Thursday, July 07, 2011

What Happens When You Turn Off The Television?


“I worry that our daughter watches too much television,” my husband said. We were clearing the dishes off the table after dinner and Story was using the fork she found on the floor as a microphone to sing the theme to Sesame Street.

My first feeling was defensive, my second was guilt.

“I know. I worry too. I turn it on in the morning while I make breakfast and clean the house, but then I want to check my email and do some writing and she’s playing so nicely in front of the tv." I stacked the plates together and put them next to the sink, sighed and lowered my head.

"I usually turn it off by 9 but then sometimes she wants to play with the iPad in the afternoon so it’s really only like ….” I had to think for a moment, “Three hours or so ... Oh my God! Three hours? Holy shit. I hadn’t even really thought about it. Oh my God. I’m a terrible mom. Remember when we said our daughter would never watch tv?”

“I know it’s hard,” he said and came around to hug me from behind. He says that, but he has no idea. I am my daughter’s main source of entertainment from the moment she wakes until the moment she goes to bed. We sing songs in front of the mirror, we blow bubbles on the playground, we do tea parties, we cut out stars and make them into holiday banners, we cook meals, we dance around front of the mirror in our underwear, we play dress up, we have screaming contests, we go grocery shopping, we do puzzles, we read books, we go to the library, we play monster, we make forts out of the bed sheets, we bake cookies, we go for walks, we make balloon animals, we make up songs. Sometimes I just run out of ideas, and sometimes I just want a moment for myself. I rationalize that I only let her watch educational programs, and that the three hour break from being my daughters full-time court jester is necessary to my sanity. But the truth is that Toy Story 2 is not educational, and teaching my daughter to play quietly on her own in her room would provide the same relief to my mental health.

“I’ll do better,” I said.

So today I woke up determined not to turn on the television. For the first fifteen minutes of the day, she cried every time I looked at her. Before 9:00 AM, we read Curious George, Goodnight Moon, Clickity Clack Moo, and the entire Biscuit series compilation. I could hear my email buzzing through on my phone but I didn't look at it. We made eggs together, ate breakfast in silence, and then we stared at each other making funny faces. Most days, I turn on the television for her while I take a shower. But today I covered the floor with her blocks and took a shower in fear of what I would find as I emerged.

I emerged to silence. The kind of silence that means she is into something that she shouldn’t be. I found her in her bathroom , the garbage turned over, a dirty q-tip hanging out of her ear and my laptop open and powered up on the floor with four keys picked off. I tried to clean it up while I heard her pulling over the breakfast dishes in the other room. I missed my morning ritual of coffee and facebook and blogs and it made me kinda cranky. I told myself that a television is not supposed to be a babysitter for my child.

We got out of the house ASAP and went to our babysitting commitment at the church down the street. The rest of the day was easy with a play date at the park, a picnic outside, a nap, bubbles in the courtyard and Daddy to the rescue by 7:00.

“I need a meeting,” I told him. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

I soaked up the car ride. I marinated in the spiritual conversation of the meeting and felt serene by the time I parked the car back in front of the house. I didn’t realize how hard a day without media would really be, how much pressure it would put on me to entertain. But the day was victorious. We did it. We made it an entire day without tv or the radio or an iPad. I told myself that like most of the true parenting moments thus far, it’s only hard for a few days and then it will get easier. I’m learning that the actual “parenting” part is usually not easy. I’m up for this challenge. I walked in the door feeling triumphant, and found my husband in front of the television with the baby on his lap watching “Baby Signing Time.”

He jumped a little when I swung open the door. "It's educational," he said,unable to erase the guilty expression from his face. I just shook my head. Tomorrow is another day. And we can start the challenge all over again.

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