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Baby Einstein Refunds

Whenever I think I’m doing a decent job of raising my kids, something happens to convince me that I am, in fact, profoundly inept at the job.

Most recently it was the news that the Baby Einstein company is offering refunds to anyone who bought its DVDs in the last five years. Here’s why: Turns out the show doesn’t actually make kids any smarter.

I know. It’s shocking. Next they’ll tell us that Froot Loops are NOT actually part of a nutritious breakfast, and that sparing the rod does NOT in fact spoil the child. Where will the madness end?

The Einstein videos — and the Baby Beethovens, da Vincis, and Wordsworths that make up the whole lofty-tot series — have long been promoted as educational, said to stimulate babies’ brains. But a child advocacy group called the claims untrue and threatened Disney with a class-action lawsuit, citing studies that prove such shows actually delay language development.

In other words, the more they see, the less they know. Which is sort of how I feel about my parenting skills.

Confession: I’m one of the lousy moms who strapped her infants into their no-escape high-chairs, pushed them in front of the television and popped in a Baby Mozart video. I did it with frequency and I did it with confidence, believing for no good reason that the images of low-budget puppets nodding to sonatas would spark synapses in my boys’ burgeoning, Harvard-bound brains.

Because it was either that or my well-worn copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

But the truth is I didn’t screen Baby Mozart for my kids. I did it for me. For the 30 minutes of divine alone-time that those bizarre, baby-bewitching shows provided once (OK, sometimes twice) a day. In a sprawl of groggy home-with-my-infant months, that half-hour was time when no one whined at me. Wailed for me. Tugged on me. It was time so precious that I don’t even mind having traded a few of my kids’ IQ points for it.

Yes, I’m going to take the “La-la-la-I-am-not-listening” approach to this refund news. You can argue that the videos inhibit language acquisition, that children learn to speak through face time with mom and dad. And I can argue that my kids did not need to learn the words that would have been spewing out of my face if I hadn’t had that brief daily window of me-time.

Researchers are always telling us what babies need: sleep, touch, attention. No one ever asks what mommies need. When my kids were babies, I needed a shower. I needed a nap. Frankly, I needed a drink. Instead, I calmed my nerves in a bath, took a brownie out to the garden, stole some short-term shut-eye, or lost myself in a book that made me laugh — and laugh in a way that a post-diaper-change game of “where’s your nose?” really never did.

My kids loved the Baby Einstein series. They’d coo and giggle and stare stupefied at it from the second I hit “play” through the last doleful strains of the closing-credit music. But I can’t say whether the content was terrific, since I rarely saw it myself; if it was on, I was elsewhere in the house. For the record, though, I learned phrases in a dozen other languages from hearing the thing in the background, so if it stunted my kids’ smarts, at least it bolstered my own. Domo arigato, Einstein-san!

Parenting is hard. And having a little confidence that you’re doing the right thing — for example, exposing your baby to something educational while you expose yourself to, say, something chocolate — is an inestimable blessing. Even if it’s unjustified.

That’s what I think. But then, I’m no Einstein.

Published inColumnsParenting

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