Open Mic

Don't Know Much About Biology. Though, Like You, I Read About a Study Yesterday Saying 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Scrambles Toddlers' Brains. Really?

Chuck Ross Posted September 13, 2011 at 7:36 AM

So.

It’s a Tuesday morning (last spring) and son No. 1, our 16-year-old, has overslept, which means he most likely will miss the bus, which is a big problem because he’s got a chem test period one and I’ve got an early-morning meeting and mom needs to be at a school breakfast for daughter No. 2, the 8-year-old.

She’s been talking real fresh to us lately, and has already lost her privileges to hang out with her best friend Zoe after school today, a fact which she just remembers and screams if she can’t see Zoe after school then she’s not going to school.

Her sister, daughter No. 1, our 13-year-old, screams back, “Fine. Then get out of the bathroom because I’m late and gonna miss carpool.” All of this screaming wakes up our fourth child, son No. 2 -- the 3½-year-old -- who starts crying for “Mommy.” I grab him as I tear down the stairs to get some clothes in the laundry room and dump him into his favorite spot on the couch in the living room and turn on the TV to his favorite show in the morning, “SpongeBob.”

As I do so, I hear the show before the picture comes on, and it’s our favorite little yellow guy going “Honk honk! Beep beep! I'm ready to drive. Are you ready for my driving test today, Mrs. Puff?”
And then I hear, “OK, Mrs. Puff, if SpongeBob fails this test, you will be replaced.”

I immediately recognize it as one of our favorite episodes, as does our 3½-year-old, Jeremy. He shouts out “Barnacles!”

Our 16-year-old, who's sprinting out to catch his bus, glances at the screen and screeches, “Tartar Sauce! Tartar Sauce!”

As usual, it’s a crazy, zany, fun episode, both at home and on "SpongeBob."

At that moment we hear the honking of my daughter’s carpool. She’s not ready -- what else is new -- and the 8-year-old runs outside to tell them that her sister will be down soon. “I’m not going to school today," she announces to her sister's carpool, which upsets the mom driving the carpool because she thinks that means the 8-year-old is probably sick and if she’s sick then her sister’s probably in the beginning stages of getting sick and will give whatever it is to her daughter.

When the 8-year-old ran outside she left the front door open so Cookie, our little Chihuahua, sprinted outside. As my 3½-year-old and I watched SpongeBob hopelessly NOT learning how to drive a boat, crash into a lot of pedestrians and then, blindfolded, get run over by another boat, I tore myself away to go chase down the dog.

With the dog now in my arms, as I get back to the house I see a young man -- the studious grad student type -- also walking up to our front door. My wife yells out that he’s the science guy to test our 3½-year-old for some project.

I take him in to meet Jeremy. He glances at the TV. “Oh, I love this one.” SpongeBob is blindfolded again and his instructor is yelling “Mayday! Mayday! You're off course,” as the boat drives into two buildings and goes even more crazy and comes back out of a fire hydrant.

The college kid asks if it’s OK if he turns off the TV. I say “Sure.” He then goes over to Jeremy and says, “We’re gonna play a few games. First, when I say touch your head, I really want you to touch your toes. And when I say touch your toes, I want you to touch your head.”

The 8-year-old comes in and turns the TV back on, goes to on-demand, and starts watching an old “iCarly.”

The grad student tells Jeremy that they’ll start right after he goes to the bathroom. When he leaves I tell Jeremy, “Listen, whatever he asks you to do, just punch him in the stomach. Not too hard.” Jeremy smiles. I turn off the TV and say to the 8-year-old, “Well, if you’re not going to school, no TV this morning.” She sticks out her tongue at me, says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” and turns the TV back on.

I go upstairs to finish dressing. When I come back I hear the grad kid telling Jeremy, “You like Goldfish crackers, yes?” Jeremy nods. “OK. Watch this.” He puts about a dozen crackers on one plate. On another plate he only puts down two. “OK. Now watch this. Here’s a bell I’m putting between the plates. I’m going to leave the room. If you wait until I get back, you can have all 10. If you need me to come back right away, just ring the bell and I’ll come back. But then you only get the two goldfish.”

When he leaves the room I run over to the plates and, indicating “shh” to Jeremy, eat all of the crackers on both plates. I smile at Jeremy, say “Breakfast,” give him a kiss and leave for my morning meeting. Of course I leave the front door open too long and Cookie gets out again and by the time I get her I'm late to my meeting, which pisses off my boss, but that’s a whole other story.

Just yesterday we got a letter from the grad student saying that Jeremy had done miserably on the tests that spring morning. Evidently they were testing for something called executive function, which is stuff like self-regulation and memory and all the stuff that’s pretty much essential for coping with life. I think Jeremy's actually doing that much better than his brother or his sisters did at his age.

The grad kid’s big conclusion was that the problem -- as usual -- is the boob tube. And holy Krabby Patties, our ol’ buddy SpongeBob is to blame. Thank goodness. For a minute there, I was afraid he was gonna blame me…