Friday, September 16, 2011

Square Eyes

I'm taking a break from adoption-related topics today.  Though the last few months have (hopefully understandably) been primarily about adoption, my blog is not intended to be exclusively about adoption.

So...I thought I'd write a post about tv.  Yes, I know, what on earth could I write about tv that would consume an entire blog post??  But it's been on my mind, so I thought I'd put pen to paper about it.

I have an interesting relationship with's an on-again, off-again kinda thing for me...pun intended.  My personal philosophy is, perhaps, a little different than the mainstream opinions and so I hope that it offends no one if I say that tv has the potential to be one of the biggest evils in my life.  In fact, I think that tv is one of the greatest evils our world knows.  I view it as a massive time waster, see it delivering a great deal of content that is not healthy for one's mind or heart and, I believe, it has the ability to deaden emotions to the real stuff of life that awaits us outside of the idiot box.  How's that for frank?

I'm not often that forthright or as certain in my opinions, but there you have it.  I should add to this perspective that I am by no means immune to tv watching.  In fact, I have gone through periods of my life when I have let tv consume faaaar too much of my time, energy, and head/heart space.  In the past, I have wasted so many precious hours watching it that I could scream with my regrets now.  How much more wisely I could have spent my time!  It's because of those hours and my regrets that I have come to the conclusions I have about its impact on my life.

For the sake of authenticity, and because I have no desire or need to present a holier-than-thou perspective on this issue, I need to qualify my rather extreme opinion with at least three points that mitigate somewhat the strength of my assertions:
  • First, even though I mostly hate the tv (or, more specifically, the impact of tv on my life), I still love the idea of sitting down after the kids are in bed and watching for an hour or two...I don't actually do that any more, but I just want to sometimes.  These occasions are often when I've had a tough day/week, and I crave some emotional numbness or mindless stimulation to pass me through to the next day. Unfortunately, on the (many) occasions in the past when I have indulged this longing, the emotional numbness carries over into the rest of my life, or I spend far too much time thinking about what I have watched.  
  • Second, you may know about me that I love watching movies (I'm a total rom-com sap), and so I need to be clear that I distinguish between watching television and watching movies.  I make this difference perhaps to justify my own movie-watching inclinations, but also because I do truly think there is a difference between renting (or going to) a movie that is finite in length and chosen for content, and flipping through channels and/or feeling it necessary to watch the same show on a weekly basis.  I rent two or three Apple TV movies a month, I figure, and love to go to the theatre on occasion to watch one.
  • The final caveat to my feelings about tv is that when I actually do climb onto my treadmill, the only thing keeping me on it is the mindlessness of what happens to be on the tube.  For better and certainly for worse, this doesn't happen often enough.
There was no tv in my house during the first number of years of my life - no great miss, from my hindsight perspective, though I likely felt hard done by when actually living those years.  When we finally did get a television (a gift from my grandparents), my siblings and I were restricted in what we were allowed to watch and how much of it.

On many Saturday evenings of my teen years, however, we members of my family of origin tended to assume positions in the family room at about 8:00pm, when it would 'just so happen' that The Love Boat was on.  My Dad always grumbled about not wanting to watch, but he would sit down with the rest of us and pretend to read the newspaper while peering at the tv overtop of the page that never got turned.  Secretly, I think we were all addicted to Captain Stubing, Gopher, Julie, Isaac, and Doc (Vicki, not so much).  I loved The Love Boat and, being the sentimental person that I now know myself to be, I hated the ending of each episode and could hardly bear the wait until the following Saturday...when we'd just so happen to end up in the family room again.

During this same time period, I used to love Sunday afternoons, when my parents would go upstairs for their Sunday afternoon naps.  That was the time I got to watch some of the good oldie movies such as Adam's Rib and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and all of the old Elvis movies. (My first association with Elvis was not as a famous singer, but as a mediocre-but-enjoyable actor who had a decent singing voice.)

I also developed a weird guilt/shame relationship with tv around this time.  I think I may have inherited it from my mother who, for a time, was addicted to The Young and The Restless.  Now, Y&R in those days played in the later afternoon, right around the time my Dad came home for supper.  If she, while watching an episode, heard the overhead garage door open as my Dad arrived home, she would bolt out of her arm chair and into the kitchen so fast that she'd be standing at the stove before Dad walked through the door!  Lucky for her, he never turned exactly the right way so as to see the rocking chair still swinging back and forth in the neighbouring family room...what he saw was his wife doing the final dinner prep, blessed woman.

