Yeah, OK, it's just a column about TV. But I can turn anything into a heavy life lesson. I'm an Olympic-level overthinker. And I do not feel bad about that at all.
I love TV, but I think we should just be friends
We were a Nielsen family last month.
This little card came in the mail telling us we’d been selected to fill out a diary tracking the television shows we watched for a week. In return for this, we got $5. Getting paid $5 to watch TV and scribble a little sounded all right, so I did it.
I quickly discovered there’s nothing like a little documentation to make you question your habits.
According to my Nielsen diary, my 3-year-old son watched almost three hours of television on April 29. The high temperature that day was 83 degrees. There were no clouds, no rain, no reason to stay inside save the fact that it was easier to plunk Jack down in front of "Dora the Explorer" and "Blue’s Clues" than it was to tear myself away from the coffee I was drinking and the newspaper I was reading and the dishwasher I was loading.
"Mommy wants to play trains with Jack," my son told me as he climbed down from his chair after breakfast.
"In a minute, honey. I’m still reading the paper, and I need to clean up the kitchen," I replied. "Why don’t you watch Dora and Blue until I’m ready to play?"
Ack! When did I turn into this person?
During Jack’s first year, when I worked three 10-hour days a week, I used to threaten to divorce my husband if he let our son watch TV while I was gone.
"Play with that baby," I instructed Jim. "Talk to him, tell him stories about the ’70s, sing him Beatles songs. DO NOT put him in front of the television."
I used to touch the top of the set when I got home to make sure it wasn’t warm.
What a big hypocrite I am now that I’m at home during the day and Jack is old enough to grab my leg, gaze up at me imploringly and ask if he can please, PLEASE watch "Blue’s Clues."
After a few days of keeping a Nielsen diary, I decided we needed to pick a weekly TV-free day. I ran the idea by husband, who shrugged agreeably.
"I don’t watch much TV on Thursdays," he said.
The reason he doesn’t watch much TV on Thursdays is that he tapes the Thursday night shows while I’m at work. Then, on Saturday nights, we curl up on the couch to watch "Friends" and "Scrubs" and "Will & Grace."
Thursday didn’t count as TV-free, I decided. So which day?
Well, not Tuesday, that’s "NYPD Blue" night. Certainly not Wednesday, that’s "West Wing" night. Not Thursday, for the abovementioned reasons. Saturday’s out, too. And Sunday is "Malcolm in the Middle," which we love.
This TV-free day thing was a bad idea, I finally decided. Besides, I hate arbitrary rules — no TV on Monday, no TV on Sunday, no TV whenever, just because we picked that day.
What are we supposed to do when the Tour de France is on in July? We can’t miss a night of that race. And once you start making exceptions to arbitrary rules, they’re out the window for good. So why have them in the first place?
By this point my mother was in on the discussion.
"That’s why you had so much trouble in school," she said. "All those arbitrary rules."
This dilemma got me to wondering why I feel so guilty about our TV habits. Jack has learned Spanish from "Dora the Explorer" and deductive reasoning from "Blue’s Clues." "Sesame Street" has taught him numbers, colors and letters. Jim and I are suckers for public television documentaries about everything from genetics to jazz.
We don’t watch reality shows (OK, we watched "Joe Millionaire," but that was just too funny.) We don’t watch lurid talk shows or silly game shows. We are pretty careful about what we let into our living room.
I decided it’s not what we watch that I feel guilty about; I feel bad that we’re watching instead of doing other things. When we watch TV we’re not riding our bikes, which Jim and I used to do several times a week. We’re not playing in the yard or taking a walk or reading a book or working a puzzle. We’re not talking to each other. We’re just sitting.
The solution, I decided, is not to eliminate TV time, which makes us feel like we’re sacrificing something. The solution is to add things to our schedules that don’t involve TV.
My mother has volunteered to come over every Sunday to play with Jack while Jim and I go biking. Jack and I have a date to go to the park after breakfast at least twice a week, even if I haven’t finished loading the dishwasher. And with Nightfall concerts kicking off this month, Jim and Jack have a Friday night diversion on one of the evenings I’m at work.
I’m not giving up "Will & Grace," mind you. And I’m done feeling bad about liking TV. I’m just hoping for a little more time spent playing together and less time spent simply sitting.
Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it goes.