I grew up in an era when Sunday nights were all about one television show: The Magical World of Disney. My four brothers, as well as my Mom and sometimes even my Dad, would gather around the black and white 23” set to revel in the antics of a funny looking mouse and his rowdy group of friends. Now that I have a son of my own, I often feel nostalgic about that time we spent as a family mutually enthralled by a single show, undistracted by cell phones or internet. I decided it would be a great idea to institute a night of good wholesome entertainment with my three year old and wife; an evening where we could all bask in the artificial multicoloured glow of our monstrous 42” LCD boob tube.
I ardently believed that this could be a night of education, as well as togetherness; so I decided the theme would be Nature, and would revolve around two excellent sets of BBC DVD’s that I had purchased years ago: Planet Earth, and Life. David Attenborough narrates the former with a studious drone, but since the latter is a US version, it is the ubiquitous voice of Oprah Winfrey who provides the audio commentary. All episodes are under sixty minutes, making them easily digestible, and reducing the chances of my toddler becoming distracted or annoyed.
The first night was a huge success, and instead of weekly installments like I had planned, Finn begged for this to become part of our regular nighttime routine. I quickly embraced this idea, for it would mean a break from our evening ritual of playing a game Finn had affectionately dubbed Bash, and which usually left me and my anxious wife exhausted. Bash is an outdoor affair, played on our back lawn, and it consists of both my son and I running in a well-trodden circular path in opposite directions. When our bodies intersect, we ‘bash’ into one another; and when this happens it is my job to pick Finn up and fling him into the air as high as my strength will allow. (My wife refuses to watch us play this game because of the panic that wells up as my son flails upwards-kicking and flapping his limbs-and for the terror she feels during the agonizing milliseconds it takes before gravity again takes hold; his body suddenly propelled downwards, back towards the Earth, and into my outstretched arms.)
So the replacement of a hyperactive activity with that of a mellower one was something that I could happily adopt. My desire was that these shows could help connect Finn to the Natural world, inculcate a love for its myriad forms and multitude of species; create a longing within him to get out into the wilds of Sooke. Of course, I recognized that television could only be a starting point; it wouldn’t ever replace the necessity of getting your hands dirty.
Luckily only four driveways away the VanBeek’s have a mini farm: three horses, four bunnies, squawking geese, egg bearing and meat ripening chickens, a gaggle of goats, and usually a handful of turkeys. This gregarious family has generously allowed my son and I full roam of their property; instead of chasing us off with a large broom, they have invited us in. Hospitable and understanding, forgiving me even when I lose control of my brother’s Chihuahua/Shih-Tzu cross and I’m forced to shout and run as it chases some of their wandering fowl, they regularly pause from their daily chores to give us some of their time and periodically manage to produce gifts for Finn.
And so it is with great wonder and excitement that Finn explores their working farm, the smells and sounds recorded by his impressionable mind. And I happily explain to him the difference between rabbit feces and chocolate chips, horse farts and goat spray, and the connection between the sudden disappearance of the noisy turkeys and our delicious Christmas meal.
It may not be exactly the magic of Disney that he is getting, but as I scrub the goose pooh from his palms I can’t help but think that his education is a little richer and more realistic than most things that Uncle Walt decided to depict; although I’m not trying to disparage singing warthogs and penguin waiters, those have their place too.
Post Script: Goose poop can easily be removed from hands, especially when compared to slug slime, but I recommend not mentioning this fact to your wife as it might beg the question: were you really supervising him that well while he played in a large field of animal excrement?