January 23, 2011
The other night, Amelia asked me, “Mommy, why do I never get to watch a movie on school nights?” It seems we’ve created a policy in our house of no TV (for the kid) on weekdays. We never really talked about it or wrote it in stone. We just figured that she gets enough TV time on the weekends, and we got in the habit of never turning it on during the week. I, at least, never thought much about it. So when she asked for an explanation, I had to come up with something off the cuff. I started with the standard lines about how it’s not good for your body or your brain to sit around watching TV, how the doctor told her it wasn’t healthy to watch a lot of TV. I wasn’t even persuading myself with this argument of, “Deny yourself something you enjoy because it’s Good For You.”
Then, I had a bolt of inspiration. I asked her to think about all the things she does on weekday afternoons. Soon, we were making a long list together. Running and climbing on the school playground, reading books, taking walks, going to the library, making art projects, writing letters to friends, dancing, playing board games, listening to music, creating elaborate pretend scenarios with her stuffed animals, figuring out new ways to use the couch as a climbing wall and trampoline. And then I told her, “If you were just sitting and staring at the TV every afternoon, you wouldn’t be doing any of those things.” Wow. Even I hadn’t realized what a rich life she leads when she is away from the TV. If TV were an option, she would happily forsake all those activities. She would demand the TV constantly, and be angry if I forced her to do something else. In every moment of indecision or inactivity, she would turn to the glowing screen to fill it. And just think of all she would miss out on.
And then it occurred to me that I should take a look at my own life. For me, it’s not TV that is the temptation, but this computer. I feel the desire to use it like an itch that needs to be scratched. Every time I have an unfilled moment, my hand wants to grab for it, to see what’s new on Facebook, check my myriad email accounts, check in on a few blogs. And then, if I really run out of legitimate things to read, I sometimes kill spare time by playing online Pacman. Yes, that certainly does kill time. Kills it dead, ensuring that I will emerge from it unsatisfied, uninspired, unmotivated and vaguely angry with myself. I wonder what I would do with all that time without this computer to lull me into complacency. Of course, I need and want the computer for plenty of worthwhile purposes. It is where I do my work, where I learn the answers to all kinds of interesting questions, where I find recipes, where I write, where I diagnose my ailments, where I connect with people, where I check the weather and keep on top of the news. But I wish I could stop turning to it to fill every blank space in my life.
At least I don’t have an iPhone.