Jo Jo and Teddy Heart Jesus
Last weekend, I had the stomach flu. A 24 (well, really, 48 hour bug). I was better by Saturday morning, but since I “technically” still didn’t feel well, my amazing wonderful oh-so-sensitive husband insisted I sleep in so I could get some much needed rest. It was great. I slept until 10 am—a total luxury these days—and wandered downstairs to hear the sound of blissful silence except for the low noise of the TV in the family room. I stole a quick peek. Both kids were sitting on their little seats in their play area, staring at the TV, totally mesmerized. Jo Jo’s arms were outstretched in front of her, her mouth open and her tongue hanging out.
“Jo Jo, tongue in,” I said sternly. We’ve spent a small fortune on private speech therapy, and, well, she knows better. She ignored me.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and turned to Jamie. “How’d you get them to be so calm in there?” I asked him. Usually after a few minutes of alone time they’re fighting over toys and trying to kill each other.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I turned it on about a half hour ago and they’re totally into it. I think it’s Sing Along With Gina D or something like that. It’s great. I actually dozed off for a few minutes on the couch because they were so occupied.”
Just then music began and what sounded like a choir came on. Both kids leapt out of their seats, jumping up and down. Then I heard the lyrics.
“We wash our hands for Je-sus! We wash our hands for Je-sus! Praise the Lord, we wash our hands for Je-sus!”
Jamie and I stared at each other. “What the f—k,” I said and we both raced into the family room.
There, on our 52 inch plasma screen TV, was a Marie Osmond look alike. She was wearing an orange sweater and holding what appeared to be a large rag doll as she stared intently into the camera, singing about staying clean for Jesus. Then the camera panned to an auditorium filled with children, all smiling and swaying to the music. Jo Jo was mesmerized, eyes glued to the screen as she flapped her hands in the air while rocking from foot to foot. Teddy was doing what appeared to be some sort of variation on an Irish jig, hopping around on his left knee with his right knee bent back. He turned to us and smiled. “Yesus!” he squealed, raising his arms in the air. “Yay, Yesus!”
It was every Jewish parent's worst nightmare. “Oh no,” Jamie said as he watched our two young children in the midst of what seemed to be a religious stupor. “I thought it was like Sesame Street. I swear.”
The credits started to roll. Gina D’s sing along was over. We watched as a new program came on, “Dooley and Pals.” The show centered around an alien, Dooley, who had somehow landed in the backyard of a respectable Christian home. Today, Dooley was beside himself because another Martian friend had apparently had some sort of wild party and trashed his spaceship. All the neighborhood kids volunteered to help clean up, except Chris, a tow-headed freckled boy who earnestly explained to Dooley that he’d spent the morning doing his own chores and he really didn’t think he should have to clean up someone else’s mess. He was going to go outside and play instead.
“Atta boy,” my husband said. “Good for him for standing up for himself. The Martian shouldn’t expect other people to step in and solve his problems.” He nodded in approval. Clearly, the show was promoting some sort of Ayn Randian notion of individual rights and an anti-welfare state.
But then the scene changed to show a bunch of children holding brooms and singing “Jesus wants us to clean up.” “Oh I’m having so much fun tidying up!” one exclaimed as she tap danced across the room pushing a trash can. Meanwhile, Chris was outside, sullenly holding onto his basketball and pouting. “No one wants to play with me! They’re all inside cleaning up!” he complained, and then the next thing we knew Chris was inside the spaceship twirling around with aliens and singing about the joys of recycling.
“Oh no,” Jamie said, looking horrified and shaking his head. “Absolutely wrong message for our children.”
There was a toll free number advertised on the left side of the screen. I decided to call it.
“You have reached the TBN 24-hour prayer line,” a voice intoned. “Please hold for assistance.” I held for five minutes, listening to Dooley squeal over and over, “if we all pitch in, we’ll get the job done faster and we'll have more time to pray and play” before a woman got on the phone.
“Welcome to TBN,” she said. “Would you like to pray with me?”
“Not really,” I said. “I saw this number on the show my two toddlers were watching and was wondering what the purpose was.”
“Oh,” she said, “this is our prayer line. We have many kids call in while watching the show who want to pray. Would your children like to pray with me?”
“They’re both under the age of three and not very into that sort of activity yet,” I said. “Besides, we’re Jewish.”
"That's fine,” she said. “We have many messaniac Jews who call in for our services.”
“You’re not selling anything?” I asked, suspicious.
“Oh no,” she said. “We’re not promoting anything but the word of the Lord.”
“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.” I had to admit, I felt better knowing they weren’t trying to hawk miniature Jesuses or giant stuffed crosses, but I still wasn’t comfortable. Too much religion—whether it's Christianity, Judaism, or Druidism—makes me nervous. Besides, we were heading up to Montreal in less than two weeks to visit my husband’s relatives, many of whom are Orthodox Jews. I knew there would have to be some serious explaining to do about why our children—both of whom still have fairly limited vocabularies—were bouncing around babbling about Jesus.
I hung up and switched the channel to Sesame Street. Telly was wandering around sporting a large garish necklace babbling about accessories. “Look guys,” I said brightly, but the kids had already lost interest and were squabbling over who got to bang the most keys on Jo Jo’s toy piano.
“Who wants to read a story,” I intoned in my Happy Mom Voice, waving “Llama Llama Mad at Mama” at them.
Jo Jo wandered over to me, clutching Dress Me Up Elmo. “Who’s that Jo Jo?” I asked her. “Elmo?”
She shook her head and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "Ye-sus".
“No Jo Jo,” I said anxiously. “That’s El-mo.”
She shook her head again and wagged Elmo at me. “Ye-sus,” she said pointedly. Then she spun around and bonked Elmo against Teddy's head.