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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hidden Racism in Thomas the Train?

Is the guy in the center white? Hard to tell.
Bubs 1 loves Thomas. I mean, he LOVES Thomas. He knows all the trains, and even their personalities. I also enjoy Thomas. When Bubs 1 and I began communicating - conversing - Thomas was the topic. We both shared a common knowledge. It was great.

It is still great, but over the past year, I've been noticing something about the cartoons that I want to also discuss with Bubs 1... soon. Not yet, but soon.

 I recently discovered that bubs doesn't like the diesel trains. He likes all the "steamies." I can only assume that he's just following along with the cartoon's design, which is to cast the diesel trains in unfavorable light. Fair enough. However, why are most of the people, who get on and off the various trains, white? I did take a pretty cool course that focused on the criticality of children's literature and how much of the literature out there reproduces society today (and therefore perpetuates slow change). Society does change, no doubt. However, do our children grow to perceive the world just as we do now, because of the "knowledge' we're dispensing into their minds today? Does this enable the slow evolution on social issues?
Black mother w/child

So how does Thomas literature expose the distorted power relations of characters in his children's books? After examining the first three Thomas books picked up from the shelf, I counted just three non-white characters in all three books. Wow. How does this translate into racism? Obviously, it is not the violent, above-ground form of racism that the white majority waged against non-whites in our nation's history, but is it a silent form of racism? Does Thomas imply that only white people ride trains? Socioeconomically speaking, trains are expensive. Is Thomas encouraging children to forget the poverty (more a class issue, really)? However, statistics do show that although a higher number of whites live in poverty, a higher percentage of Blacks and Hispanics live in poverty. One in four, in each of the later two groups, lives in poverty, whereas 1 in 10, in the prior group, lives in poverty.
How many of us ate in a dining car?

This reminds me of discussions I have with people who remember back when racism was more visible and out in the open. They're comments center around what they remember "seeing" versus what is still occurring today, but just below the surface. They believe that race relations is getting better, because they do not see what they saw. However, when we look at the statistics (above), we clearly "see" that racism is still going on. Is Thomas the Tank Engine helping bubs 1 (and soon bubs 2) "see" racism? Good question. Maybe not visibly, but perhaps unconsciously. This may be why mainstream discourse, regarding racism, defends that it is better, because they can't "see" it. I partly agree. It's much better not to see discrimination as it happened in days past, but racism isn't gone.
Who amongst us slept in a bed car?

It's a big issue that nobody talks about. In politics, many conservatives support the position that minorities should "pull up their bootstraps like everybody else" and many liberals support the idea of providing services to help minorities get on level playing ground. However, both political sides ignore the fact that structural design leaves a disproportionate number of minority members with lesser resources than those who are more privileged.  Therefore, both end up perpetuating (enabling) a system that both serves the dominant culture and discriminates against the others. The real solution, is a radical one, and that is to change the existing infrastructure that creates this debate.
All caucasian... all 16 individuals

Thomas may be more promoting class hierarchy than the dominant culture, but as the stats show above, that could be one in the same for many. The cartoon does disproportionately represent individuals from the dominant culture  (and maybe class too) than minority populations. If we examine Sir Topham Hat's words, he perpetuates the class system by using his power to encourage his engines to be "useful." The engines depend on Sir Topam Hat's blessings in order to be happy too. They are the working class. How about those diesel trains? They're dirty and from the other side of town.

Both creators are caucasian
Let's not be one-sided. Let's look at a multicultural cartoon... say Go Diego Go. This cartoon likely appeals to those who ask, "where are the people of color in cartoons?" Diego has them. However, Diego doesn't question the dominant culture, because he operates outside the system.

I would like to see a Thomas-meets-Diego cartoon, where Diego, while riding in either Annie or Clara Belle asks (out loud), "where are the people of color on this train?" I'm not sure that Diego creators, Chris Gifferd and Valerie Walsh, would understand the benefits to write a script like this. They likely believe that they're script and cartoon is dealing with diversity properly (as probably do the networks who share in their lack of social awareness).

However, this is just what kids, like Bubs 1, need to "see" in order for the discussions to be less taboo, later on, and bring along quicker change.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

More Potty Training

Keeping him occupied
 Bubs 1's training is a roller coaster ride. One moment he seems to have grasped the concept, but another moment erases all hope that he's progressing.

I imagine his preschool teachers shaking their collective head in our (his mom's and my) attempt to potty train. They, and much of the information we're reading, cling to the position that a child will let you know when they're ready. However, I believe (and his mom does too) that he is ready. He's just hesitant, but that doesn't mean he's not ready.

The Reward System
He does resist sitting down on the potty when I tell him it's time to go visit the bathroom. He will say, "No! I'm don't want to go pee or poopy. No thank you, daddy!" He's firm in his words. I like that he'll add a "no thank you..." on at the end, but nonetheless he has to go. My next step is to say, "We have to go sit on the potty bubs. If we don't go, then I'll have to take your (insert favorite train-of-the-day here) away."

Again, all the "professionals" and books that I read (a handful, really) haven't encouraged a "negative" reward program like this. I look at it as a positive program, because if the Bubs sits down on the potty, then he gets to keep his toy. It's a spin, I know. However, it's working. Don't shake your your head either. I tried all other avenues. We tried M&M candies and Reeses Pieces, but the utility of these rewards dropped dramatically after a couple days. It is almost as if he became aware of our bribe and resisted.

