It’s hard to love the Wiggles

Early this morning the Wiggles were interviewed on CBC Radio about their current North American tour. Well not all the Wiggles – just the Yellow Wiggle and Purple Wiggle.

It was pretty interesting to be lying in bed listening to the Wiggles talk about their audience – “the little ones, up to about 5” and now “occasionally we see a few older ones coming back – you know, around 7 or 8 years old”.

Dear Wiggles, you should know that your biggest fan is, well, 15. And she shows no signs of growing out of you anytime soon. 

The Wiggles do acknowledge – and one Wiggle spoke briefly to this in the interview – that their fan base is fairly diverse: they are loved in many different countries and languages, and by kids who have autism, or who have a variety of disabilities. The Yellow Wiggle said today that they have never invited a child up onto the stage at a concert (believe me, this would be crazy) as it would be unfair to bring one and not offer that opportunity to another child. They also state that they purposefully always open their concerts with “Hello everybody!” (I can attest to that) rather than “Hello boys and girls!” as a very simple way of being as inclusive as possible. But I’m really not sure if they realize that there may well be a very unique group of fans out there – kids with developmental disabilities who identify early with the Wiggles – and who never stop loving them.

And I am quite sure that they do not know about Georgia – their uber-fan, their super-groupie, their wunderkid devotee, their crooning connoisseur, their faithful zealot, the disciple of disciples who makes the fanatics look like they’re not trying very hard. She loves the Wiggles the way most of us love breathing if we really think about it. She’s taken the Wiggles and permeated them into far too many daily experiences – places in the day you just wouldn’t expect to find four singers in block coloured long sleeved t-shirts who sing about a chicken who chickens down the road (as chickens very likely do, but still).

For those of you who know the Wiggles, I know you are now hearing “Here comes the chicken, here comes the chicken, chicken down the road”, aren’t you? I’m smiling as I apologize. Share a little of my pain.

Let me tell you briefly about our nearly 15-year histoire d’amour avec les Wiggles. I do suggest that you may not be ready for reading about the intensity of love that extends outwards from our house towards four Australian performers, a dancing dinosaur, a large dog, a pirate and an octopus who wears glasses. Even through the changing Wiggles – you know that Anthony was gone for a while, and then Sam became head Wiggle, Murray’s gone (too bad, that) and now there’s a girl Wiggle too – the very essence of the Wiggles is what Georgia loves.

It all started with a night out with a couple of overtired and irreverent moms, complaining over glasses of chardonnay. Mentioned in an off-handed and completely inappropriate way were four good looking Australian musicians who perform kids’ music. Knowing looks and cheeky laughter ensued. I admit, that’s all I needed to be intrigued. You must remember that I was being subjected at that time to many hours of Caillou (a whiny bald kid), Teletubbies (four alien beings who spill pink pudding and live on a spaceship with a vacuum cleaner), and Boobahs (four somewhat creepy brightly coloured gassy-sounding bag-like creatures oh, impossible to explain) and found myself unreasonably thrilled with the possibility of an episode of Clifford The Big Red Dog or Yo Gabba Gabba. But 4 cute Australian guys singing kids’ songs? Bring it on.

14 years later…

We have attended three Wiggles concerts. We have brought roses every time for the dinosaur – who likes them. We would have attended MANY more, were it not for the fact that Georgia outgrew the entire audience about 8 years ago. At the last Wiggles concert we went to, she was about 9 or 10 maybe, and bigger already than any other kid that I could see in the place. However, she screamed the loudest, cheered with the most enthusiasm (she was heartbreakingly enthusiastic), and begged quietly for the Wiggles bling intended for a target buyer age of about 3. Meanwhile the five year olds sitting next to us were giving her the “What the heck is she doing here?” side-eye the whole time. Mothers of toddlers gave pirate-hat wearing Georgia that utterly predictable, “Oh my that’s interesting” look. I longed for the Wiggles to (really) see Georgia, to find her, to realize that – there – in the midst of yet just another big stadium concert, was their uber-groupie, their most faithful fan. To take her away from all of that, saving her from the stares of the mothers and the toddlers and let her just bask in the glory of the Wiggles.

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Georgia at Wiggle Bay, 2008.

