In November of 1999, with three children ages eight weeks to four-years-old, we turned off our TV. In December of 2013, with four children ages ten to eighteen, we turned it back on.
I couldn’t remember the exact reason why we turned off the TV. My kids went to a Waldorf-inspired preschool, Morning Light. It was a sweet, one-room schoolhouse style establishment, in the basement of a church. The teachers wore skirts. The kids baked bread and did water color paintings. They read picture books with no words and didn’t need to learn the alphabet or numbers. Each child was assigned a symbol so they didn’t need to spell their names.
They only played with wooden and fabric toys. Gigi, the owner, had been encouraging the families of her students to turn off their TVs. I remember thinking, “Does she have kids? She’s crazy!”
I had spent a lot of time battling my kids over the TV. I couldn’t get them to go outside to play. We were often late for school because they need to finish a show. I didn’t like seeing my four-year-old stretched out on the couch in front of the TV. He looked too much like my sixty-four year old mother who did the same thing. I couldn’t watch the news because Peter danced in front of the TV until I gave up and let him put his show on. I had had it by the time Turn Off The TV and Pick Up A Book Week in November of 1999 came around.
My husband and I decided to take the challenge. We unplugged the TV. Peter followed me around for two weeks begging for a show. He finally convinced his two-year-old sister to go behind the cabinet and plug it in. It fell out of the cabinet. Thankfully no one was hurt. I pronounced the television probably broken and put it up in the attic. The only time I saw that TV again was when we sold it in a garage sale before moving from New Jersey to Tennessee.
I felt so strongly about being TV free that I wrote an article, Adjusting to an enriching life without television, which was published in the Observer-Tribune in 2001.
Over the years, the kids would ask for a TV. They told us they wouldn’t have friends over because they were embarrassed that we didn’t have a TV. In 2006 my husband felt strongly that the kids should see the Olympics. We borrowed a neighbor’s spare TV and got cable for a month. Another neighbor, a former Mr. Tennessee, helped us carry it to our house. He thought the situation so ridiculous he offered to buy us a new one.
Years later, we tried to stream the Super Bowl on a computer. It kept buffering so it was difficult to watch. We couldn’t see the commercials so we had to Google them on another computer. The kids were pissed. After that fiasco, I promised, without consulting my husband, that once Max, who was then eight, was firmly entrenched in reading, we would reconsider our no-TV stance.
While the kids slept last Saturday, I removed my lovely Jean Graham painting of a sheep farm in Mendham, NJ to make room for our long lost foe. The appliance guys came and installed it on the wall of my cozy family room. My husband and I had deliberated about where to put the TV, basement or family room?
We went with family room. I wanted us to be together as a family, watching shows like I did in the 70s. We used to get our ice cream and head to our basement family room and watch The Waltons, The NBC Mystery Movies and Disney. Was this a fantasy now that my kids are eighteen, sixteen, fourteen and ten? As soon as the TV was up, I felt only trepidation.
What was I thinking? I felt a desperate urge to read the article I had written twelve years ago. I dug through my stuff and found it. We had gotten rid of the TV because it had taken over our life. Why didn’t I re-read that article before I convinced my husband to go along with my plan?
I look at our new TV as I walk through the family room, plotting how I can hide it. Can I talk my husband into a $5,000 to $10,000 cabinet cover for a television he didn’t want in the first place? This has already cost us over $2000 and we haven’t even gotten the cable hooked up. I keep wishing the farm painting were still in its place.