To say we were shocked would be an understatement, although in retrospect I am not so surprised. After all, it was the late 1970s and my mom was as hip as the rest. She experimented with making tempura vegetables and eliminating white sugar from our diets, and some time between these projects, my mother gave away the television set. Yep, you read right. We came home from school one day and there was an odd empty space in our living room, like the gaping hole of a child's first lost tooth. She had simply given it away.
True, this was the era of maybe eight channels and my mother had been rather restrictive even prior to this shocking act--we were the only ones on the block who did not get to watch morning cartoons, something that seemed linked somehow to not getting to eat Lucky Charms sugary cereal. But we were addicted to afternoons with Speed Racer and Scooby Doo, and we would not dream of missing a school-night special like "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." But those were the days, my friends, and our new life without a TV had begun.
After the initial shock, it wasn't so bad really. We played more games and read more books. We rode our bikes and roller-skated endlessly around our circular driveway, sometimes chasing date bugs with tennis rackets when we were really bored. We swam in our pool until our fingers were white raisins and our hair turned green from chlorine. When we needed a fix, we begged our mom to let us spend the night at Grandma's--Grandma let us watch as much TV as we wanted and even let us stay up until the Johnny Carson Show on school nights (yes there was life before Jay Leno, for those of you too young to remember).
This blissful TV-free existence suddenly hit a bump when my father was given a small TV as part of a business promotion at work. It was probably meant to be the kind of small TV you put in your bedroom, the kitchen or, who knows, the bathroom.
We all eyed it suspiciously. After many years without a TV, it felt like an intruder, a stranger in our house. My mom put it in the closet. But we all knew it was there. The itch to pull it out was like the burning of money in your pocket at a candy store.
Then came the 1980 Winter Olympics, and, well, you know, watching the Olympics is almost educational. The postage-stamp TV came out--and stayed out long after the Olympics.
When we moved to a new house, the TV got put back into a closet--only this time the closet was conveniently located in the living room and we often pulled it out to watch it. Ultimately, I guess my father finally had enough, because one day late in high school, I came home to find a wide-screen TV, at least four feet across and three feet high, prominently placed in the living room.
My parents never looked back.
The effects of a few years of TV-free life, however, were lasting. I never watched it in college and, in most places I lived, I didn't even own a TV. My husband and I did not have a TV for the first seven years we were together. Quite honestly, we never even missed it, although now I wonder what we did on all those child-free, TV-free evenings. Read books? Listened to the radio? Talked with each other uninterrupted?
Sad to say, all that changed the day I gave birth to my first child. By this point we were living in the remote countryside. After five days of non-stop nursing at all hours, I had en epiphany: We needed a television set and we needed it right NOW. (Did I mention our house was in a remote location?) So the first outing for my five-day-old son was to the department store where we promptly bought a TV that was so big we almost could not fit it into our little Ford Escort. My mother, she of the TV-free childhood, who was visiting us for six weeks in the dead of winter, sighed and said it was a good decision.
Granted, having the TV was a life-saver during all those odd hours of nursing. I had never watched daytime TV but it didn't take me long to become hooked on a British soap opera, Emmerdale. I would like to say the TV's importance waned as my nursing days came to an end, but that would be a lie. I discovered that Teletubbies on a Sunday at 7 am is nothing short of a godsend. Ten minutes a day of Bananas in Pyjamas can't be so harmful, I reasoned. Indeed, I argued that "educational videos" was not a contradiction in terms.
I began to worry, however, when I realized that one of my younger son's first words was the title of an evening children's program. That's right; "Mommy," "Pappa," and the lyrics to the program's song were his favorite words.
The nagging notion that our lives would be better off without the TV grew. Those few years of TV-free life when I was a child began to take over my whole childhood, like a grandparent's tale of walking to school in the snow. One mile! Ten miles! Barefoot! Suddenly, I could remember my childhood only as a blissful time of reading and swimming. I badgered my husband to consider getting rid of our post-partum purchase, claiming that I must have been still suffering from the effects of the epidural when I begged for that television set. Alas, my pleas fell on deaf ears as he turned to the TV for his evening relaxation.
However, my inner turmoil over the television's place in our family life took a dramatic turn recently when I realized that our cable provider is switching over to digital TV this May. Unless we buy the digital box for our set, we will have no TV. I have a chance! I have coerced my husband to agree not to buy the box--or at least to delay it. We are taking the long-awaited TV-free plunge! I know, I know, we all say we will never be like our mothers...but this time I think my mom may have been on to something.