We have Wiggles books, programs, hats, posters, CDs, DVDs and a shiny wand thing that spins around with feathers on it. We have replaced those books, hats, programs, CDs, DVDs, and shiny things as they’ve worn out, one by one, from overuse. Georgia’s YouTube search and surfing history, when she’s on her computer, shows a daily intake of, on average, oh about 20 Wiggles videos and concerts – some in Mandarin and Spanish. When the little reflective solar lights on her wall twinkle onto the ceiling at bedtime, she sometimes whispers to me with a satisfied sigh, “Oh, it’s just like when the Wiggles sing Twinkle Twinkle!”

At Georgia’s first Wiggles concert years ago, she decided that the Wiggles actually live at the Skydome in Toronto. Now, many years later, that building – called the Dome to some, the Rogers Centre to others – is simply known as “Wiggle Bay” in our house. When we go see the Jays play, we’re going to Wiggle Bay. Two of Georgia’s favourite things in the world are the CN Tower and Wiggle Bay, luckily located right up against each other. A source of architectural wonderment for her. This summer when we began the 23-hour drive home from South Carolina, we weren’t on the road for more than 20 minutes when Georgia began her enthusiastic cheer that she’d soon see Wiggle Bay out the window: “We’re on our way to Wiggle Bay!” This fabulous happiness lasted through six states and one province. Stuck on the Rainbow Bridge, she swore she could see the CN Tower and Wiggle Bay. “There it is!! There it is!!” she yelled loudly out the car window. Occupants in the long line of cars sitting in the heat turned their head to see. Twenty-two and a half hours later, she finally saw it – her own personal mecca of song and joy. We’re not sure but she seemed happier to see that than just about anything else.

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The uber-fan cheers her favourite architecture.

Georgia knows almost every Wiggle song, and one by one they are seamlessly threaded into her listening repertoire. You’ll hear her singing along to her iPod – Elton John, Bob Marley, Wiggles, the Beatles, Wiggles, Madonna, Wiggles. I admit, as kids songs go, they’re very catchy but the degree to which they have permeated my life – and my head – is unprecedented. I have had “Fruit Salad” stuck in my head for weeks on end over the past 14 years. “Do The Monkey” catches me, every time. Their rockabillyesque version of “Hot Potato” can come into my head most unexpectedly. If I just almost think about it, I can hear the singing voice in their tender version of “Twinkle Twinkle” (sung by Greg, I’ve confirmed on Wigglepedia).


Multitasking with Wiggles on the playlist.

It’s tough, I suspect, being in high school and liking the Wiggles. You can’t wear a band t-shirt out with friends and you don’t want to come to school Monday morning talking about a totally amazing concert you went to on the weekend with a band who arrives on stage in the Big Red Car to the passionate cheers of many toddlers. She’s not quite old enough to be enjoying it in a truly retro way – the way I listen to pretty bad one-hit-wonders from the 80s and claim it’s something about reliving an era (maybe the older she gets, I can claim she’s attending the Wiggles concert totally ironically…). The fact is, it’s a bit difficult to just enjoy the Wiggles the way you should when you’re 15. For Georgia though, to give her credit, this is not a barrier. She is the Wiggles’ most tenacious fan. For that reason, I’ve debated with myself about taking her to a Wiggles concert. I know she’d love it. I’ve tried to ‘wean’ her off of the Wiggles as I’ve always felt it would be more and more difficult to take her to concerts, the older she gets. As I see her fan fervour not diminishing in the least, I am more and more tempted to simply just take her to a concert and say to heck with those who might judge.

But I do find it tough to sit among a bunch of overly curious parents and tots, wondering what’s up with the uber-happy teenager in a pirate hat. In a modern world so bent on ensuring that we respect diversity in so many different ways (as we well should), it is still the case that kids like Georgia – so often doing or enjoying something not at all age-appropriate or exhibiting childish reactions that don’t match their physical selves – get stared at, pointed at, laughed at. And not just by other kids, but often by their parents. We spend a great deal of time today trying to make sure that kids don’t get bullied, teased or ridiculed about all the bigger, complicated and more important issues in the schoolyard (and I’m all for that!) but in other very ordinary, smaller ways and in situations that don’t seem as critical (e.g., a Wiggles concert), we often forget that these are also opportunities to practice what we preach in terms of inclusivity. I’ve experienced this at movies aimed at little kids (that she of course loves and ends up sobbing in the theatre when they’re over), and other things she enjoys out there in the world that aren’t geared to teenagers, but rather to toddlers. Take her to a toy store to buy a present for someone, she’ll gravitate with great zeal towards the baby toys. Her favourite book to read at bedtime is still a Baby Einstein board book, recommended “for babies up to 2 years”.

