I grew up within the latch-key kid generation. Like many children in the 80’s I would get off the school bus in the afternoon, walk home, and then let myself in. The first thing I did, after tossing my book bag on the couch, was turn on the TV. I liked the voices that filled our apartment and kept me company. I loved being entertained. I also thrived on the schedule.
I knew exactly what time it was based on what was on the TV. Seriously. Ask me the time of day and chances are I could give it to you exactly based on what was on the tube. I also planned my afternoons around this kind of schedule. I knew I could chill and watch “Square One” on PBS, but once “You Can’t Do That on Television” started I needed to hunker down and make sure I was doing homework or chores.
Twenty five years later and things are very different. We record shows at all hours of the day and play the shows back at whatever time suits us. Watching a show live is rare for me and is something usually only reserved for breaking news or award shows. When it comes to W, however, things are not so different. When I noticed this I knew things had to change.
Recently when I was trying to explain to W when something was going to happen I pointed up to our large numerical wall clock and showed him the big hand and the small hand. He nodded his head, seemingly understanding me, but then he asked, “so after Wallykazam or before it?”
W and I are both creatures of routine and patterns. We also thrive on knowing what the plan is. Living that way has put us into a dangerous after school rut. When I pick up W from school we go to the playground. Always. The ONLY time we don’t go is if it is pouring rain. If it is sprinkling we still go to the playground. Usually we are there just over an hour. Once we get home I have to immediately jump back into work. Working at home provides me with some fantastic flexibility and as much as I try to get the bulk of my work done while W is at school, the reality is that there is always work that needs to be done or wrapped up in the afternoon or evening.
I fix W a snack, he pulls out his legos or blocks, and then I turn on the TV. The house is filled with the zany sounds of children’s television and I push to get my brain to focus over cartoon boings or songs. By most evenings I have a headache and work that usually would take me an hour has taken two.
I have no idea why it took me so long to realize that I needed to evaluate the seepage of TV time happening in our afternoons. A large part of it was denial. I also had been telling myself that W wasn’t able to have my full attention, so having TV was…uh comfort? The latch key TV mentality is deep and weird.
Yesterday I started some new TV guidelines. I am allowing W to watch 1 hour of TV. We looked at the afternoon show schedule and I allowed him to pick two back to back episodes. I let him know the TV would be off until those shows began and once those shows were over the TV would turn off and remain off.
Things started off as you would expect: tears, pleas, anger, screams. I helped W look for something fun to do. I wanted him to realize he had LOTS of cool stuff and he didn’t need a soundtrack in the background. He usually is building and coloring and making “conventions” in the afternoon, but suddenly he felt like he couldn’t without the TV on. Wow. We got his race track stuff out and he started to set up an ultimate track in the living room. Five minutes into set up he nudged me off the tracks so I knew he was ready for me to back off.
I quietly walked over to my computer and started working. Oh how wonderful it was to have so much silence! Ok, there wasn’t silence, W was making a great bit of noise with his “car show” – but it was perfect and I actually enjoyed overhearing his dialogue.
When it was time for his show, without my asking, he cleaned up his cars. When the TV went off an hour later he did beg me to turn it back on and when I didn’t he pulled a chair next to my desk and started “working” next to me. That was just fine.
That was day one. I have no idea how things will go today. We also may not be able to tell time for a few days (weeks?!) while we adjust.