How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Curious George: Instructions for Parents

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I was slacking on my dad duties after a weekend of camping and tin foil battles and pole dancing. I was beat.

So, I decided to sit on the couch with my son and watch some “Curious George” with him. I was a big fan of the books growing up but I always identified with the Man in the Yellow Hat, though he seemed to resemble more of a a victim than a caretaker. Most of us probably shook our heads and tsk tsk over what a meddlesome primate George could be.

We watched for about 15 minutes. My eyes might’ve closed for a slightly prolonged period of time, or four, but I kept waking up, staring at the trouble that George found himself in. Like one of those subliminal tapes, and through the powerful brainwashing of sleep deprivation, I stumbled on a revelation about the books and shows:

Curious George is as much a lesson for parents as it is for kids.

Sure, most of us watch the show or have read the pages, and we tell our kids something about being more prudent or being less impulsive. But I’ve been missing the hidden meaning of The Man in the Yellow Hat. Is he actually an aloof doofus? Or does he have virtues we’ve been missing, all along?

Patience with the curious
The Man in the Yellow hat practices a level of patience with George’s curiosity that rivals the guards of Buckingham Palace. Unlike Dave from the Chipmunks, I’ve rarely (never?) heard him raise his voice. Perhaps TMitYH is a zen buddhist? PS: Like my acronym?

Kids can be adventurous
My son loves adventure. He thrives on it. Like a good soldier, he needs challenges and rewards. When he’s bored or hungry or disinterested, he can be a handful. If I give him something to overcome, something that is real to him, he flourishes. George appears to need the same stimulus. He’s a smart little monkey like my little monkeyman. A little tolerance allowing my son to be Indiana Jones is beneficial.

Kids want to help
They don’t always, or mostly ever, or even EVER, do things the right way. So, we have to teach them. It’s our job. But the help, however lacking in quality, is still help and it’s our job to accept their willingness and show them how to help. Otherwise, we should be fired. A kid’s helpfulness can show up as shoddy workmanship, but it has good intent… unless it’s “Destructo Hour.” George is a devoted helper, but his help usually gets him in even more trouble. Our mustard colored friend, let’s George contribute well past the norm. Especially for a monkey.

Kids think they grasp things before they actually do
I could say the above about most people, myself included, but kids are quicker than they let on. Sometimes, they’re too quick. They’re eager and it gets in their way, and typically before they’ve arrived at an accurate conclusion. George is a flip fellow. He goes with what he knows. Kids roll the same way. Insisting on fuller understanding can help avoid problems with glibness, and at a certain point we have to insist on a mental speed limit, if only for us.

Parents need monkey help for all the monkey business
Who else is going to help us act like fools, to dance around or jump or play or run or embarrass ourselves publicly on a consistent basis? They are our gateway to the reliving of our own childhoods. Maybe we have kids so we can get back to the simplicity of who we are instead of the complex, crazed adults we’ve become. Adults are strange, fixed characters.

Curious George is a lesson in both dealing with trouble, and acceptance of our children in their time of need. We can learn patience and understanding when dealing with the little monkeys in our lives. It’s not just about the shortcomings of curiosity.

It’s about The Man with the Yellow Hat as much as it is about a monkey with too much time on his hands.


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19 Responses to “Curious George: Instructions for Parents”

  1. Kelly Snell says:

    I think you’re right, TMitYH is a zen buddhist. And I like the acronym. I never noticed his patience before, probably because when my kiddo is watching I’m furiously trying to get things done around the house. But that’s very interesting indeed. Lessons for parents, in code. 🙂

  2. I’m just glad my son’s voice isn’t as grating as George’s monkeyspeak. At least most of the time.

  3. Fadra says:

    The primary reason I watch that show with my son is because I love listening to William H. Macy narrate. It’s more soothing than a glass of wine.

    Also, we love to shake our heads and say, “Oh, George”

  4. Phil says:

    This has been an enlightening post. My 14 month old kid is wanting to help with everything. He even knows when the dog’s feeding times are and insists on helping. Of course, his idea of helping sometimes dumps food all over the floor, just like the aforementioned primate. I must strive to be more like TMitYH (pronounced T-Mit Yahoo in my mind for some odd reason).

