09/21/2008 By Shawn Burns

I have a confession to make. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of another woman. A lot of time. And no, this isn’t a cutesy way of saying that I’ve been spending all of my time with my daughter, ha ha boy don’t you have egg on your face for falling for my joke.

No. I’m dead serious. Every day, after Emily goes to work I let this woman into my home and…


…the details aren’t important. But she makes me happy. She smiles at me, and dances a little, and serenades me.

Even better, she always brings a couple of kids with her to distract Erin while we enjoy our special, stolen time together.

Recently, though, she’s been acting a bit, I don’t know, is clingy the right word? No, maybe not. Just, insistent. She’s had friends try to talk to me on her behalf; she’s sent gifts; and she’s even left a little note lying around where I’d be sure to find it. She’s reckless though; Emily could have found the note first and then I’d be in a mess of trouble. I feel like she just wants to let the whole world in on our secret, and I don’t know if I can fight her anymore. She has me wrapped around her finger like a piece of coloured tape.

Oh, Rachel. You win. Let’s tell the world.


Rachel sent me a preview copy of the Baby Signing Time DVDs. (I say Rachel sent it even though, in fact, Lindsey her communications manager sent it, but let’s not confuse the story, ok? Rachel sent me a gift, and it came with a note handwritten by her and she put hearts over her "i"s and winks throughout.)  Erin has been more than a little addicted to Signing Time for, oh, half of her life. I’ve mentioned that fact here on the blog a couple of times and, because the internet really is a small, infinite space, I found myself in possession of episodes of the new series.

For those unfamiliar with Signing Time, it is a pre-schooler show starring Rachel "Backpacking Dad’s Other Wife" Coleman, and her daughter Leah and nephew Alex. And a frog. It is a live-action show with the occasional animation and lots of songs and montages that teach some basic American Sign Language to young children. Erin demands that we put it on, even when I’m watching something else like "Yes, Dear" and learning the secrets of parenting from Hollywood writers. The songs are the kind of "get stuck in your head" tunes that you’d expect from a good children’s program, without, in most cases being the kind of "make you want to stab pencils through your eardrums" tunes that you’d expect from most average children’s programs. Each episode features a theme, and a barrage of signs are taught and demonstrated, and Erin has woken up some mornings and just started showing us new signs that I swear I’ve never taught her: she learned them straight from Rachel (and Alex; Erin swoons for Alex, and could sign his name almost before "daddy").

Watching the Baby Signing Time episodes is a little bit like going to Main Street in Disneyworld, Orlando, after having spent your whole life walking down Main Street in Disneyland, Anaheim. Or, as Vincent Vega might say: "It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same {bleep} over there that they got here, but it’s just–it’s just there it’s a little different."


All right. Well, you can watch a whole episode of Baby Signing Time and not see Alex and Leah. And I don’t mean just like in no cut scenes, I’m talking about not even once. And in the episode where you do see them, they are in montage footage. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Baby Signing Time isn’t Signing Time, which even in its theme song announces the presence of Rachel’s two sidekicks. Their characters are in the new DVDs, as cartoons, but Erin wasn’t making any googly eyes at the cartoon version of Alex. Baby Signing Time is all Rachel. And that’s okay with me.

The animations in the new DVDs are much slicker, though, and they do grab and hold Erin’s attention. As do the songs, which feel significantly longer while at the same time being less densely packed with signs. This is probably what child-development folks would call a "good thing": fewer quick-cuts and more emphasis helps build those little neural networks, helps maintain attention span, and permanent-ifies (new word!) what the kids are learning. This is probably why the Teletubbies, which is inexplicably both laconic and prolix, is such a hit with the under-two crowd. But it also means that the songs are just a little bit less memorable for the adults watching the show. (I know, right? It’s all about me.) Because after a while the songs just get tuned out as background instead of engaged as communication.

This is true of many of the songs, but there are exceptions. In Episode 3: Revenge of the Signs A New Day, "Strolling, Strolling" is particularly memorable for its poppy rhythm. And the show-closing "Tiny Hands" song is just pure sappy goodness chock-full (who says that?) of signs.

In Episode 4: Let’s Be Friends, the "Opposites" song has lots of signs, which makes paying attention a lot easier for the older kids, like me. And once again the show closer, this time "Show Me a Sign", stands out as a pop-ballad that is not insane-making in the least. It is also full of signs.

I think I just used the term "pop-ballad" and the phrase "not insane-making" right next to each other. Whatever happened to my cynical youth?


Erin’s Review: Erin didn’t budge from her seat or make a peep for the 50+ minutes (yes, I let my daughter watch tv for that long; what of it? she can also tell me exactly what she wants or sees and rarely spazzes out, so I’ll take the trade-off) we were watching these episodes. That should tell you something. Even without live versions of Alex and Leah, the longer songs and less talk-time really grabbed her attention. She’s right in the middle of the targeted age-range (3 months to 36 months), and the show works perfectly for her.

Backpacking Dad’s Review: Rachel is sporting a new hairdo (shoulder-length, flipped out) and what appears to be a slightly more form-fitting orange sweater, and that works just perfectly for me.

Kids and dads alike will love Baby Signing Time.


And before you type that e-mail to me that says "Dude, you have got to control yourself, it is utterly creepy and inappropriate to be talking about a children’s program host in the way you’ve been doing," just know that I’ve read what some of you have written about The Wiggles. So I’m making no apologies for my not-so-secret crush anymore. Rachel + Backpacking Dad 4 Ever.