One of my favorite parts of being a mom is getting to eavesdrop on the banter of my children. When my son and daughter get going—he’s 7 and she’s 5—the conversation twists and turns more than a 1971 “Malibu Barbie’s” waist! The kids are natural storytellers, and though their give-and-take often gives me a headache, I do take away lots of laughs and insight from hearing them debate and gossip.
What do two siblings under the age of 8 have to discuss? Well, they both have been discoursing of late on what is the greatest thing that God has ever created. My son thinks it is the universe; my daughter thinks it’s all of us humans. I’ve listened to them push their points: “You can’t live somewhere without the Earth!” Tommy will shout. “Yeah, but the Earth is empty without people, and God would be lonely,” Jane challenges.
It’s amazing to know that they are both thinking such high-minded concepts, but then I’ll be thrown back down to Earth when I overhear them swapping pop-culture references. Their classmates are all obsessed with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and though Tommy and Jane can’t name a single song by either recording star, they are convinced that the “lady” and the “scamp” are powerhouse talents. No matter what melody comes from the car radio or is wafting through the living room, they think it’s the work of Gaga and Bieber. (“Ode to Joy?” Lady Gaga. “Beethoven’s Ninth?” Bieber.)
Finally, after being inundated with weeks’ and weeks’ worth of Justin Bieber praises—mistakenly pronounced as “Justin Beaver”—my husband had had enough. He uploaded a photo of a beaver and a photo of Justin Bieber. He clicked back and forth from one image to the next, “Which one is the famous singer, Jane? Which one?” It might sound preposterous, but Jane said she had to study the images more closely. She wasn’t 100-percent sure. (In her defense, Bieber and the beaver did have very similar amounts of hair.)
Realizing my children aren’t alone in this push-button hero worship, I thought it odd that there are no Justin Bieber dolls on the market. Oh, how wrong I was! Just in time for Christmas, a slumber party worth of Bieber dolls and bears will be hitting toy shelves everywhere. They are sure to be scooped up by and for the very powerful, very vocal tween and pre-tween fan base.
Will I buy a Justin figure for my two young ones? I don’t think so, just because they are artificially “wild” about him. They reference him and envy him, but they have no idea who he is or what he has done. Now, if you were talking about a Sponge Bob doll or an iCarly bear, that would be an entirely different matter. Sponge Bob is like Laurence Olivier in our household. The kids are in awe of his repertoire and range. Likewise, the character of Carly on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” mesmerizes them more than Meryl Streep before an auditorium of swooning Oscar voters.
What’s so interesting about children is that they covet and they want, but half the time, they don’t even know what it is that they desire. They truly are sporting impressionable brains of mush, just ready to be molded, kneaded and manipulated. They are the perfect candidates for advertising.
If the Mattel “Mad Men” dolls were given an hour alone with “Todd” and “Kelly,” Barbie’s little brother and sister, who knows what merchandise mayhem would break out in the toy chest? Children are so susceptible to hard sells, soft sells—pretty much any sale. They believe that anything is possible in their daily life, so why not believe every proclamation being shouted over the commercial airwaves?
Christmas is a couple months away, but my children’s birthdays are at the end of this month. They have already started lobbying—and lobbying hard—for a storage shed filled with electronic gadgets, video games, arts-and-crafts, robots, dinosaurs, Star Wars characters, and that’s just the first paragraph of their wish list.
They see it, and they want it. And as a collector, I well understand their frenzy to have. I, too, have been caught up in that spiral of collecting a particular series or theme. After a while, the appearances and the quality of the individual pieces stopped mattering. All I cared about was buying and having, and completing the sets. I must say, those moments were not my finest hours.
With my children, I see many of my tendencies, for better and for worse, replicated in them. Since they are adopted, I can’t use the genetic/hereditary factor as an excuse or an explanation. If I’m reflected there, it’s because of what they’ve seen and heard, not because of Aunt Colleen or Uncle Sven from a hundred years ago.
My son, who has been here in the States for 18 months, arrived without knowing a single word of English. Today, he gets 90s and 100s on his vocabulary and spelling tests. It is phenomenal. What I’m most proud of, though, is that we taught him the word for “thank you” pretty early on. But just now, he is beginning to be really thankful for what he has and what will greet him in the future. That’s something we all need to be working on in our lives. We can spell “grateful,” but how often are we “grateful.”
And for this insight, I am grateful to Justin Bieber. Who knew that a silly teen idol with an enormous mop of bangs could get me to examine “commercial goods” versus “being good?” Good job, young man. Good job.
My daughter, Jane, 5 years old, knows she’s supposed to like Justin Bieber, whom she mistakenly called “Justin Beaver.” Given a choice between the two mammals, she had to consider deeply who is the iTunes superstar.
Just in time for Christmas, Justin Bieber dolls (top) and bears are going to invade the marketplace. Buy some heavy-duty earplugs to combat the shrieks of tweens everywhere.