  5. Monica says:

    I love the insite on this. It really is a great lesson. We sometimes think about the trouble and is it worth it? We need patience and to let our kids help whenever they ask. George is just like a kid and if only we could be as patient. Of course, I would never let my 2 year old have nearly as much freedom to roam and play without me nearby. =)

  6. AJ says:

    *sigh* The man in the yellow hat’s name is Ted. Revealed in the movies.

  7. kristen cicali says:

    🙁 unfortunately… he also teaches sucky lessons in a lot of the episodes and on both big movies… like lying.

  8. Mother Duck says:

    Great Post! So many times as an adult I’ve being slapped out of nowhere with new lessons from movies and books I loved as a kid. The Narnia Books, Lord of the Rings, The Secret Garden, Xanadu, Bugs Bunny. When I watch or read these now, I wonder how these concepts flew over my head so fast and far as a child.

  9. Lee says:

    The secret code is always the first line in the books. A good monkey, but curious. This means don’t mistake curiosity for bad behavior

  10. Linds says:

    My 6 year old loves Curious George and has suddenly decided that he wants to be a chef! Every time I go in the kitchen, even if it’s not to cook, he wants to be in there too!! I used to think this was annoying but one day, I’d had enough of his asking, pleading, begging to help me in the kitchen and I just let him in. That first time, all he did was sit at the table and jibber jabber to me about school and whatever else he could think of. He didn’t do a thing toward helping put dinner together, but it was an awesome experience. I think that sometimes we take for granted that our kids just want to talk to us and be heard by us. We are their example. If we can’t take the time to listen to them now, they won’t listen to us later. Now, I let him help in the kitchen whenever he asks. He mixes, and makes a mess usually. He gets out pots or pans that I need, and sometimes messes them up. The thing I’ve learned that sometimes, life is better with a little mess! 🙂

  11. Jo says:

    Great post! I used to be the kind of mom who wouldn’t let my kids help with anything because it was easier to get it done quickly and without a big mess…then I relaxed a little and allowed them to help and I’m sure glad I did. I had no way of knowing my son would leave this world when he was just 10 years old (he was killed in an auto accident in 2004) and had I not spent those moments making messes with him,teaching him, I would have regretted it! My daughter who is now 16 is very self sufficient because she learned to cook, bake, do laundry, clean and all those things at an early age…and made little and big messes along the way and it was fun and chaotic and messy. AND we loved every minute of it!

  12. buffi says:

    I always wonder, though why TMitYH never learns to not leave George unsupervised. I remember my little guy telling me, “George really needs a babysitter!”

  13. Shannon says:

    I came to a similar realization a while ago–probably after the third viewing of the whole series. Gotta love Netflix for that 🙂 Another lesson that ol’ Ted TMitYH teaches me, and this one is a really hard one to admit, is to take the time to listen and understand. They have such an amazing ability to communicate and understand each other that I am inspired to understand and value my own autistic son’s “monkey chatter.” As a result, I know what he wants and needs, and he is making huge strides in his own language development simply because I take the time to try to understand him. Not just his words, but his feelings that he hasn’t learned how to express yet and his actions that sometimes drive me up the wall. Like TMitYH, I give my son the words to label his internal and external world, that part comes easy to me, but what I learn from TMitYH is to be patient enough to wait for him to explore and ask questions first. On my best parenting days, I take the time to see what the world is like through my son’s eyes, and I engage him and reach him from his point of view.

  14. Adam G says:

    I am not impressed with The Man in the Yellow Hat’s parenting skills.

    One of the things about C.G. is that he always get left alone.

    “George, I am going to go to the bar now. You stay in the hot car with the windows closed, and don’t get into any trouble.”

    And then he leaves, and does whatever he does when he leaves, and by the time he comes back, he’s in a tizzy because George is in some kind of a predicament caused by his insatiable curiosity. But it’s also caused by TMitYH’ls insatiable desire to leave George at the worst possible moments.

    I’m not advocating for Yellow Hat Helicopterism, but I think our GoldenHatted Friend could be a little more responsible and keep George on a little bit more of a leash (although, you know, not an actual leash, because that would probably be cruel or inhumane.)

    Okay, don’t let me get started on Max and Ruby’s absentee parents.

  15. Laney says:

    Something incredibly important that George has taught me – it’s ok to make mistakes when figuring out how to do things. Tiny type A perfectionist that child me was, I never absorbed that particular lesson.

  16. Sarah says:

    I feel the same way about Daniel Tiger. There are just as many tips and lessons for parents in there as there are for the kids!

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