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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: Action Figures, Big Bird Infiltrate New Moscow




The last time we were home in the United States, my 5-year-old son picked up a box of Cheerios at a relative's house and asked, "What are these again, Mom? Oreos?" My husband and I silently cheered.


It's not that there's anything wrong with Cheerios; in fact, of the dozens of cereals advertised relentlessly to children, they're among the best. Even Oreos are fine in moderation. And I know that a cereal chock full of sugar, artificial color and flavor with a super-hero toy inside, and coupons on the box to send $24.95 for the most absolutely wonderful action figure, will not, eaten occasionally, doom my children to a dead-end job and a lifetime of obesity.


The problem is that it's not just one cereal or one super hero or one action figure. The problem is that it's very hard for an American child to grow up these days without being wrapped in a bundle of commercialism. A child can wake up in pajamas covered with Little Mermaid characters, throw off sheets decorated with Mickey Mouse, sit down to a breakfast of cartoon-character-endorsed cereal served on Sesame Street dishes, then change into Nike sneakers, a Winnie the Pooh shirt and shorts and pick up a backpack with Spiderman on the back.


So on those many long evenings when parents discuss their children's futures, more than once the topic has been how to keep commercialism from creeping into every corner of their lives. No one ever suggested moving to Moscow.


Please don't misunderstand. I really like Grover and Big Bird, and I don't even mind the Teletubbies now and then. I drew the line at Barney and his insipid playmates, but what sort of ogre mother would I be if I objected to Tigger and Pooh? And I don't object. It's just that it's all become so pervasive: The characters of children's books have moved to their movies and television shows, their clothing, their food, their dolls, their toothbrushes, their lunch boxes, their sheets and towels.


So here we are in Moscow, where despite the new capitalism and the fervor for things Western, we hoped our children would be somewhat free of it all. And I think they are. But only somewhat. Disney and Warner Bros. are in the toy shops here now. Children are more conscious of brand names and characters -- perhaps one of the downsides to the loss of Soviet isolationism.


And like all children, ours are far from immune to commercial lures. Sam and his dad were food shopping the other day when Sam saw yogurt that came with Lego-style blocks. Of course, he wanted it. My husband explained that when we want yogurt, we look for just the right yogurt in the food store. And when we want toys, we shop for just the right toys in the toy store.


Sam agreed, but I suspect we won't go unchallenged for long.