Years ago, I met this really nice woman at a PTO function. 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. I saw book clubs and wine groups and girls’ weekends away in our future…that is, until she said that her family only had one TV and that they never watched it.
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 love TV. I have loved TV since I was a little kid and first met the Brady Bunch. It was a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three lovely girls. More importantly, it was the story that my brothers and I had to tune into every week.
Growing up, 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, 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 as Fonzie attempted to water-ski over a shark in a leather jacket. We could cringe together when Winnie ended things with Kevin and broke his pre-pubescent heart.
As we got older, these iconic shows continued to play a role in how we related to one another. When I fell a few years ago and broke my nose, the first words my brother said to me were “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” and I knew exactly what he meant.
TV plays such a big role in my life, both past and present, that 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. She didn’t understand how sharing favorite shows could be life enhancing and enjoyable for a family.
I understand that TV shouldn’t be used as an everyday babysitter and that some shows are just inappropriate. I also agree that it’s important to lead a physically active lifestyle and to incorporate activities such as walks, hikes, and bike rides as part of family time.
Sometimes there aren’t two hours in the day for a family bike ride. But there are 30 minutes to watch a show (and even less if you fast forward the 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 spend time together. It’s an opportunity to share a laugh or spark a conversation.
With homework, sports, and social commitments, it can be hard to carve out family time. Our shows” create that time for us. The “boob tube” can be a catalyst in generating lasting memories.
Last year, my dad 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 10 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. Sixty-five years later, he could vividly recall those nights and remember the feeling of happiness and safety.
I was reminded of that story when, a few weeks ago, my son and I were watching “Survivor”. We are fanatics and make sure to watch it together always. We were both getting nauseous and cracking up as we watched the contestants eating gross local delicacies.
As we watched, I realized that my son had leaned his head on my shoulder. At 12, his displays of affection are becoming less frequent, so I tried to take in the gesture without drawing any attention to it.
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, what he will remember is that happy, safe feeling of resting his head on his mother’s shoulder while watching TV.