I don't remember much about my wedding vows, but I do remember the one important thing my husband and I agreed on before we got married: we would not have a television in the house. I came from a family of people who watched television maybe once a week for about an hour. My husband, on the other hand, came from a household in which the television was always on. Always. A television set right in the middle of the living room, always turned on.
I knew that the constant sound of a television in a small apartment would drive me crazy. And Spouse said he wanted to kick the habit anyhow, since it was merely a habit from a life of television watching, and not an activity that he valued.
For the first six or seven years of our marriage, we had no television set. I didn't miss it. My husband missed watching sports, I think, but when the Snowstorm University basketball team did well one season, friends and family would invite us to their houses to watch games. Sometimes Spouse would meet friends at a bar to watch a baseball game. So television watching was a social event. When my daughter went to kindergarten, she had been exposed to almost no television at all. She'd seen Sesame Street at her grandmother's house, but not much else.
Once my older kids were in school, we decided to have a television in the house to expose them to it. My thinking was that television, like it or not, is part of the culture they would be living in, and I wanted to give them small occasional doses, sort of like a vaccination shot to build up their resistance. So we got a hand-me-down television set from my in-laws and kept it in the closet, pulling it out on occasion.
Somewhere along the line, someone clued us into the idea that VCRs had been invented and we decided we could use the television set as a way to watch movies on Saturday night. At that time, I was nursing the colicky baby from hell whom no one in the family ever wanted to babysit so our Saturday date nights were limited to what fun we could have at home after the four kids were asleep. Well, I bet we could have thought of something fun if the kids were ever asleep, but unfortunately the very cute baby had the habit of waking up and screaming about every twenty minutes. So we set the television up in our bedroom with a VCR so that we could watch a movie on Saturday night while I tried to nurse the colicky baby to sleep. (Films, I might add, are in a different category than television shows in my mind.)
We have never had a television set in the living room. I just don't like the idea of a television set in the center of our house. In the house we live in now, the fireplace is the gathering spot - or perhaps the round wooden table. Not the television set.
Exposed to television through her cousins and friends at school, my daughter eventually wanted to watch a fairly generic show called Full House. The kids and I would pile on the king-size bed and watch the show together. One other year, we watched a show called Power Rangers. Those are the only two I really remember. But some television watching did creep into our lives. I always watched television with the kids, but I mainly just remember the theme songs.
I saw no reason for television over the summer, though. So on the last day of school, we would have a pillowcase ceremony. With all kinds of speeches and grand gestures, I would drape a pillowcase over the television, covering it up. The pillowcase would stay in place until Labor Day Weekend. Or sometimes later, if we forgot about it.
As my kids progressed from being little kids to being teenagers, I continued strategies to severely limit the amount of television in their lives. In our new house, we would unplug the television and stick it out in the garage over the summer. Then inevitably, my mother would call to say that someone in the family was going to be on the local news. (Nothing much happens in Snowstorm City; I often know people on the news.) So I would lug the television back in the house and set it on the kitchen counter to watch one show, which would include five seconds of someone we know saying something stupid, and then lug it back out to the garage. This kind of thing is very hard on the television set. Yeah, I've dropped the television several times. For people who watch very little television, you would be amazed at how much money we have had to spend replacing television sets.
In our current life, we have little time for television. Boy in the Black is taking a bunch of college level courses and has no time on weeknights to watch television. Shaggy Hair, too, is busy with homework and such during the week. In this case such means talking to his friends on instant messenger. With-a-Why is the only person in the house who would have time to watch television, but I don't think there is anything on television appropriate for a ten-year-old. He has never watched the little kids' shows because he was born a teenager. On weekends, the house is filled with kids and activity, so really, there is no need for television. Sometimes Boy in Black will watch the Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live, because he is a night owl and likes humor. Sometimes we watch the Simpsons. But for the most part, the television stays silent.
My main concern about television has nothing to do with the content of the shows that are on. I just think television is a waste of time. And time is precious. Kids grow up so fast. I want them to spend their time doing stuff that has value. Reading books. Playing the piano. Having snowball fights. Catching tadpoles or fireflies. Writing in their journals. Practicing the drums. Talking to their friends. Building snow ramps. Arguing about where to go on vacation. Making up alternative lyrics to well-known songs. Duct-taping items to the ceiling fan. Dancing to oldies music. Jamming. Whipping pennies at each other. Putting margerine on the linoleum floor to make it slippery so that they can skate in bare feet. Tacking blankets up over the windows to make the house dark for a game of Monster. Freezing strange items into ice cube trays. Knocking out the window screens to shoot paper airplanes out the window. Getting muddy playing frisbee golf in the rain. Shoving each other into the pond. Making prank phone calls. Using a big slingshot to throw rotten fruit over the house. Setting things on fire.
On August days when the house is so unbearably hot that no one can move, the kids lie on the floor and complain: "We're bored." And even that activity, I think, is more valuable than watching television. I remind them that boredom is a wonderful thing. From boredom comes creativity. And they are lucky to live such privileged lives, that they have the luxury of boredom.