It happened within a week of starting kindergarten.
I had always dreaded this moment, but I knew despite my best efforts that it was bound to happen at some point.
"Mom, I really, really need a Hannah Montana backpack! I NEED one. "
I considered my daughter, five years old, fresh off the school bus, she dumped her Hello Kitty backpack on the floor and wrapped her shrimpy arms around my neck.
"Who is this Hannah Montana? " I asked, buying time. My daughter looked at me, gave an exaggerated eyeroll and sighed heavily. (She must have learned THAT at school.)
Maaaah-ommmm ... She is pretty."
"And?" I asked.
"Well, she is a girl... She is pretty... She has a show. I think. I think she sings songs."
"Well, what songs does she sing?"
"Maaaaaah-ommmm... I don't know what songs. But I know she is cool because all the girls in school know her and they have her shirts and her backpack."
Despite convincing my daughter that I resided under a rock and had no clue who Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus is, I knew full on about this " actress/singer."
"Tell you what, bug, as soon as you can name me two Hannah Montana songs, we will get you that backpack."
This appeased her at the time, and I congratulated myself on my fair and clever negotiating skills. I did not want to slag on my kid's interests, or make her feel less cool than the Hannah Montana backpack-sporting cool girls. Heck, I was a kid once, and I can still remember my father making me feel totally lame for liking Michael Jackson, when he would have preferred I liked The Rolling Stones.
Was Miley Cyrus her George Michael? Was my insistence on playing Northern State and Karen O just as bad as my father playing The Who when I would have, at age six, looooooved me some Selena Gomez?
When you have kids, you want to steer them in the right direction. You feed them the " right" food, you expose them to art and music and books that you feel are "right" for them. A lot of moms my age, 41 ( cough, cough) get caught up in being the "cool" parent. And by cool I don't mean we give our kids beer at age 16. By "cool" I mean we dress them in ironic slogan clothing from No Added Sugar, we decorate their rooms in vinyl art toys from Kid Robot, we steer them away from Barbie towards Blythe dolls.
I've been guilty of all of the above. But I gave up the Barbie fight. (I decided once Ken's girlfriend became an astronaut and teacher and architect that she was OK in my book.) Plus, I loved Barbie as a child. Maybe shielding my daughter from Hannah and the rest of the Disney pop pre-teen princesses was doing my her a disservice.
I decided to explore the achy breaky daughter and see if I wasn't just being a culture snob. I wasn't. I tried "Hannah Montana." Many times. I tried with an open mind. I tried "The Wizards of Waverly Place" ( this program won an Emmy for outstanding children's show!) I tried "Shake it Up." I tried "The Suite Life on Deck." And despite a few occasional glimmers of what I think are good role model behavior traits ( kindness, honesty, doing your best) the main thread I noticed running through all these shows is that girls are dumb.
And the girls who are not portrayed as " dumb" are depicted as "nerds." Their wardrobes contain far less bling and sparkle than the " dumb" ( prettier, richer, more popular) girls. They are made fun of for being smart, for doing their homework, for pronouncing words correctly, for not focusing solely on makeup, clothing and boys.
Granted, I'm sure the lovely people at Disney would tell me that these programs are not made for girls my daughter's age, the demographic they are marketed to are ages 12-15, but it's the 5-9 year old girls who emulate the characters in these shows, who learn the words to the theme songs, who buy the backpacks.
And it's the little girls who may not "get" that these characters are created with a sense of irony, that they should laugh when the pretty "dumb" girl makes fun of the plainer "smart" girl, that there are better aspirations than buying rhinestone-studded kicks and getting a boyfriend.
The one exception I did see was the show "Good Luck Charlie," where the lead character is cute and trendy and smart. She gets good grades, cares for her siblings, and often speaks about future plans to attend college. The main problem I have with this sitcom is that the parents are portrayed as selfish dolts, the mother an airhead and the father a lug who spends most of the show either splayed on the sofa or rolling his eyes. Like I need a reason for my daughter to start emulating Teddy on this show, who often treats her parents with sarcastic indulgence or huffy annoyance?
Disney has recently released a show called "A.N.T Farm" about young gifted kids attending high school in the advanced program. The commercials I have seen depict the lead "smart" girl trying out for cheerleading and being made fun of by the "dumb" popular girls. My only hope is that they don't start selling a backpack for this one.