When I began "threatening" to take a favorite train, or car, away until he sits on the potty he replies, "No, you don't. You don't take my Mater (or Lightening McQueen or Thomas, etc.). I then reply, "Then you better sit down on the potty." Presto. He goes right to it. Walks (with purpose), if not runs, to the potty and pulls his pants/underwear down and sits. I then give him a lollipop to keep him there. We do reward him.
In fact, every time he pees, he gets a star. When he fills each page with stars (star for every pee), he gets a car or train (pictured). I hang the car on the wall in the bathroom so that he can "keep his eye on the prize." It is in direct view from his potty. He can't miss it. Here's the bonus of this system. If Bubs 1 can poop in the potty, then he gets the prize INSTANTLY!. What an incentive!

Unfortunately, he has only pooped in the potty once.

This one-poop-moment occurred when I had him sit on the potty in front of the t.v. The goal, of course, is to get him to travel to the bathroom upon feeling a poop or pee approaching. This hasn't happened yet. I still have to bring him to the bathroom, periodically, to pee. He's been "holding" it during his naps, but that's about it for the "holding it" part. There's a lot of road ahead.
Bubs 1's Reward

Going poop in the potty is a whole other game. He just flat out refuses to go on in the potty. He will, however, do this in his underwear. I've read that this is a tougher skill to teach kids and that they will beg for their diaper back in order to poop. The Bubs doesn't even follow that story. We put a diaper on him during the night time and he doesn't even take advantage of that opportunity. This boggles my mind. It is as if he is aware of our game and is protesting the entire "number 2" process (in the potty). He'll even support his demur by relieving his number 2 in his underwear.

This kid is protesting. His mom and I need to outlast his will. He does have a stubborn side and can likely take this thing the distance. I'm not sure whether to be proud of him for standing his ground or be mad at him for not listening to us. I think that I just need to respect the prior. I need more patience at these times and less during others.

I guess that part of his potty training will require me to train myself too.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Potty Training, The Sequel

Mom's "potty pops"
 Bubs 1 is in the midst of a potty-training weekend. Although we tied to train him a few months ago, the relatively recent situation of a potential ASD diagnosis had us back off. We didn't want to force him if he wasn't ready. However, it seems to his mom and me that Bubs 1 is ready. We cannot ignore the fact that he's 3 and-a-half and is as stubborn as all hell. ;)

Bubs eats a "potty pop."
His mom made him "potty pops," which are frozen, homemade smoothies. These pops are frozen in an ice cube tray. Bubs 1 is being encouraged to sit on the potty by these ice pops. We discovered that the bubs is willing to sit down for as long as the treat lasts... but we want him to sit longer. So we added a prize program. This program requires Bubs 1 to earn six stars, which will reward him with a Hot Wheels truck (HW-Recon-07). For every successful "void" he leaves in the potty (#'s 1 & 2), he earns one star. He has three stars (at the time I write this blog), which is two more than the picture (below) shows. He is very much aware that he is getting closer to receiving this truck with each new star.

However, he still won't sit long enough for a poop to arrive. His three stars are all from successful pee's. His mom and I are thinking on our feet, even though we've read up on multiple strategies, as well as planned our own strategy. All this knowledge is helpful, but we still need to make adjustments as we go.

Bubs reward program design
Every kid is different. It's not as clear cut as we had hoped for, but we do have hope. We believe he is progressing, although he does give us a struggle. For example, this morning I offered him another potty pop if he sat down on the potty. He told me that he no longer wants the potty pops. He now demands lollipops. We immediately went out and bought some Dum Dums. We believe this is a win-win situation, because he'll have to sit on the potty a good, long time to finish one lollipop. He can even choose his color. Soon after this negotiation, we accidentally discovered a weakness of his. While obviously unable to produce a lollipop upon hearing of the demand, we could only offer him another potty pop. As already stated, he refused. However, when we brought the potty pop to him - and held it in front of him - he buckled and accepted the potty pop. His mom and I took a mental note.

Additional note upon purchasing the lollipops: The blue lollipops made his tongue blue (pictured), which created more excitement for him. This process is like an experiment.

Bubs' blue tongue
I don't remember my potty training. My mother is no longer alive for me to ask. My father has no idea since he was not an active participant during that time. I wish I had asked my mother all of the "parenting questions" before she passed, but I was too young, immature and angry to think at that level. I do remember that our bathroom door was directly across from our side door (to the outside). We used our side door as our main door when entering and leaving the house. This design trained me to always close the door when using the bathroom (a lesson that I seemed to forget sometimes today).  This is my only early-bathroom memory. Actually, I do have another, but I won't share that one.

We're nearing a full 24-hours of the bubs' weekend of potty training. So far, so good. Three stars for three successful potty voids and about seven or eight wet pairs of underwear (and shorts) for those "unsuccessful" potty voids. He's withholding a #2 void, but his mom and I know that Mother Nature will deliver sometime tonight. This eagle will land and we believe it isn't too far off.

We're also understanding Bubs 1's negotiation strategy. He'll make a demand, while knowing that we'll meet his demand, i.e. the lollipops. However, his mom and I also know that he'll accept our offer if the offer is placed in front of him. The key is that this offer doesn't have to meet his demand, but just be valuable enough for him to not have the strength to deny it when physically presented. We don't believe that the bubs is aware of the fact that we are aware of this weakness of his.

This just may have tipped negotiations into our favor.

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