The academic in me fights a bit against all of this by trying to move her towards more age-appropriate interests, and working to introduce her to other kinds of books to read at bedtime. We’ve begun to read the Harry Potter series and some Laura Ingalls Wilder, but if asked, Georgia will request to read Frog and Toad every time. And this is when the mom in me says, “whatever makes you happy.” Frog and Toad wins out. Harry Potter will always be there – and no doubt we’ll have many more nights of reading. I’ll be patient.

The great thing is she’s grown up in so many other ways, but there is so much of her that remains, well, a preschooler, to be honest. I know that other parents of kids with developmental disabilities experience this same thing and I take some small wonderful comfort in that. She copes well with having a menstrual period, can ride a bike on her own, loves reggae, longs for independence and wants to take the TTC by herself. This same grown-up kid truly loves and prefers videos of music for newborns, toddler toys, the merry-go-round and, yes, the Wiggles. In fact, her favourite cure for menstrual cramps is to lie on the couch with two Advils and a Wiggles video. Now there’s a completely unrealized marketing opportunity…!

The Wiggles are headed out of town after today, to return in a month to venues close to Toronto. I’m going to buy tickets and we’re going to have a great time. This is my kid, she’s 15 and she loves the Wiggles. The rest of the world can just get over it.


Making Plans for Georgia

This weekend my Facebook newsfeed has been awash with friends who are sending their kids off to university. For months now, I’ve been enjoying watching many of my friends and their kids engage in the planning for higher education exercise: decision-making about what university to attend which involves going on tours, weighing the pros and cons, thinking about past wishes and focusing on future plans. This weekend, these plans culminated in a series of compellingly lovely smartphone photos posted on timelines: of boxes of stuff sitting on patios or filling up the backs of cars, of good-byes and freshly arranged residence rooms, of posed family photos outside historical buildings and library entrances. Status updates about the worthwhile years of saving, the worries and anticipated phone calls, about driving away and arriving home to an emptier house. The bittersweet pride and joy mixed with that inevitable wave of sad-happy that these kinds of landmarks in life wash across us. The coming to fruition of plans.

I have already accustomed myself (mostly) to the idea that I won’t be doing that for Georgia, in any way, shape or form. I’ve written a lot in this column about trajectory, and how the trajectory of Georgia’s life will take on a much different form that what I might have imagined for my child, before I met her. I’m still very wistful about it, I admit, but I am realistic. The plans I might get to make for Georgia will be much different than a university education, although they will involve similar kinds of fundamental values and driving forces: wanting my child to be happy, accomplished in her own way, engaged in the world around her and actively participating in her own life and choices.


Georgia getting her grade 8 diploma, June 2013.

But it’s more than that. It’s about making plans. It’s about making a plan based on all kinds of things that you get to nurture as it develops, ponder on late at night when you can’t sleep and fantasize about when you’re feeling giddy. There’s something I want to say to those parents – many of them my friends – and it isn’t, “Remember how fortunate you are to have a child who can head off to university”. No, no. It’s not that. It’s not that at all. I realize now that it’s actually something more like, “Wow, remember how fortunate you are to be able to make that plan.”

The thing about planning is – it is a true luxury, a privilege of the very fortunate.

A plan followed through and seen to fruition? I’d call that an absolutely amazing extravagance.

I suspect that it is rare that we actually take a moment to stop and contemplate the very privilege of being able to make plans. The idea that we can actually conceptualize something we want to happen, happening. The idea that something we want so badly for our child will actually come true. Planning is the modern-day version of luxury. A Chanel bag as luxury? No, not so much, really. You can buy a knock off on Canal Street in New York City for a few hundred dollars and walk around thinking your arm candy says “luxury”. But many of us know that isn’t luxury. I have no idea how to tell a knock-off from the real thing in terms of Chanel bags, but I do know the absolute luxury of being able to make a plan and have all the things one needs in life to make that plan a reality, a goal, an outcome.

