This past Sunday Jodi and I had set up a car rental in the hopes of going to the Rockaways for a nice beach getaway. Ever since this Summer began all I've been hearing from her is, "When are we going to the beach?," "Did you know there's an awesome place called 'the beach' we could visit?," "Are you hearing me when I say the word 'beach'?," and my personal favorite: "Beach, beach, beach, beach, beach." It seems as though my wife has no appreciation for the monitor tan I've been working on, nor the countless hours I've spent trying to obtain that perfect Elmer's pasty complexion. We knew that the forecast was calling for rain in the morning, which was when we wanted to go, so we decided to come up with an alternative activity if things went south. Unfortunately it rained off and on and was overcast, so we opted for Plan B: a high-speed, cross country race from New York to California with a slew of Hollywood actors (and Farrah Fawcett's nipples) competing against us. Ok, fine. It wasn't THAT exciting. We hit Target and the mall.
I know what you're thinking, "You live in New York and have access to so much. Why go to such mundane places?" First of all, you're absolutely correct. 4) We normally don't go to either of these places unless we travel back to the Midwest, so it was kind of a treat. And E, we needed a place Olivia could run around in to burn off some energy in case the weather continued to be bad. Target ended up being more trouble for our wallet than it was for trying to handle Olivia. You know how it goes: you walk in there with a small list of things and end up leaving with two cartloads full of stuff. Granted, it is stuff we need and will use. But the philosophy of the visit was definitely, "Why not, since we're here?" So Jodi and I left the store with assorted snacks, toiletries, stationery, and clothing which we needed. Olivia, on the other hand, left with a brand new toddler sized purse and containers of bubbles, both of which she barely let the cashier ring up before snatching them back hastily. I figured Olivia now had plenty of loot from our trip and would want nothing to do with any of the stores in the mall. Wrong, Chris. Wrong.
We started off the mall excursion by keeping Olivia in her stroller, in the hopes it would ease her into the sensory overload that is a place like this. We walked past the Rainforest Cafe, whose jungle sounds and faux overgrowth evoked a resounding, "I scared," from baby girl. We wandered by the Sephora, with blinding light, pulsing music and overwhelming aromas that evoked a resounding, "I scared," from me. Thank god we're nowhere near that phase in her life, because I sure as hell am not ready for that part of parenthood yet. And then, just when we thought it was safe to walk past the water fountain, we came upon the beacon of childhood dreams and desires that no parent of a toddler escapes unscathed from. No, it's not a Cinnabon. I'm talking about The Disney Store.
Jodi and I gave each other knowing glances and braced ourselves for whatever was about to happen next. As we got closer to the store, Olivia's eyes widened and she acted as if she was in a trance. All she could say was, "I want down," repeatedly as she fumbled to release herself from the clutches of the stroller's safety harness. Once we set her on the ground she instantly turned into a Nickelodeon toy shopping spree contestant. She'd run up to something, clutch it as if it were the singular most important thing she'd save if the building caught fire in that moment, then discard it to one of us as her gaze fixated on something else she needed to have. This happened repeatedly until she finally slowed down at the tiny section of 'Frozen' items that the store was somehow still able to keep in stock.
Jodi has already bought dolls of the sisters that we're going to give her for her birthday (Shhhhhh! Don't ruin the surprise!), but we figured we'd probably end up buying one item from the movie while we were in the store. As Olivia was perusing what they had, Jodi and I noticed that the video screen on the wall began playing the 'Let It Go' scene from the film. As the song took off, Jodi asked Olivia if she heard what was playing. Olivia stopped what she was doing, listened intently to the music and then finally saw Elsa belting out the tune that has been on repeat in our child's head for the past month or so. As she locked onto the screen her eyes widened bigger than I've ever seen them and she let out a gasp like it was 1964 and she had just seen a Beatle walk in front of her. She covers her mouth in the hopes of containing the excitement that is exuding from her body and then runs to the screen, joining at least 5 other girls (all of various ages) who are all sitting or standing and mesmerized by the screen. As the song went on I watched as the girls lip synched or just sang along to what was most likely their favorite song ever, ever. A 12 year old boy with a mohawk wandered into the group, began mouthing the lyrics and then acted like he was too old for such nonsense and moved on to the Star Wars section of the store. Another tween-age boy slowly moved in front of the screen, completely oblivious to what he was doing to the group, fixated on the Rocket Raccoon figure (complete with motorized gun and movie sounds!) that was everything to him in that moment. I just stood on the sideline and smiled at the beauty before me.
It was here that I bore witness to nostalgia working its magic, swirling through the air and invading the hearts and minds of every child in the store. I could actually see it deepening the connections that these kids had to characters, songs and movies that they would take with them into adulthood and look back on with loving fondness. That is until they revisit these things in their 30's and shake their heads at the shoddy animation, horrible CGI and lame dialogue that makes up some of this stuff. I used to love the shit out of 'Super Friends' back in the day, but WOW is it bad by today's standards.
This is one of the many things that fills me with excitement in regards to being a parent. I get to watch as she develops attachments to people, places and things that will shape her as a person and fill her heart with warmth when she looks back on them. Of course I want most of that to come from her familly, friends and the time she spends bonding with them. The vacations, the taste and smell of favorite home-cooked meals, the laughter, the love and everything in between. And yet there's a part of me that can't wait to see what things in pop culture she will latch on to. The movies and TV shows that she can quote by heart, the songs that take her back to the exact moment in time she first heard them and the emotions they bring out.
I say that now, but then I have to wonder how many times I can see the same movie or hear the same songs over and over until I can't take it any more. When I was a kid we had a VHS copy of 'Home Alone' that my younger brother watched relentlessly. He loved it so much that he would use a portable cassette player to record some of the dialogue and then play THAT over and over. I believe it is partly because of this that I can't watch movies or shows multiple times. I shudder every time I hear, "Keep the change you filthy animal," and I break out in hives whenever I smell Brut cologne.
It used to be that media wore out or broke if you used them too much. I can already see how thankful our parents must have been for that to happen. But in these days of digital media, how do you wear out or break a copy of a song or movie? Sure, we could delete something if we just couldn't take another viewing or listen. But, there's only so long we can get away with telling our child that the iTunes Store is out of her favorite movie/song before she figures us out.