Three weeks without the tube: a family experiment
``How are we going to live?'' one of my kids whined, the day I pulled the plug. ``What? No television for three weeks?'' my husband said, his eyes wide like a little boy lost.
Yes, it took a lot of nerve, but I was ready for the change to a new and better life style. I had the plan all worked out: We would relinquish all television viewing. Instead, we would visit museums, scout book stores, and share good conversation during relaxing dinners.
There would even be time, now, to take out the family-style board games we had tucked away on the highest shelf. After three weeks, we would decide whether we really wanted to reintroduce television. I knew that the experiment would change our lives - but the way it did came out of left field.
``Oh boy, the baseball game!'' my husband announced with glee, just as I was setting dinner on the table that first night. ``They have to win tonight,'' my son pitched in. ``Come on, Dad, it's starting.'' Before I could protest, they swooped up their plates and started toward the family room - the home of our television set.
``Oh no, Dad,'' our son moaned, stopping in his tracks.
My husband shot me a dirty look - the first in our nearly 20 years of marriage. I stood firm. Reluctantly, they came back to the table and sat down. The quiet was broken only by the trill of silverware against china.
``So,'' I began cheerily, ``how was school today?''
``OK,'' my son responded glumly, concentrating his gaze on his carrots.
My husband was fidgeting in his chair, muttering things I couldn't hear.
``Mom,'' my daughter said as she got up to clear the table, ``can we have just one little exception to the rule? My show goes on in half an hour and you know how long I've been waiting to see it.''
``No exceptions.'' I felt like Scrooge.
``Why can't we start the experiment tomorrow?'' she asked, giving it her best shot.
``Because we started it today,'' I answered firmly. I knew I could not back down. The first day is always the hardest, I philosophized. Tomorrow will be better.
Tomorrow seemed to be a long way off while my husband paced the floor at 2 a.m.
``What's wrong?'' I asked.
``I just can't sleep. After working hard all day, I need to watch some TV in order to unwind.''
I switched on the lamp. ``How about this book I picked up?'' I suggested, stifling a yawn as I nodded to the novel on the table.
``I'm too tired to read.''
``How about some warm milk?'' I offered. He made a face, but consented to give it a try.
After puttering in the kitchen, I was now wide awake. An old movie would be just the thing to gently lull me back toward sleep. I took a gulp of warm milk instead and carried his glass upstairs.
We overslept, and my husband left late for work. My daughter threw a kiss in my direction as she gathered her school books. ``I'll be home late, today, so don't worry,'' she said, knowing how much I worry.
``Where are you going?''
``Over to Roberta's house to watch TV,'' she answered casually.
``Well, if we can't watch TV at home, I'll just have to go somewhere else,'' she said.
``The rules are for us, not the house,'' I explained. ``I thought we might go to the bookstore in the mall this afternoon.''
``Ummm,'' she said, thinking over the offer. ``OK, I'll go to the mall - but for clothes, not books.'' She reached for the doorknob. ``Can we go after I come home from Roberta's?''
``No TV,'' I called to her back as she raced down the walk. Well, it was only day two. We were going through withdrawal.
By week two, our entire family did withdraw - from each other. My son became surly, my daughter nasty, and my husband vacantly wandered the house trying to find something to do. He told me that he felt ``odd man out'' at work when everyone discussed the ball games. My daughter complained that she, too, was feeling isolated from her friends who gossiped almost as much about the sit-com kids as the real kids in her class. My son didn't join in the discussion; he just wasn't speaking much to me.
As for myself, I had to admit I missed the soap I'd been following for 18 years, and the talk shows that brought some lively celebrities into my home. I spent a good part of my day fretting about the deterioration of our once happy family.
``One more week,'' I told myself, hoping that tomorrow would bring about the turning point. I left a study guide for the college exams on the table. It remained unopened. I challenged my son to a game of checkers; he wasn't in the mood. I pointed out all the things around the house that could use my husband's handy touch, but he didn't think that painting the woodwork was an equitable replacement for relaxing with his favorite show.
``Mom,'' my daughter said two days before ``The Experiment'' was scheduled to end, ``I have to watch a science show for school.'' I shrugged my shoulders, all hopes of an idyllic family life fading away.
``If she can watch TV so can I,'' my son chimed in. ``It's educational,'' he added quickly, with a giggle in his eyes.
``Since everyone else is watching,'' my husband said, his face animated for the first time in weeks, ``I'm watching my show tonight at 10.''
I threw up my hands in mock exasperation, while a smile I couldn't help bubbled to my lips.
``Come on, everyone,'' my son urged, ``the show's starting.''
Together, with bouncing steps, we walked to the family room, and settled cozily on the sofa. My daughter picked up the remote control and clicked on the set. As the opening credits played across the screen, I glanced around at my family. We were happy and together again at last.
An invitation to readers
Our writer today tells how her family tried, not very successfully, to unplug its TV set for three weeks. Nearly every family has its own rules, and its own trials, regarding the use of TV. We'd like to hear what has helped your family bring more discipline, fun, and enrichment to its TV watching. Send a summary of your ideas - no more than 200 words - to: TV Poll, Home & Family section, The Christian Science Monitor, 1 Norway St., Boston, MA 02115. We'll devote a future page to printing a selection of your responses.