I don’t feel sorry for myself because my kid very likely will never go to university. I do admit, I will miss the planning. Yet then I think of how many never have that great privilege to plan something so wonderful as helping a child go to university for reasons far different from mine. Or those for whom a myriad of reasons – poverty, lack of access, lack of knowledge, or constraints related to geography, culture, religion or belief systems – make it difficult or impossible to even engage in that kind of planning. And then there are those who plan, who take that risk to imagine something so great – and have it crushed in a few mere seconds.

This week I was on Queen at Bay and turned my head while on the phone, only to see a cab door open suddenly and a cyclist plow into it. She was thrown off of her bike and over the door – time seemed to stop as she flew through space for a few unreal seconds – landing a few feet away on the sidewalk, with a couple of frightening cracking sounds. One cracking sound was her arm hitting the pavement at an impossible angle – resulting in an obvious compound fracture with a visible bone and plenty of blood. The other crack was her non-helmeted head striking the concrete. The noise still haunts me just a little and I can far too easily recall it by simply closing my eyes and remembering that moment. As a nurse, a cyclist and a fellow human, the sound was seriously bad news. I stayed with her alongside a small crowd until the ambulance came and concluded that she very likely had a moderately serious head injury. She was clearly in shock and among other things she was repeating was the notion that her plans “were gone to s**t now”. She knew her arm was broken and the plans she had made “to go camping” for the weekend simply weren’t going to happen. I knew that, she knew that – even the security guard from The Bay who ran outside to help with a rather less-than-what-might-be-needed-but-well-intentioned first aid kit knew that. I also knew that she had some version of a head injury and that there may be other plans that she now cannot make happen. Of course, hunched over her on a busy downtown sidewalk at dinnertime with my skirt wrapped around my knees and my hand brushing her hair off her face (and that whole thing of not being a neurologist), I was not going to tell her anything remotely like that, but I knew that the chances of her fulfilling every single plan she had made to that day, had somehow changed, even maybe just a little. In a split second, in the mere careless opening of a cab door and a seemingly frivolous decision to not wear a bike helmet. Her plans, as she said, had “gone to s**t”.

For me, I’ve had a long time to adjust to the ‘change in plans’ that Georgia’s trajectory likely requires of me. But I haven’t had a head-cracking-on-concrete moment that has perhaps taken away chances of making plans in a split second. I actually think that if you have a child you take from birth (or thereabouts) to the point of driving them to a residence in a university with admission into a program of study, you’ve really done a wonderful thing – in the very act of it  – and in being able to actually engage in the luxury of making real plans.

While I write this column, I keep hearing lyrics in my head: lyrics of a song I grew up with (and yes, now I’m dating myself – feel free to do the math). In 1979 XTC released a song called “Making Plans for Nigel”. Geeky music websites many years after debated the meaning of the song: some saying that it was a subtly political statement about the Labour Party and the Conservatives and the need to keep workers quietly happy (there’s one reference to “British steel”), but interestingly many other commenters claimed that this song was about parents making plans for their child’s life. Still others say that the song seems to suggest that the parents are making plans for a child with some kind of limitation or disability.

The lyrics (I’ve included most of them below), if we decide to interpret the song this way, seem to suggest something to the effect that the “making plans” part of life is not as important, is insignificant or trivial and that the “making happy” part is truly noteworthy. I’ve thought about this. I agree in part, specifically with the latter part – yes, making Georgia happy is crucial – but I still posit that the privilege and luxury of being able making plans should never be taken for granted.


We’re only making plans for Nigel 
We only want what’s best for him
We’re only making plans for Nigel
Nigel just needs this helping hand

And if young Nigel says he’s happy 
He must be happy
He must be happy in his work
We’re only making plans for Nigel
Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed

Nigel is not outspoken
But he likes to speak
And loves to be spoken to
Nigel is happy in his work
We’re only making plans for Nigel

Oh and yes for those of you who now have that song stuck in your head (and I can almost guarantee that you’re born before 1970), here’s a link to XTC on Top of the Pops: