To be honest, I never paid much attention to how much TV my baby watched, mainly because she never paid much attention to watching TV. Around the time she started pulling herself up on the TV cabinet and staring wide-eyed at Ant and Dec’s mild innuendos (ok, I’m a Celeb is my one reality TV weakness. That, and Dance Moms. And BGT when it’s on…) I began to wonder if perhaps I should switch off the occasional backdrop of recorded primetime entertainment during playtime. When I read that children under two are recommended not to watch any TV at all because it can impair speech development, I felt downright guilty. (It’s true, though, if you think about it… You’re not doing anything to encourage linguistic prowess when you and your child have both paused, mid block building, to stare slack-jawed at a desperate Z-lister eating kangaroo balls.)
Then we discovered In the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Winky Wanky or whatever his name is, etc, provided a colourful, child-friendly haven of kissing, squeaking, incongruous slow-mo nodding, and a flatulent, inconsistently proportioned zeppelin. Yes, viewed by adult eyes it does make one wonder whether or not one should be on a not-so-natural high for it to make any sense. Or indeed whether its writers have been partaking of such. Yes, like many programmes aimed at young children, it plods along a pace that renders adult viewers quite incapable of watching in its entirety without a sneaky browse of Twitter, Facebook or River Island dot com along the way. But its charming narration by Derek Jacobi provides welcome comfort-food for the ear in a reassuringly old-school, Richard-Attenborough-as-Santa-Claus kind of way. You may, like me, even find yourself chirruping “Isn’t that a pip!” when spotting two aubergines of the exact same size in the aisles of Tesco of a rainy Tuesday morning.
But I think the true brilliance of ITNG and the multi-millions lining the folds of the Tombliboos’ troublesome trousers (no wonder they’re always falling down), is its symbiosis with bedtime routines. We never had a problem with bedtime until fairly recently – even when she was at the three-hourly-feeding stage, I tried to keep up a persistent routine of bath, milk and bed. When she started solids, it was dinner, bath, story, milk and bed – starting at 6pm and rounding up at 7ish. Then we stopped breastfeeding, and suddenly I was finding myself with a surplus half an hour messing up the whole routine. I was putting Lara to bed by 6.30pm, and even earlier on the nights she didn’t have a bath. Not only did the earliness mean she would put up much more of a fuss about going to sleep, she was far more likely to wake up before 6.30am the next morning. Then a friend mentioned her little boy’s fondness for In The Night Garden. Starting at around 6.25pm, it’s perfect for after-dinner viewing when it’s not bath night, and when it is, we come back down afterwards to catch the ending – which always features a song, story and the characters going to bed one by one. This brings us to 6.50pm, Lara is tired enough not to put up a fight as I put her down, and is often fast asleep by the time I’ve come back downstairs.
Sure, it’s irritating. Sure, some evenings I just want to punch Upsy Daisy right in her Daisy Doos. Sure, it may be turning my toddler into a monosyllabic robot whose mind is slowly being warped by weirdly phallic hairstyles, a rock-collecting teletubby with OCD tendencies and flatulent aircraft. But, as I type this at 7.07pm with a glass of Rioja by my side, my knees smarting from another day as my main weight-bearers, the baby sleeping soundly in her cot upstairs, it occurs to me that that is a risk we are just going to have to take.