For more than a month now, Fred has been terrified of the television. Well, I suppose he's not scared of the television so much as he is scared of any program or movie shown on it. This includes such frightening programming as PBS's Curious George and Clifford, Big Red Dog. If someone turns the TV on while Fred is awake, he runs screaming into another room, covers his ears, and yells "turn the movie off, turn the movie off!" until, you guessed it, the television is turned off.
Why is Fred so scared of TV? I have theories but really don't question it any more. At first I thought it was really strange, inconvenient, and semi-annoying. I've always tried to keep a tight rein on the amount of television my kids access, but man oh man, being able to turn that thing on when I need to make a phone call, take a shower, or do another activity while knowing my kids are occupied and unlikely to get into too much trouble sure is nice! And on days when the weather isn't great, TV has come in very handy to keep the boys quiet in the house while Bonnie and I work on math and projects that take a lot of concentration. In short, the TV has been a fairly reliable (and free) babysitter for me that I have tried to use in moderation. I usually ease any guilt I feel in using it as a babysitter with the knowledge that most of what they watch is educational and commercial-free.
After the onset of Fred's new phobia, I had to explain to Bonnie and Jack repeatedly that their right to watch TV does not trump Fred's right not to be terrified in his own home. This was a surprisingly difficult concept for my daughter, and it took several weeks to change the whole family's expectations for TV's presence in the house. The boys were used to watching PBS cartoons before breakfast in the morning, for example, and Bonnie was accustomed to getting to watch something during one of her first breaks from school work. (She sleeps late and usually missed the morning cartoon rounds.) Often the TV would come back on in the evening while I made supper, if daily school work and chores were all complete. While we didn't generally watch a lot of television together as a family at night, we did occasionally watch a streaming Netflix video or a program on PBS, and sometimes we'd have a family movie night.
None of the above television viewing can happen without really upsetting Fred (terrifying might be the better word), so the only opportunity to watch TV that Jack and Bonnie currently have is during Fred's nap time. That is of course if they have their school work finished and Fred actually takes a nap, a combination which does not happen regularly.
I secretly love Fred's television phobia.
Today would have been a day when the boys were allowed to watch a little more TV than normal. It's chilly and rainy outside, and we have no activities or errands out of the house until soccer this evening. I like to cram a ton of school work for Bonnie into these rare days when we are actually at home, and TV really helps when I can't send the boys outside to play. (Don't get me wrong, my kids can and do play outside in chilly, wet weather, but not for long.) We didn't turn the TV on, and instead Jack and Fred worked puzzles, played board games, and played with their toys pretty much all morning. Lest this sounds too idealistic, I assure you that I spent lots of time refereeing their games and helping with the puzzles. And there were plenty of outbursts from Bonnie requesting that I "please, please make the boys be quiet."
Our evenings have been spent doing more things together as a family, such as playing games and working puzzles. And though Bonnie wouldn't list it in a "pro" column for watching less television, she and Kelly have been solving logic problems together every night. We've all been reading more books. Kelly and I can watch TV after the kids are asleep, and sometimes we do, but we've been generally watching less and reading and talking more.
Since having kids, I've had a hard time reconciling my wariness of television with its convenience and my personal enjoyment of it. Why do I hate television so much? I don't know, but I kind of love it too. It's a struggle! I hate the idea of scheduling the kids' bedtimes or anything else in my life around sitting down in time for a certain TV program, with the possible exception of some live broadcasts. I don't like the idea of "having" to see anything I guess. Nor do I care for the idea of my kids thinking they "have to" watch some upcoming program. Anyone else starting to suspect that Fred gets his television phobia from his mother?
I doubt Fred's TV fear will last forever, but I'm not eager for it to end. What I have noticed over and over during periods of time when we have chosen or have been forced to severely limit our TV consumption as a family, whether during a television-free vacation, while participating in Screen-Free Week, during a power outage, or during this latest phobia of Fred's, is that I'm always left feeling that TV needs to play a smaller role in our lives. Somehow that damn box has a way of gradually being on more and more, until we're once again watching more than I'm really comfortable with. Then when I see them watching TV, I think what could my kids be doing, if they weren't watching that right now? Reversing that, I look at a morning like today when they watched no TV at all and wonder, what would I want them to stop doing to make space for watching TV? I got nothing.