Tonight my daughter was watching the cartoon, Caillou, so I was watching Caillou too. Children’s shows are an occupational hazard of parenting. I suppose it’s possible to avoid them–huzzah for the parents who do–but I find that sometimes I need my children to sit still for 20 minutes. Cartoons are more humane than a full body cast, which is about the only other thing that might accomplish the goal. (I haven’t tried the cast for the record. I’m not a monster.)
If you’ve never watched Caillou, it’s a cartoon about a four year old, his family, their many mild adventures, and the lessons Caillou is supposed to learn from them. I think it was originally French–the name Caillou is French for “pebble,” I think–but for more than a decade it’s been on television where I live too. (I haven’t been watching it for a decade. I’m not a monster.)
Either way, important to this story is the fact that Caillou has a younger sister named Rosie. Clearly, when they were devising names, Caillou’s parents loved his sister more than they did him. My best guess is that she’s supposed to be about one and a half years old. At most she’s two. For the sake of generosity, I’m going to go ahead and assume she’s two years old.
Tonight’s episode began with Caillou and Rosie playing in their room, fighting over toys as children are wont to do. Finally Caillou plotted to distract his sister with a fort made out of pillows, but being two she got distracted early and ran off while he was building it. When he turned around, she was gone.
Of course the audience was privy to a bit more information. We saw her chase a toy car into the hallway, fumble with it while toddling around at the top of a staircase, and finally run away into one of the many other rooms upstairs. Her parents were nowhere in sight. This is when I started to get a little bit disturbed. I’ve had a toddler by the top of stairs; I paid very careful attention at that moment.
Meanwhile, Caillou believed (not unreasonably, given his age) that his sister must have decided to play hide-and-seek. He began his search. This is when we discovered what his parents were doing while their young kids played alone upstairs. His father was baking cookies in the kitchen. The kitchen didn’t seem to have line-of-sight to the stairs, and anyway his father was singing and not really paying attention to much. His mother was sitting on a couch and reading a book. The room she was in didn’t have line of sight to the stairs either.
I don’t want to harp on this too much–it’s actually fairly minor in the grand scheme of things–but Caillou’s parents were completely ignoring their children, who were playing (and fighting) in an environment that likely included dangers in addition to stairs. We’ll come back to this, though.
After searching upstairs without success, Caillou ran into the kitchen and told his father that he and Rosie were playing hide and seek. His father responded that Rosie had run off into a different room. Then Caillou ran to his mother and said that he and Rosie were playing hide and seek. His mother responded that Rosie had run into a different room. It’s possible that his mother actually pointed outside, since that’s where Caillou searched next, but I’ll give his mother the benefit of the doubt and assume that searching outside was an act of Caillou’s own initiative.
Now at this point I think his parents ought to have been somewhat suspicious, even for people inclined to be relaxed as parents. Two year old children don’t play hide-and-seek. They have no patience for seeking. They have no patience for hiding. It’s really just elaborate peek-a-boo to them. In my experience every two year old who hides will promptly announce where he or she is. Two year old children want to be found; they don’t want to hide well. Also, they are not particularly inventive, so most of them couldn’t hide well if they tried.
Even if they assumed Caillou was lieing, his parents ought to have wondered where their daughter was, since she was now alone. If they assumed Caillou was telling the truth (from his own perspective), they ought to have wondered how such a simple game could have gone so catastrophically wrong as to keep an eager two year old from being immediately found. Or, since they had both apparently seen Rosie running through the house, they could have told Caillou that obviously Rosie had gotten bored with hiding and was doing something else.
Then they should have explored what that something else was.
They should not have assumed that Rosie was actually hiding, and hiding so well as to avoid the notice of her brother. They certainly shouldn’t have returned to their previous activities without some sort of cursory investigation.
But of course they did, so that their four year old could advance outside unsupervised. Presumably they were also sanguine enough with the idea of a two year old alone in the neighborhood that they didn’t think it strange for Caillou to look outside. Why would he have done that if Rosie was still in the house? (Again, toddlers are not hard to find.)
At this point, it would have been reasonable for them to assume that both of their children were outside, that their toddler was outside by herself, and that nobody knew where she was. Naturally it was very important that they finish the cookies and the book. In any event Caillou finally got frustrated and returned to his parents to ask for help, otherwise they might have continued baking and reading for years. This is about the time that his father was putting the cookies into the oven.
The timing here is actually important. Assuming that Caillou was quick when searching all of the places he was shown searching, their toddler had been missing for about ten minutes. She was likely not in the house. She may not have been in the immediate vicinity of the house. Naturally they began leisurely to search the house.
As a frame of reference, I once lost track of my daughter for about twenty seconds. She was playing in the yard. I was working in our garden. I looked down at some weeds, and when I looked up she was gone. (She had run off behind some building and down the street. I think she saw a cat and wanted to pet it.) I did not continue weeding; I found her. Also, there was so much adrenaline in my system that I could have punched an elephant through a bank vault.
To give them some sort of credit however, the first place Caillou and his parents looked was behind the closed door to the bathroom, to make sure that Rosie hadn’t drowned herself while they were mixing ingredients and enjoying a good novel. They didn’t seem particularly worried by the closed door however, which seemed to suggest that it wasn’t unusual for their toddler to go into the bathroom and shut them out. I guess they might just have been preparing early for life when she’s a grumpy teenager.
Either way, let me fast forward. They finally found Rosie back upstairs in the kids’ bedroom. (The audience got to see her climbing back upstairs after her otherwise undocumented adventure.) They found her as the cookies were finished baking. As a rough estimate based on my own experience with cookies, that’s something like an additional ten minutes. By the time they found Rosie, she’d been missing for probably twenty minutes, maybe more.
And yet they didn’t seem to care. Maybe they exhausted all of their love after straining to give her a name not destined to produce long-term emotional scars. (The other kids have names like Leo, Emma, Billy, and Sarah. His name is Caillou, pronounced “Ky-oo,” and it means pebble.)
(If your name is Caillou, I apologize for insulting your name.)
Finally, as a fitting end to the episode, Caillou’s father took a tray of cookies out of the oven and gave it to the kids. He was wearing oven mitts. They were not.
I suppose if you don’t care when your kids get lost, and you’re fine with any injuries that might result from a total lack of supervision, a few carelessly inflicted burns won’t sting your conscience too much.
And yes, I realize I’ve spent too much time thinking about a cartoon. My kids are safely asleep though, and I know where both of them are.