Family life

Our low-TV summer: Mission aborted!

Ten weeks ago, Tracy removed the TV from the living room and cut back to basic cable in an effort to reduce her family's TV-watching habits. So why is she raising the white flag?

By Tracy Chappell
Our low-TV summer: Mission aborted!

Photo: Rev Dan Catt via Flickr.

I’m blaming the Olympics.
Back in May, when our main-floor TV died, I had the brilliant idea of ditching our TV for the summer. It was going to be great. We’d embrace the beautiful weather and the great outdoors. After the kids went to bed, Sean and I would sit on the porch and chat in the warm summer evenings.
But our no-TV summer quickly morphed into a low-TV summer. How? We got an awesome basic cable deal that saved us a lot of money, but it meant not cutting off our cable completely. As a compromise, we got our TV fixed, but stowed it in the basement so our main floor was TV-free. However, we have a little TV up in our bedroom if we wanted to watch something. There isn’t much on in the summer, so we haven’t watched much except the news for me and baseball for Sean. The girls definitely aren’t gravitating to the TV as much as they used to, so I’m happy about that. They will sometimes go up and watch — Anna more so than Avery, who, as I predicted, would rather hang out on the main level with me, even if she’s playing on her own. And I think TV is good downtime for Anna, so I didn’t begrudge her that. She tends to need that half-hour or so to decompress after a day at school or camp.
So what’s the problem? Me. All me. I can’t put the blame on the Games. This past weekend, I raised the white flag and asked Sean to bring the TV back to our living room. I missed it much more than I thought. It’s not that I want to watch anything specific, I’m just missing TV in general. My friend cautioned me when I hatched this master plan: “You know, you’re allowed to chill out after a busy day. There’s nothing wrong with that!” But I thought I was doing too much flopping on the couch and wasting time in the evenings — time that could be spent doing far more productive, fulfilling things.
After we removed the TV, I missed that downtime. I didn’t know what to do with myself because I wanted to do nothing, even if only for a few minutes. Instead, after the kids went to bed, I plunged right into something, anything without taking a break. I ended up on the computer a lot, and being on the computer seems to always lead me to work of some kind. Suddenly, it would be 11 o’clock, and I’d spent my entire evening the same way I’d spent my day. Not good. Sean also got sucked into the Game of Thrones book series, so he’d settle down to read, I’d be on the computer in a different room, and that’s how we’d spend our evenings. Not exactly what I had in mind.
I also discovered that the TV is a catalyst of sorts for getting many menial household tasks accomplished. I rarely sat in front of the TV for longer than a few minutes without doing something else at the same time — folding laundry, sorting through a pile of clutter that had accumulated on the counter, purging my email inbox, organizing toys or clothes or whatever. These things are far too boring to tackle without having TV as a distraction. So instead, I just didn’t do them! I’ve also learned that I really don’t like watching TV in bed.
I really wanted to embrace some new lifestyle. I fully expected to join the ranks of the “Once you give it up, you’ll never look back!” TV-free converts. But while these past 10 weeks of having little TV haven’t seemed to bother my husband or kids, they’ve left me feeling restless and overworked, with a very messy house and a mile-long personal to-do list that never seems to shrink down.
One of my hopes did come true: I’ve been reading a lot more. Since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, but could never get into it. But during my low-TV summer I read book one and two, and I’m halfway through three. Loving them. I almost forgot how much I adore the weird, creepy, intricate mind of the master.
In the end, I’ve made my peace with the TV and its place in our lives. I don't even look at this little experiment as a failure, but more of an eye-opening. TV is not the enemy. I exhaled with relief when I saw that big shiny screen in my living room, like the joyful return of a beloved pet we’d put in the kennel. Sean also exhaled with relief that he wouldn’t have to squint to watch Team Canada's soccer semi-final last weekend on the tiny upstairs TV.  We watched it together with the kids, in the same room, all of us cheering and hoping and holding our breath; after the kids went to bed, Sean and I cuddled up on the couch to watch a movie… just like old times. 

Photo: Rev Dan Catt via Flickr.

This article was originally published on Aug 09, 2012

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