Somewhere along the way that notion of being ashamed of watching tv in lieu of doing something more 'productive', that need to hide what one is uncomfortable doing, became part of me, too.  So when I got hooked on Days of our Lives in my early twenties, I hated to admit to anyone outside of my mother and sister that I watched it - even when I heard someone talking about it and desperately wanted to jump into the conversation and 'compare notes.'  I kept mum because of my shame.  But the truth is that I watched Days for three or four years, and for a time even taped episodes that featured the romance of Steve and Kayla (anyone else owning up to loving bad guy Steve Johnson, aka Patch, and Kayla, way back around 1988-1990?).  During my second year of law school, while going through a bored and uncertain-about-my-future period, I watched Days while cross-stiching picture after useless finger towel.  I sat square-eyed in the same family room where we had watched The Love Boat in years past, and cross-stitched until my fingertips were raw.  I still don't know how I made it through that second semester of law school, but it might explain the one 'D' grade I have ever received in my life.  Well, actually, I was probably always meant to get a 'D' in Tax Law because, frankly, can you really see me as someone who wants to understand tax law??  But the Days watching and cross-stitch obsession during those months likely didn't help matters.

When I eventually lived on my own, and had my own tv for the first time, I was too busy in school or in my social life (that's when I met Geoff) to pay much attention to the idiot box.  Those years went by with very little tv watching and I have to say that they were more productive years than the ones that preceded them.

After Geoff and I married, we found ourselves watching too much tv during the first period of our marriage, so we decided to put the tv in a closet for over a year.   I loved that time.  I loved that our productivity around the house went way up, I loved that we took more time to talk to each other, and I loved that we were simply freer to find ways to use our time other than sitting in front of the tv.  I thought then, and think now, that tv is a dangerous thing, simply because it's such a massive and addictive time consumer...even a half hour a day adds up to 3.5 hours every week...the equivalent of almost half of a typical work day.

In the past four winters, I have tried to balance my love-hate relationship with the idiot box through moderation.  I chose one or two shows that I hoped to enjoy throughout the season, and those were the ones I watched.  That worked for the first three years, but over the past year, even my two chosen shows (The Good Wife and American Idol) died sputtering deaths, as I simply kept forgetting to watch them.  Frankly, I'm not sorry about that.  Whether it's because I've inherited a genealogy of guilt and shame, or whether I've simply come to my own peace about the tube, I have new appreciation for the fact that when those around me talk about their favourite shows, I'm ok not knowing what they're talking about.  I haven't turned on the tv for months, other than to watch those two or three rented movies a month, or to let Matthew watch something.

And speaking of kids...

Before Matthew was born, I wondered quite often how I would view the role of tv in his life.  I got lots of opinions on the subject and thought about it a lot.  I wasn't a fan of Baby Einstein or other apparently educational dvds (though I know many parents are, so again I'm hoping not to offend in offering a different opinion), so I ditched those and decided to keep the tv off until Matthew turned three.  Since then, and until our recent trip to Ethiopia, he would typically watch one, or sometimes two, half-hour show(s) per day, and that's been fine for him.  Thankfully, he's not a kid who's easily addicted to tv (yet!) - even when watching something that he really enjoys, he can readily be persuaded to turn it off and do something else with Geoff or me.  I wrestle with myself about tv and the kids: on the one hand, I'd be happy if they watched nothing; on the other hand, I really want that half hour to get my dinner prep done!

Since returning from Ethiopia with Seth and Lizzie, I have added another nuance to our familial relationship with tv, and that is this:  The two younger kids essentially want nothing (nothing) to do with tv.  The only exception is if we find some short snippets (on Apple TV) of bike racing/bmx stuff - then Matthew and Seth are both interested for a time.  I had heard that our agency's Transition House (in ET) had a Barney dvd that the younger kids watched quite regularly, and when I once turned on the tv to coincidentally find a Barney episode playing, Seth was drawn to it for about five minutes...and then wanted the tv off in order to go outside to ride his bike.  I felt so torn.  On the one hand, I was secretly (and guiltily) hoping that Barney might inspire at least a little bit of longevity, and was prepared to buy heavily into the purple dinosaur, just so that I could finally have my dinner prep time back.  And of course, on the other hand, I was glad that my kids would all rather play than watch fact, when I recently asked them if they wanted to watch tv, Lizzie told me, with great disdain in her voice:  "Lizzie Senait - no tv.  No, no, no.  No tv."  I don't quite get it, because I thought all kids loved tv, but ok by me.

