Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Ask any of my kids and they'll tell you without hesitation, "No, Mom doesn't like the TV." While I'd like to protest that they exaggerate, the truth is, No, I don't like the TV.

Maybe it's my history. The television wasn't a major feature in our house when I was a child. At one time, when I was a very small child, we had one of those monster cabinet TV's - you know, the kind designed to look like a piece of furniture. Weighed about 834 pounds. You changed the channel by walking across the room to it and manually turning a dial. Seems we got three channels, four if reception was exceptionally good. The TV stayed in our dank, dark, musty basement - Mom was adamant that a television was not appropriate furniture for a living room.

A tube blew on that behemoth when I was still very young. Dad pulled the back off the cabinet, removed a few parts, then turned us kids loose with pliers and screwdrivers. We spent many enjoyable hours "fixing" that TV! And so, our television-watching days were over. I don't recall that we had another television in the house until my brother, then a senior in high school, got a tiny hand-me-down portable from a friend. It had a screen about the size of a Little Golden book, was black-and-white, and buzzed loudly.

Steve and I didn't have a TV during our early married years, either. When our pastor in Pensacola upgraded to a newer model, we just couldn't refuse the freebie he offered. It wasn't long before we were eating dinner in front of Alf or just boobing out for an evening in front of whatever was playing. When we left Florida for California, we decided to leave the TV behind. "Goodbye" to Alf; "Hello!" to walks in the park. Steve taught me to catch a softball. We spent evenings playing Scrabble and Yahtzee.

Many years and many children later, we were gifted with another TV. (Funny thing, people think if you don't have a TV, then you're deprived and in desperate need of their charity.) Before long, the kids were watching Wishbone and Zaboomafoo! while I fixed dinner. After the kids were in bed for the night, Steve and I watched the 10:00 news, and then whatever came on next...Charlie Rose, BBC sitcoms. Some of it was pretty good stuff, and the TV provided a convenient, cheap way to unwind after a crazy day.

We soon figured out that we needed to set limits. Moving to the country made it easy to restrict TV time, simply because we get zero reception out here - and we're not paying for satellite (cable isn't even available here). So with relative ease, our TV viewing shrank to one movie night a week, maybe two movies if we were on holiday from school. Of course, six years ago, the farm was a vast, unexplored frontier. There were horses to be brushed and raccoons to be trapped and forts to be built - so many things to do that were so much more interesting or appealing than sitting in front of an electronic box!

But that has changed. My kids know this entire farm like the backs of their hands. Traps have been pulled for the season. The weather's not often good for riding. It seems that now there is "nothing to do" out here and life is "boring." And so PlayStation in front of the TV has morphed from a Friday afternoon/Saturday afternoon treat, to an almost daily diversion. Movie Night moved from Saturday evening, to Friday and Saturday evening (one for the girls, one for the boys), and then to an occasional extra movie on Sunday afternoon or a weeknight evening.

We watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last night. It was an entertaining movie (not great), and it was nice to veg on the couch in front of the fire. But after getting in bed at midnight last night, I'm a little fuzzy-headed today. I'll be a zombie by the end of my shift at Wal-Mart tonight. Living the modern American life...

Our living room is not set up to make TV viewing particularly easy. The television is in the far corner of the room, and we have to move the furniture around each time we want to watch a movie. Last night, I recruited one of the kids to help me shove the couches back over in front of the fire place. "I don't want everything left circled around the Great Blue Eye," I protested.

"Gosh, Mom, what's the big deal?!"

What's the big deal? I don't know if I'm really sure. Something inside me stiffens ever so slightly every time we circle the furniture to study the Great Blue Eye, and I feel a vague, gray disquiet until everything is back in its proper place, circled in front of the hearth. Something inside me feels full and warm and grateful when I see my kids snuggled in front of the fire reading books, or gathered around the hassock for a game of cards or Quarto.

No, I don't like the TV. Whatever it offers is always less-than-best, yet so seductive that it subtly draws us into ever-increasing devotion. It is a struggle to keep the television a tool that we control, instead of allowing it to make us into tools that it controls.

Anyone else feel like they're fighting a Great Blue Eye?


Jessica said...

This is why I don't let Locke watch tv. It gives me a bad feeling when I see him staring blankly at the tv and I know we're wasting brain-cell building time.

Ashley Ramsey said...

Brian and I didn't have a TV for our first year and a half of marriage, which to everyone else made us weird. We streamed our favorite shows on our laptop though. This felt more like intentional TV watching because we had to upload the video and there were no other channels to change to. Now that we have a TV, I feel uneasy when anyone "channel surfs." I guess the plumbline for me is intentionality vs. mindless watching.

I do let Ava watch Baby Einstein when she's cranky from teething. It's really the only thing that soothes her when she isn't ready for a nap, but isn't happy being awake.