ceremony noted her current reproductive status by describing with notable amusement how she “waddled” into the Capitol building to accept the honor.
Hold on—a USA Today profile? Of a stay-at-home mother receiving an award in Little Rock? No offense to the great state of Arkansas, but surely there must be more to the story. And there is: 14 other children, to be precise.
With all the world in strife, one might think the moms of New York would cut each other some slack.... That motherhood, in short, would serve as a safe house where civility and mutual respect rule. Think again. Motherhood, for all its well-documented joys, has become a flash point for envy, resentment, and guilt.
—Ralph Gardner Jr., “Mom vs. Mom,” New York, October 21, 2002
"One might think,” in other words, that mothers could comport themselves in a more seemly manner. Because if we don’t get ourselves under control, we’re going to explode.
It didn’t matter that the outcome was predictable, that Beth Hogan would invariably be crowned Miss America. We competed fiercely, as if we expected to win. A year earlier, when we were in fifth grade, we held séances, but now we staged beauty pageants as if our lives depended on it, as many as four or five a night.
The year my oldest daughter turned 4, her little sister was born, and that spring, in desperation, I let her play more or less unsupervised in the neighbors’ yard. When I came up for air from the endless diaper changes and nursing sessions, I’d catch a glimpse of her through the family-room window. Sweaty, dirty, and wild-eyed, she ran behind the neighbors’ pack of crazy, good-natured, and mostly unsupervised boys.
In this era of social conservatism, the so-called mommy wars, and renewed cultural clashes about gender, work, and “family values,” it’s hardly surprising that nanny narratives are making a comeback. Faster than you can say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” nannies have popped up in movies (Uptown Girls) and bestselling novels (The Nanny Diaries, I Don’t Know How She Does It), as characters on tv shows (Friends, Kevin Hill, Desperate Housewives), and even as a subgenre of reality tv (Nanny 911, Supernanny).
When the curtain rose at the London premiere of the play Peter Pan in 1904, it unveiled a drama of flying children, fairies, and pirates that would soon become a classic—and inspire countless spin-offs, adaptations, and reinterpretations. On the cinematic side, these began with the 1924 silent-film version of the play, starring Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily. Disney’s animated Peter Pan (1953) has been described as “ageless” (though one wonders if critics took note of the decidedly dated, stereotypical depiction of Native Americans), while Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) told the story of a grown-up Peter’s transformation into a mature father.