Published on July 27th, 2020 | by Patricia Grisafi3
How Watching Peppa Pig in the Pandemic Is Teaching Me Radical Acceptance
“Madame Gazelle is a vampire,” I announce to my husband, Scott, after a Reddit dive into Peppa Pig fan theories. “Did you notice that she didn’t have a reflection in the mirror in the Halloween episode? That her best friends are bats that remind her of the ‘old country’? That she jumped into the freezing ocean with glee? She’s clearly undead.”
My two-year-old son, Damien, is sitting on the floor chewing on a purple wooden stacking ring, his eyes fixed on the television screen. Before him, Peppa’s world rolls out, a world where the only sickness is a sniffle that Peppa’s little brother, George, has for one day and the hospital only functions to help Pedro Pony when he breaks his leg and Mama Rabbit when she gives birth to twins.
“But she goes out in the sun,” Scott muses absently from his makeshift workspace at the dining table where he’s been busy calculating the financial ramifications of COVID-19 on his company’s group life insurance block.
“I KNOW,” I say excitedly. “What does it all mean?”
“I think it means you’re too invested a children’s show.”
For the past three months, as we’ve holed up in our East Village apartment, Peppa Pig has become a significant part of my life. The popular British children’s show, which first aired in 2004, has been praised for its depiction of everyday family activities: visiting grandparents, going to play group, shopping for groceries. All the things that are no longer everyday. All of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. They wear clothes, drive cars, have jobs and social lives. But they are also deeply weird in a benign fashion, fumbling through mishaps and misunderstandings with what feels like radical acceptance—which my therapist says is acknowledging reality without self-judgment.
A typical episode goes something like this: Daddy Pig is making lunch downstairs while Mummy Pig writes her children’s book manuscript, Funny Onion, on the computer. Someone makes a tired joke about Daddy Pig’s belly. When Mummy Pig announces she has finished, Peppa and George race upstairs to play a computer game. While playing, they mess up the manuscript, which goes out for mass publication unchecked. At a reading, Mummy Pig discovers her book is now just a series of numbers, but she tells the story from memory to applause. Everyone congratulates her on her “post-literary” achievement. Everything works out. Mummy Pig doesn’t go home and wail and drink whiskey in the basement.
The show has given my toddler hours of entertainment while my husband and I shuffle around trying to accomplish our daily tasks: conference calls, dish washing, and co-op management for him; therapy, laundry, and freelance writing for me. And both of us managing an energetic toddler who likes to climb.
In the morning, Damien and I paint and read. Then we go to the mostly empty baseball field to run around for an hour. But even with masks and social distancing, I am haunted by the possibility of contagion whenever I leave the apartment.
“We’re doing the best we can,” I repeat over and over again to anyone who will listen on my group texts or video chats. They try to soothe my worries about being a bad parent, but I still feel guilty and overwhelmed that my son spends an inordinate time with Peppa Pig because I am too tired and depressed to properly mother him.
Damien asks for Peppa Pig at least seven times a day. Before quarantine, we had a one hour screen time rule and a nanny who kept him busy and enriched with trips to the library and play dates with other children in our co-op. My husband biked to his job, and I toted my computer to a nearby cafe to work. We did indulgent couple things like walk down the street to Rite Aid holding hands. Now, there is only Peppa.
Damien’s first sentence is: “Bye Daddy, I go outside,” as he tries to escape the apartment.
His second sentence, which comes a day later, is: “Don’t worry George, we find dinosaur”—a line from the episode in which George leaves his beloved toy dinosaur outside in the rain. Peppa has even infiltrated his linguistic development.
Soon, Peppa Pig becomes the only media I consume (besides What We Do In The Shadows). Despite stocking up on books, I haven’t been able to read a word. An avid horror fan, I finally watch The Lighthouse, but all I can think about is how Grampy Rabbit is also a nut job who lives in a lighthouse and maybe he has a “disturbingly” large penis like Willem Defoe and worships a tentacled, Lovecraftian horror. Peppa colors how I approach everything. I even think about Daddy Pig’s baritone when my husband and I fuck.
I wonder if I have a problem when my husband takes Damien out for a stroll without me and I put on Peppa Pig and burrow underneath my favorite fake fur blanket, letting Peppa and her friends wash over me. I’ve recently suffered a miscarriage at eight weeks—my fourth miscarriage in three years. After nerve-wracking trips to the hospital for blood tests and sonograms, I eventually get a procedure to remove the dead fetus. I am exhausted and I don’t even know how to mourn this loss with everything else going on in the world, so I put on the TV.
There are no miscarriages on Peppa Pig. There are no pandemics. Daddy Pig falls out of an airplane and no one is worried. Grandpa Pig, Granddad Dog, and Grampy Rabbit are marooned on a desert island but quickly saved. A tortoise climbs a tree and is rescued. A shattered teapot is miraculously glued back together.
Peppa isn’t only a distraction for Damien while I try and cook dinner or mess around on the phone. It’s an opportunity for us to connect amidst the fear and anxiety of pandemic life. Damien now knows Peppa Pig means snuggle time, and he climbs onto the couch, clutching my leg to pull himself up. He nestles into the crook of my arm.
“Mama,” he says, and my heart sings. He’s become more cuddly during quarantine, our bodies comfortably folding around each other while we watch our favorite porcine family. I lazily curl his hair around my finger, kiss him on the head. During these moments, I can breathe again.
Screen time is survival.
In the absence of physical friends, the characters of Peppa Pig have become my son’s friends—and mine, too. I feel like we all live together in this quirky town—like Schitt’s Creek or a less disturbing Twin Peaks—where the most famous person in the world is a giant anthropomorphized potato with a French accent who tells you to exercise and eat your fruits and vegetables.
But actually, we live in New York City, which was decimated by a deadly virus. Even with the city reopening, the stakes feel so high that it’s hard to fathom radical acceptance. I’m eager to return to some form of “normal” but can’t shake the panic that’s governed our lives for months.
The bar on the corner just put out their party lights and potted plants, effectively taking over the sidewalk. I want to park at a table and order a vodka lemonade with a rosemary sprig; instead I give myself a wide berth and cross the street. But although I’m not ready to dine outside, we’ve recently gotten our nanny back after four months and joined a “quaranteam” with our neighbors and their toddler. This has contributed to less Peppa during the day—which is definitely a good thing.
However, even though the stressor of providing childcare has been lifted, navigating the world of reopening brings new anxieties. Do we use the playground? Which tiny masks fit the best, and how do I get my son to keep his on? Should we visit Grandma and Grandpa? We’re all discovering our boundaries as information evolves daily, figuring out what we’re comfortable with and what scares us. We need to accept that this is now our lives instead of fighting reality.
So I’m going to take a cue from Peppa Pig and channel Mummy Pig in the episode where Daddy Pig falls out of the airplane. With negligible parachute training, Mummy Pig puts on a determined face and dives out to rescue him. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but she’s going to try her best.