Like many millennials, Andy watched Rugrats religiously while growing up. Born two years after the show premiered on Nickelodeon in 1991, he remembers being totally immersed in the misadventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil. “I played the Rugrats racing game on nickelodeon.com every day after school, and I’m pretty sure I tried the Reptar Cereal at some point,” he tells me. “And who didn’t want a screwdriver like Tommy Pickles’? It was like a kid version of MacGyver’s Swiss Army knife.”
But the show started to lose their appeal as Andy neared his teen years, and he eventually stopped watching Rugrats completely — until, that is, last year, when he became a dad and began watching the show with his newborn son. “Growing up, I had related to the kids on the show and always thought the parents were old and crazy,” he says. “But now, watching it as a parent, I’m realizing the show depicted the parents of newborns perfectly.”
His life has been made all the crazier, too, by the fact that he also just finished his MBA and has been working overtime to move his new family into a house of their own. As such, he found particular comfort in an oft-memed scene in which Didi finds Stu (the aforementioned Rugrat parents) making pudding at 4 a.m.
Suddenly, the scene isn’t Stu being funny and wacky, but a sleepless parent struggling to juggle life as a father with his career aspirations. “As a dad now, I see those scenes and think, ‘Stay strong Stu, you got this buddy,’” Andy explains.
“As a parent, I definitely pick up more on how much Didi, a high school teacher, and Stu, an underemployed inventor, struggle to get by,” says Sarah, a 33-year-old in Colorado. Now being closer to their ages, she views Didi and Stu from the perspective of a mother of a “drama queen about Angelica’s age” (Angelica is Tommy’s older cousin who torments the rest of the Rugrat crew). “I’m constantly putting together meals and snacks, often at the request of my girls, only for them to decide they don’t want it by the time I’m done,” Sarah continues. “Or I run into situations like finding a half-eaten apple in a cabinet or singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ for five hours in the car because it’s the only thing that will calm her down.”
“My parents were a little more strict, so I loved the concept of the Pickle kids breaking free, everything working out and the parents being none the wiser,” says Michael, a new dad in his early 30s. “Plus, I always had this kind of Chuckie-like inner monologue and even had a bossy sister like Angelica, so I identified with the show perfectly as a kid.”
After 15 years of “not even really hearing about the show,” Michael scrolled past Rugrats on Hulu one day while holding his daughter on the couch. “I put it on, and how I viewed the show was completely different. I noticed things that were always just background noise,” he says. “The relationships between the adults was the big one; another was how aware the parents were. They weren’t nearly as oblivious as I remember — and the times they were concerned? Instead of being frustrated and thinking, ‘Ugh, worrying adults, they’re so annoying,’ I was worrying right along with them as if it was my kid crawling across a light fixture.”
Andy, meanwhile, relates hard to a scene in Rugrats Go to Paris: The Movie “where Stu and Didi are so sleep deprived that Stu puts their newborn’s bottle back on the phone hook after taking a call, and the phone is given to the baby to ‘feed’ him.”
Watching it with his son on a recent Saturday morning, Andy felt simultaneously emotional and in stitches. On one hand, the scene made him think about his son and the hardships of those first few months with a newborn, but on the other, seeing Stu confuse a baby bottle for the phone helped him laugh at some of his own moments of exhausted confusion.
“It really makes you appreciate everything those who raised you did, and laugh at the craziness that is being a new parent,” he says. “It gets crazy at times, but I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. That might sound cheesy, but that’s how it is.”
As seen perfectly, it turns out, on Rugrats.