Monday, July 30, 2012


When my sister and I were kids, my parents convinced us that there was "no TV in Maine". Not just that we weren't allowed to watch TV while on summer vacation, but that, in fact, there were no TV's in the entire state of Maine.  They used to sneak into our rental cabin and hide the TV in the closet before we came in (this was easy for them, as Meg and I usually raced to the ocean as soon as the car stopped.)

The charade was ended when a local babysitter, frustrated by our endless games of Memory and Clue, searched through the cabin and found the hidden TV.   In the following summers, we continued to play Memory and Clue, as well as lots and lots of cards, but eventually we got a TV in the summer house, and then cable, and then a DVD player.  A couple of years ago I realized, we never play games anymore.  

So this year, the first year we brought our children to the summer house, we decided to re-institute the "no TV in Maine" rule.  We asked my parents to hide the TV, but we were honest with Daniel. We said, this is our special time for us to spend as a family, so we aren't going to watch TV, or play with our i-pods.  We are going to un-plug.  Then we crossed our fingers.

Our son loves TV.  I mean, loooooovvvvves, TV.  Any sign of disobedience or defiant behavior can instantly be curbed by the warning, "you don't want to watch TV tonight?"

I thought, before we had children, that they wouldn't watch TV.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  A few weeks ago I punished Daniel by taking away TV for TWO NIGHTS.  Who suffered more? Me. Now I have to make and clean up dinner with two kids underfoot? Now I have to entertain you at the end of long day when nobody has any patience left?  It was not pretty.

We have accepted that TV has a place in our daily lives. We try to keep it under control, we try to limit their exposure to obnoxious cartoons...

"Mommy, why can't I watch SpongeBob? "
 "Because Mommy doesn't like that show, that's why."

... and commercials. The first time Daniel watched commercials was in a hotel room with no children's channels.  He kept yelling at me because he thought I was changing the channel on him.

Through the miracles of online streaming, on demand, you tube and DVR our kids have been coddled in the warm, wonderful waters of TV that doesn't drive me crazy: Shawn the Sheep, Curious George, Phineas and Ferb, Pixar movies, etc.

So TV serves a purpose in our "regular lives"... it is a nice quiet ending to sometimes noisy, always busy days.   But, we needed to unplug. We needed to prove to Daniel that he can have a wonderful day without cartoons, that he doesn't need TV to distract, amuse or console him.

TV is a great escape... who hasn't distracted themselves from chores, paperwork, or a bad break up with hours in front of the magic box. I certainly have (hello, summer I watched 5 seasons of Lost.)  It is easy not to think, it is easy not to feel when the TV is on.

So, for our son, who in a short time has suffered so many losses, transitions and challenges, TV is a great escape. The problem is, after too long in front of it, the return to his real life is extremely jarring. Everything is so much harder when he has to think, and feel and pay attention, instead of being transported into the TV screen.  The worst meltdowns he's had have been after extended periods of TV time.

It's been over a week since we unplugged our son, and I'm very, very happy with the results so far.  He's calm, engaged, responsive, and he hasn't asked to watch TV once.  Of course, there is so much to do here... grass to run on, rocks to climb, beaches to explore.  Our country boy is in heaven.

We'll see, when we return to our little city apartment and our busy city lives, how much the TV comes back on...

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