it was on a thursday, August 23 to be precise, 5:42pm to be even more precise, that i carried our home's only television from the tv room to the basement. this was the first thing i did after arriving home from work. i did this namely because when i walked in the door and dropped my bag marty appeared before me and said, "i want you to put the tv in the basement" to which i said, "now?" to which she said, "yes. now."
about an hour earlier marty and bella had a row in the kitchen. bella had been giving marty grief much of the day and when marty finally asked why she was being so foul bella told her it was because she made her stop watching television earlier in the day. after pausing to collect herself, marty explained to bella that television was a recreational item meant to improve life in a house and since ours seemed to be the source of more hardship than pleasure, given the routine nature of this conversation, we should consider removing it.
three hours later our home's tv room became anthony's bedroom. no mention of this change was made by any member of the family for eleven days. on the eleventh day, alex approached me and asked if he could watch calliou. i studied him momentarily trying to see if he, or he through bella, was running some game on me. it was a slightly curious question because it was just not that the tv was turned off and not being used. the television was gone. the couch you sat on to watch television was gone. there was nary a trace that our home had even ever had a television. but this is alex and he often moves in mysterious ways and gauging that he was fully sincere i told him he could watch. he pumped his little fist, muttered a quiet "yesss" to himself, and turned to run upstairs. i continued my task. he reappeared moments later:
there's no tv.
then how i watch calliou?
i don't know how you watch calliou dude.
but you said i could watch calliou.
and if you can figure out how to watch it, you can watch it.
another three months passed before another television-mention was made and it was again alex who inquired. while he and i were driving home from a birthday party he asked when we would get our tv back. i said i didn't know. he said he was very sad because he really, really wanted to watch Cleared for Takeoff and since it was only on (VHS) tape, mom said we couldn't play it for movie night (we still do our friday night movie nights, we just watch on a computer instead of a television). Cleared for Takeoff is a stultifying and low-budget documentary made in the 80's about airline travel which alex has seen over twenty times. the only video alex has expressed close to similar interest in was another documentary, this one made in the late-90's, about performing online internet searches before google existed. i concurred that it was unfortunate but told him we could get it from the library before our next trip to grandmas and he could watch it there. in the rear view mirror i saw his strapped in frame pump its little fist in the air and excitedly say 'yesss'.
i have discussed this change with several folks since our home went dark. my favorite feedback came from a tennis pal. this guy is a college professor and the father of two teen-agers. without pause he asked, "do you think this makes you better parents?" it was an interesting comment because it in-part sounded challenging but by his tone i could tell it was a simple question made out of simple curiosity. i pondered it and quickly replied that i didn't think it made us better parents but felt it made our children better children. for us, television had become a daily battle and inevitably culminated in raised voices in adults and defiant tones in children. it was for sure an unsolvable rift because the kids' thirst was insatiable and we, and by we i mean marty, were committed to not allowing this obsession to dominate our children's free time. over the years there have been times i told marty we should just throw the kids in front of a movie so we could get something done. she always refused and when i'd question her obstinance she always said the same thing, "that's how it starts."
now having been through several months of this, the only shocking aspect of it all is how readily our kids adjusted to life without tv. i braced myself for days if not weeks of flailing tantrums. they never came. curiously, bella has never asked about or commented on the television. never. it was ultimately her battle for extra minutes that sent marty over the brink. that said bella does have one consistent tv request but this has pre-dated our tv boycott. every time we drive anywhere bella privately hopes we get into a car accident. she is secretly confident that she will be able to make our next car a tv-car, as she calls them. little does she know that her mother and father would never deprive any of their children from the long-standing american right of passage of an annual cross-country trip which degenerate into back seat cage matches between siblings and the family eats lunch out of the trunk on the side of road in dusty and sweaty states and everyone involved can't wait for the return home. granted, for me it is tempting to be the one family in the neighborhood that has a nicer tv in their car than they do in their house. bella already knows that's the sort of atypical recognition her father seems so fond of collecting. in fact, this may all just be part of bella's quiet strategy to get television back in her life. i'm not sure. but what i am sure of is that until she perseveres one way or another, she and her brothers will have to continue consuming tv at neighbors' homes much like amish kids suck down cokes when they find themselves at homes outside of their hamlets.