Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Boob Tube

I'm about to out myself in a big way, here. After talking to a set of preschool-aged triplets (all boys, natch) at the park who were imagining they were characters from some toddler book series I'd never heard of, because their family "doesn't do TV" (according to their nanny), I have to say it: I don't know how parents do it without TV.

Left to my own devices, I'm not much of a TV person. I watch Project Runway and LA Ink (despite this season being terrible-awful-holy-crap-could-they-be-trying-any-harder-to-create-a-story?), and occasionally catch The Daily Show and the odd episode of 30 Days. But if anything could turn me into a TV person, it's having a child.

Breastfeeding was the beginning of the end. Making a commitment to nursing also meant making a commitment to sitting on my ass a lot of the time. And having a baby who needed me to "hold his sandwich" for him while he ate meant that my hands weren't free do read or type. So TV it was. For a while, I watched everything. I lived for marathons, because I could get the whole story arc in an afternoon.

Even though I watched hours of television while holding Westley, I didn't want my son to grow up with a lot of TV. I have enough film theory under my belt that I'm sensitive to issues involving visual media. Which isn't to say I blame the media for all of society's problems; I fully believe film and television are powerhouses when it comes to sending important societal messages and influencing people, and that scares me sometimes. Especially as a parent.

When I was a young child, my brother and I watched Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street...and that was it, except for the occasional videotaped children's concert. As we got older, a few movies were added to the mix (The Neverending Story is still one of my all-time favorite films), but mostly, the TV was off and we did other things. I don't think I saw any commercial television until I was eight.

Paranoia and nostalgia were not enough to keep my son TV-free, however. I like to think it's not my fault that Westley watches TV; in a moment of unbridled nostalgia for my childhood, my parents bought Westley two Raffi DVDs, and the rest is history. Of course, I have to take responsibility for putting the DVDs in the player day after day, when Westley pointed to the television and said, "gee-taw" (guitar). So, yeah. It's my fault. But seeing the smile on Westley's face--and having a few uninterrupted minutes to wash my hair or unload the dishwasher--made TV impossible to resist.

Now, I have a PVR full of Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba, and Westley regularly asks for Follow That Bird, Milo and Otis, and, of course, YouTube. And you know what? My kitchen is a little cleaner, my bangs are a little less oily, and if Westley and I are having a day where we both feel like absolute crap, we can cuddle and quietly watch Murray and Ovejita plant things at "gardening school" (which is how Westley learned the words "rake" and "dig").

So, there you have it: I do TV, and so does my not-yet-two-year-old son. I know this isn't how I'm supposed to parent. But I think if I tried to do everything I'm supposed to do as a stay-at-home mother, I would be a complete physical and emotional mess by the end of the day. As it stands, my son occasionally has Muppet babysitters, and both he and I are clean, well-fed, and more or less happy come bedtime.



sarah said...

My experience with people who grew up without television, is that they are mesmerized by it. When they get it, which they will, they won't be able to ignore it.

In my house TV time was limited and a privilege. When we lived at the beach we were only allowed to watch an hour of TV a day, which taught us to prioritize (obviously we were older). Also, television was something to be taken away if we misbehaved.

Right now, sitting in my living room convalescing and a little loopy from the painkillers, I don't know what I would do without visual stimulation because reading is just to much concentration right now.

Next week, I plan to read.

Allison the Meep said...

I am so guilty of using the tv as a babysitter. It's not like I would plop my kid down in front of a set for hours on end, but I did need to shower and clean my apartment - because even though we lived in L.A. and everyone else had maids and nannies, I didn't. I was opposed to that lifestyle, even if I could have afforded it (which I never could).

So you make little compromises. And honestly? I think Julian has learned some awesome things from watching PBS kids shows. Even now when I try to limit his tv watching time, he'll watch a PBS show and come back to me later to tell me some new scientific fact he just learned. I think people who vilify television are just taking it too far.

Amber, The Unlikely Mama said...

Such a timely post. While Alexa is far too young to understand the shows on TV...she is mesmerized by the lights and sounds.

You see, I'm one of those people who ALWAYS has the TV on. I rarely actually pay attention to it, but I like background noise. I cannot sit in a silent room and think. I used to have to fall asleep to the flickering lights...silence and sleep do not coexist in my world. Now at least I'm able to sleep with just a fan or air filter for white noise.

Anyway, I'm afraid I'll get Alexa addicted to TV. Not in the "background noise" kinda way. But the way my brother and niece are. Totally transfixed by the boob tube.

In an attempt to keep her away from that addiction, we've started to put a playroom together in the "dining room". That way she's not in the room with the TV (and neither am I).

While, like you, I don't think TV is a horrible thing, I just don't want her to be a kid that's first inclination, at the start of the day, is to plop down in front of the screen and just stare blankly as other people have fun in front of her (wow super runon sentence there!).

Like every other parenting ideal I have, we'll talk later once she's a toddler and I'm at my whit's end about the state of disarray in my house, and on my body :P

Melissa said...

I don't know much about toddlers, but everything in moderation seems like a pretty good rule. And don't put a TV in his bedroom when he gets older. Tweens have a way of not knowing when to quit.

Jessica said...

I've just discovered the power of TV and I've been feeling guilty about it... but then, with Hollis' increased intensity about all things all the time, it gives me a break to cook dinner or do late afternoon chores. I'm trying really hard to convince myself it's ok. It still feels weird, though.