Imagine the sense of self-loathing I experienced a few weeks ago when I found myself uttering words that I never imagined myself using:  "Please, kids, please could you pretty-please watch tv for just a little while so that Mommy can get supper ready??"  Not only did my supplication not work, but I felt embarrassed when replaying those words over in my head...What kind of mother begs her children to watch tv?   Especially one with the issues that I have about that very thing.  Ahh, life's ironies.


  1. Hi Ruth, As far as your last paragraph goes, maybe playing a CD of children's or other music would occupy the kids while you make dinner. I used to love listening to the Peter Rabit album when I was a kid. Have a nice weekend! Katie

  2. Bahahaha! Ruth, you had to know that when you wrote on my blog NOT to read yours, that it was like waving candy in front of a child. I really enjoy what you write and respect your opinion. I always welcome another point of view. While I may be a couch potato, I do share some of your feelings towards the idiot box. I sometimes regret spending so much time in front of the tv. Since coming home from Ethiopia we do watch far less tv and for that I am glad. And while I have never watched Days, I do confess to my own love affair with All My Children and General Hospital. Stayed tuned to my blog next week because I will be blogging about my secret shame as the final episode airs Friday September 23.
    Enjoy your weekend friend!

  3. Ruth,
    We have the same "problem" with Briahna. She has absolutely NO interest in TV. I've tried to "make" her watch a little while I make lunch or supper, but within 5 minutes, she is next to me. I've tried "Thomas the Train" and "Barney". No Success!!!

  4. While I have a lot of rules about TV with my kids (they watch Nest movies sometimes and Veggie Tales and that kind of thing and occasionally Treehouse when I need to get a lot done), I am a bit of a TV bug myself. For me, it's mostly I think because I grew up in a house where we always had the TV on and I like to multitask, so after the kids are in bed, I like to have the TV on for basically what amounts to background noise a lot of the time. While it's on, I do things on my laptop, do homeschool planning, do paperwork, pay bills, etc. But at least once a week, I need to sit down and completely shut my brain off and watch TV or a movie and try not to do anything else.

    BUT having said that, I have felt convicted about what I am watching and a few years ago, I stopped watching anything I thought was trashy and then just a few months ago, I went through and cleaned up our PVR and even blocked a bunch of channels so that they don't show up. Now I'm left with shows that are relatively positive (Secret Millionaire, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Undercover Boss), cooking shows that I watch and then try to recreate the dishes, and some reality shows that I just don't want to give up (Survivor, Amazing Race).

    BUT I know that there are more productive things I could be doing with my time. I don't see myself giving it up anytime soon! (plus, if I stopped watching TV, the meals around here would go back to really boring!)

  5. We disconnected our television last spring when we painted the house, and it has been out of commission ever since. Can't say I even miss it much! (Now- my computer on the other hand I would miss!)
    I chuckled when you wrote that you uttered the words "please go watch TV kids", as I caught myself doing the same last week. I asked the kids to PLEASE PLEASE go watch PBS kids on the computer for 15 minutes to give me a break. Seems a bit out of character for this TV-loathing mom, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do!!!

  6. I love it Ruth, because I have the same thoughts! I watch 4 - 6 hours of tv a week and think of what a waste it is, and I pray that I will not turn to tv for "child care", but I've already started collecting veggie tales and am trying to collect some old Smurfs shows...

    It's tough to avoid it altogether. My biggest concern is the ads, it's pretty easy to control the shows kids watch, but avoiding the materialistic, consumeristic, degrading ads (like the ones that say you won't be liked if you don't wear the latest whatever, or use this coolest new binder etc, etc, etc) that are WAY over the top on children's channels, now that's tougher.

    Glad we're not the only ones with a hard line on TV, or who will occasionally bend our own rules, haha!

    Good luck with the idiot box this winter!

  7. When we moved house 4 years ago, we just never bothered hooking back up our dish..never missed it once, and in fact, when we go to hotels and have turned on the TV, it's amazing to me how sensitized we have become again to the crap commercials. :) BUT believe you me, I have shelves of "good, quality movies" (heehee) that my kids love and there are sure days when it is a movie day 'round here. :)