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Waiting by Mailbox for Punky's Reply

September 15, 1986|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Every day, we check the mailbox, my daughter and I, for a letter from Soleil Moon Frye.

For those unfamiliar with the world of children's television, she is the star of the situation comedy "Punky Brewster."

It's the only television program we watch regularly. But as luck would have it, we discovered the show last spring just as NBC was canceling it. Now, we videotape the summer reruns.

Sad State of Kidvid

Those already initiated into kid shows know the sad state of most of them and how, even given the option of watching the more creative and enlightened Disney channel and Nickelodeon, boys will prefer Transformers and He Man and girls will prefer Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony and the Care Bears--the animated spokesanimals for pop psychology.

For girls, it's hard to find anything but round-eyed characters, sweet and cooperative, who skip through places like Care-a-lot or Strawberryland with an occasional "Goodness gracious!" as they encounter threats like, say, the Purple Pie Man stealing Strawberry's recipes. In the end, goodness and sweetness prove their superiority and all is well again.

In contrast, Punky Brewster is refreshingly real. She is 9 years old.

Punky is smaller, smarter and spunkier than most of her friends. She gets a black eye fighting at school. She builds go-carts and wins races. She shoplifts and gets punished. "Punky Brewster" has its sappy moments, too. But often, things don't always work out the way Punky would like. Her parents abandoned her and she lives with her foster father, Henry. Nobody's perfect. She deals with it.

We could relate. Amanda and I live together, just the two of us. She visits her father every other weekend. Sometimes Mommy gets cranky. Things don't always work out. Nobody's perfect. We deal with it.

In one episode, the in-crowd pressures Punky and her friend Cherry to take drugs. They don't.

"What do drugs do to you?" Amanda asks during a commercial. "Well, they make you act . . . um . . . bad," I answer. She thinks about her friends at preschool. "I think Colin eats drugs," she concludes.

Later in her room, the Barbies are cruising in their Barbiemobile and trying to get Strawberry Shortcake and her friends to eat drugs. Repeating the message of her heroine Punky Brewster, Amanda is chanting "Just say no! Just say no!"

After show No. 7, she asked if Punky Brewster was "for reals." When she learned the actress' name, she wanted to dictate her first fan letter. "Dear Soleil Moon Frye, I would like to get together with you sometime. I am 5 years old and the smallest girl in my class. . . . " It went on for a couple of pages describing her three cats and asking about the other girls in the cast. It ended with her address and phone number.

Every day she asks when she'll get a response.

Once, about a year ago, she wanted desperately for her dolls to come alive. She had heard that she could make a magic wand from a stick if she said "bippity boppity boo" 50 times. So I helped her count to 50 and when she was asleep, I moved the dolls around. She knows now that magic is for reals.

Lower Expectations

Some days, I wonder whether I should fake a letter, again feeding the illusion we live in Strawberryland. Or maybe it's time to learn another lesson about the real world and the need for lowered expectations. After all, now we are 5 and starting kindergarten.

Instead, I explain every day about show cancellations, summer reruns, how long mail takes for studios to forward, if they do. After all, things don't always work out the way we'd like. Nobody's perfect. We deal with it.

And we keep checking the mailbox.

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