Breaking Free

The story goes that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the principle of gravity when an apple fell on his head.  That’s the way it goes sometimes; we make our most significant discoveries by chance, accident, or dumb luck.

Once, by a combination of all three, I unintentionally made life a great deal better for my family.

Back when all eleven of our children were in the house the teenagers had some friends over on a Friday night.   We had a room built on to the garage that allowed them the right amount of privacy.  So off they went with popcorn, Twister, and our one pre-internet TV.

The next morning was Saturday, the day when my wife and I would inevitably awake to the cartoon mayhem blasting from the living room. But that morning we had somehow slept until 8 a.m.  I listened closely.  It was quiet.  I walked into the living room and my jaw dropped.

There were the kids spread out on the living room floor.  Some were coloring.  Others were playing a board game.  My 7-year-old was busy with a pencil and paper.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he replied pleasantly.  “Just writing a book.”

I returned to the bedroom.  “What’s going on out there?” my wife asked nervously.

“They’re entertaining themselves.”

“You’re joking.”

But I wasn’t.  They weren’t whining, complaining, or fighting.  They were actually getting along on a Saturday morning without the TV.

And that’s when the apple fell on my head, and I discovered the key to a TV-free lifestyle.  It’s so obvious.  Get the TV out of sight.

Admit it:  we all watch the television a lot like we eat leftovers.  Leave a plate of turkey on the kitchen counter after Thanksgiving and watch how quickly it disappears.  You just can’t resist grabbing a bite when it’s right there in front of you.  When your television sits on its commanding altar in the most picturesque corner of your living room it’s far too easy to drop on the couch and spin through the channels to “see if anything’s on.”

But on that pivotal Saturday morning, my wife and I decided to experiment and wait a few days before bringing the television back in the house.   It was midweek before it returned to its place of honor, right where the rug dents were waiting for it.  But while the set was gone things were different.  Things were better.

It was if our kids’ brains were suddenly turned loose.  They were interacting, playing, talking, singing, building, exploring and more.  They started acting the way kids are supposed to act.  It was fun.

Yes, it was more intense.  The number of scraped knees increased, along with the construction paper messes requiring cleaning.  There were more trips to the library.  I had to be more of a father, which I was actually nervous about it, until I realized that they were my kids and I enjoyed doing things with them.

In the end we cancelled cable, sold our 19-inch TV, and replaced it with the smallest thing we could find—a 12-inch TV/VCR combo that we kept in the closet when not in use.   Our TV viewing dropped to four or five hours a week, compared to the average American home in which the TV runs 7 hours per day.

I realize that things have changed a great deal from the days of portable TV’s, and that you have a lot of money sunk into both your flat screen and the channels you pay so much to watch.   If your home is like most, the entire living room is built around the placement of the television.  These are problems, but they are not unsolvable.  Figure it out.  Solve them.

And now I’m going to say something so obvious it’s almost embarrassing, and yet many of us have apparently forgotten it.   Once your family breaks free from the Television I guarantee the results will be more interesting and rewarding than anything coming out of that banal, crude, bombastic screen.

You might want to hit the mute button for a couple of minutes and get your spouse’s opinion.


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