My Daughter’s Role Model is Leslie Knope

And she wants to be adopted by ‘The Office’

As school wraps up for the holidays, my 10-year-old daughter has been happily collaborating with her classmates online. When we take our daily walk, she cheerfully fills me in on how the project — which involves building fantasy worlds — is progressing. But I was slightly unnerved when she referred to herself as the Leslie Knope of her group. My concern grew when she went on to say that her contribution to the assignment was inspired by The Good Place. The final straw came when we got home and she cheerfully told me she was going to relax and watch her favorite episode of The Office before dinner.

My fellow Americans, you will likely recognize this obsession with streaming ensemble sitcoms. Many families have been watching more TV than they did in pre-pandemic times, including mine — especially The Office and its cousin shows, Parks and Rec and The Good Place. I’ve let go of that guilt — I mean seriously, how many craft or Jenga sessions can a parent take — but, recently, I’ve been wondering how spending so much time with these characters may affect my children.

In the past, I’ve noticed that my daughter’s favorite show was often reflected in her speech. For example, during her Odd Squad phase, I might hear her announce, in a rat-a-tat rhythm, “So I’ll just put four plates on the table. Add four knives and four forks and bam, that’s 12 chores I’ve done today.” Seeing her mirror cute Canadian math wizards on PBS made me happy. And I understood the habit because I’m a mimic, too. Decades ago, I came back from living in the U.K. with a lilt in my voice, similar to Madonna during her married-to-Guy-Ritchie phase.

But programs like The Office are more adult fare, even if they’re shows that appeal to the whole family. As a parent, I occasionally cringe at the kinda graphic, silly sex jokes. Mostly, though, the humor is smart and sweet, and the characters are quirky and lovable; I was relieved that the finale was so gently ridiculous. The finale of The Good Place, meanwhile, was oddly realistic and peaceful in its embrace of the existential. I haven’t yet gotten to the end of Parks and Rec, but I’ve heard it’s pleasant. And I *think* my daughter was insinuating that she’s an enthusiastic leader with big bold ideas (rather than an exhausting know-it-all?) when she compared herself to Amy Poehler’s character.

I just want to make clear to her that our lives are not sitcoms or dramedies. The pandemic certainly has taught her lessons I learned later in life: Be flexible. Live for the little things. We won’t always wrap things up at the end of the day with a life lesson, bombastic prank, or new understanding of each other. Most days will come to a mundane close after we put away our clean laundry and floss. So I don’t have an answer or a pat conclusion about how pop culture is changing her psyche, or that of this next generation. All I know is I’m somewhat impressed by her ability to find Zoom filters that make her look like Jonathan van Ness — and that I’m hoping she doesn’t start parroting some of Eleanor’s more crass comments, like, “Do you have a second to eat my farts?”

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Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish.

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