Years ago, I met this really nice woman during a PTO function at my daughter’s school. Her daughter was a friend of my daughter, and the mom seemed like the type of person I could become friends with, too. We talked for a while about our past careers, current interests and — of course — our kids. We had a lot in common, especially when it came to our philosophy about raising children.
That is, until she said they had one television in their house and that her kids never watched TV. I know this will sound petty, but that was a deal-breaker for me. We could carpool, we could grab a cup of coffee or go out as couples on a Saturday night, but it was clear from that simple statement that we would never be besties.
I admit it: I love TV. I have loved TV since I was a little kid, and I first met The Brady Bunch. It was a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three lovely girls, and it was a story my brother and I had to tune into every week.
At our house, TV time equaled family time. At 8 p.m. we would gather in my parents’ room and watch together. My brothers and I would sit on the floor and welcome in our family friends — The Cunnighams, The Arnolds and The Keatons.
These fictional TV families bonded my real-life family.
Richie, Fonzie, Alex, Mallory, Theo, Vanessa, Winnie and Kevin — their lives were important to us. Their stories created a common ground for my parents and my brothers. We were all different ages, but we all could still laugh together at Fonzie trying to water-ski over a shark in a leather jacket and cringe together when Winnie broke Kevin’s heart. Many years later, when I fell and broke my nose, my brother would call me and his first words would be, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” and I knew exactly what he was referring to.
TV plays such a big role in my life, past and present, I just cannot fully bond with someone who holds the medium in disdain. It’s not that the mom from the PTO didn’t watch TV, it’s that she didn’t see the purpose of watching TV or how it could be life-enhancing — or at the very least, thoroughly enjoyable. She equated watching TV with wasting time, that TV viewing killed off brain cells and enforced a sedentary, solitary lifestyle.
I agree the television should not be used as a babysitter — although when your baby is up before the crack of dawn, an episode of two of Barney could be considered medicinal while the coffee is brewing — or without time limits, especially when your kids are really young. I also agree it is important to lead a physically active lifestyle and try to incorporate activities such as walks, hikes and bike rides as part of family time.
However, sometimes we don’t have two hours in the day for a family bike ride. But we do have 30 minutes to watch a show — and even less if you DVR so you can skip commercials — and lazily connect with one another. For our family, TV is not about just watching alone like a couch potato. It is a social, interactive activity. We watch, we discuss, we cuddle, we snack and most of all, we are spending time together.
Right now, Modern Family is one of my family’s watch-together shows. We all relate to the Dunphys: a family a five with a lot of the same dynamics and quirks as our own. There are moments where we laugh together because we relate to the storyline, and there are moments that spark conversation between us. Escaping into another family gives us all a break from our own lives. With homework, sports and social commitments, it can be hard to carve out time to all be together. So “our” shows create that time for us.
The boob tube can be a catalyst in generating lasting memories. Okay, I realize that might sound dramatic, but it is also true. Last year, my 75-year-old father was in a rehab center for a few months. During that time we had a chance to spend a lot of time together and talk about his childhood. One of his fondest memories was when he was about ten years old and he would watch Playhouse 80 with his mother. He got a little teary remembering how he would lie on the couch with her head on her shoulder. 65 years later, he was able to vividly recall those nights and remembered the feeling of happiness and safety.
I was reminded of that story last week when my son and I were watching Survivor. My son and I are Survivor fanatics. Wednesday at 8 p.m. is our time. This hour is easy, simple and most importantly, ours. This week’s episode had the contestants eating gross local delicacies such as fried frog. We were both nauseous and cracking up at the same time. I noticed he had his head on my shoulder as we watched. At 12, his displays of affection like this are becoming less frequent, so I tried to take in the gesture without drawing any attention to it. I know years from now he will have no memory of which contestant would be the ultimate survivor. The TV show itself is meaningless, but hopefully, 50 years from now, he will remember that happy, safe feeling of lying on my shoulder while watching TV together.