I grew up on a farm. Well, not really. It just felt like one because it was so noisy. Not because there was a slew of kids and pets. There was just mom, dad, myself, Glenn, and an empty doghouse out back. (R.I.P. Skip). But the thin walls of our two-storey echoed the voices of Glenn Tilley, Gerald S. Doyle and Lloyd Robertson extremely well. There may have only been two people at home, but it would sound like ten. I’m pretty sure Peter Mansbridge was the narrator in my teenage dreams. Wow. That’s just creepy.
Mom and dad were loud talkers, to be heard over the blare of CBC radio (dad’s first necessity after water and air) and the television that wasn’t about to let the radio have all the glory. At 6pm, open the front door and the rest of Badger’s Quay could hear Carl Wells’ weather predictions for the weekend.
So maybe I’ve been conditioned to need noise. I’d probably veer into the ditch if the radio were not on in the car; the gas pedal doesn’t work without a light underscore of classic rock, right? I don’t watch a lot of television, but it’s almost always on. When we’re eating supper. When we’re playing trains. When we’re cooking. We come home, turn on the lights, adjust the heat, and flick on the telly – even though we don’t even plan to watch it. Why do we do that? Whyyyyyy?
Because noise is comforting. The sounds of voices and music are a familiar backdrop, filling up uncomfortable silences, a virtual safety net for sudden moments of boredom or loneliness. God forbid we try to entertain ourselves without the aid of some electronic device. (One sec, I gotta try and pass this level of Angry Birds on my iPhone.) I mean it would be preposterous to break out a board game, or build a tower with blocks, or play ring-around-the-rosy, or… wait for it… TALK! And imagine doing any of these things without the television in the background, providing some texture to the otherwise ordinary scene. Why the constant need for amusement anyways? Why can’t we just be? Yeah, try telling that to a two-year-old who would rather let a turd fester in his diaper for half a day than put down his toys to get changed.
And because I am a lazy mother. I use the television as an easy out. When I am trying to get ready in the morning, I flick on a dvd and Max is the best behaved child in the Milky Way. (No dvd and he’s sticking fridge magnets into the hair dryer and climbing into the oven, Hansel and Gretel style.) When Max won’t get out of the bathtub, I lure him from the bubbles with the promise of a movie – because I am too lazy to come up with something more creative. When he is whining for something, climbing up my leg to reach what he can’t have, I divert him to the flat-screen where he is safe and entertained and quiet, and I am not annoyed.
So yesterday I tried something different. I called it Project Break-Free-From-TV. I gave the electronic babysitter the entire day off. (She’s a bit of a square anyways.) And it was one of the best days ever.
No movies. No Treehouse or Disney Channel. No computer. Daddy and Splash were gone in the woods for a boil-up, so it was just us. Me and Max. And our imaginations.
First, we broke out the paper and crayons. He whined for a red ballpoint pen that was lying so irresistibly on the kitchen table. I gave in. He drew a tornado and a ball of red yarn. Stellar work.
Next, we read. He ripped the last remaining flaps out of a lift-the-flaps book. Lift… Rip… What’s the diff? He was fully engaged in this book, and I was going with it, destruction and all.
Then we built a train track and played with the cheeky one and all his friends. I got down to his level, face to the floor, and pretended I was the voice of Percy (the green train) delivering the mail… or a deadly surprise! Ka-boom! Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of Max’s face watching me. Total awe. Best feeling ever. I stayed down there for at least an hour. Damn, sometimes I wish we had carpet.
When I had exhausted my caboose, I opened the lid of the toy-box where long forgotten gadgets were rediscovered. Max took his Fisher Price dog for a vigorous walk; thankfully the pooch hadn’t gained weight after weeks of neglect. He picked up Dustin Nolan (Cabbage Patch Kid), stared into his lifeless eyes, and gave him a flick back into the abyss. Poor Dustin. One day, someone will comb his cornsilk hair and give him a second outfit.
For breakfast, he had a grapefruit and cereal – in a big boy breakable bowl. Shag it. Who cares if he breaks the bowl? As long as it’s not on his eyeball.
At 10:30am we went to the gymnasium at MUN, a new Saturday morning ritual. He ran and jumped and swung as usual, and when it came time for the sing-a-long at the end, he actually sat down, clapped his hands and did the actions to the songs with the other kids. What is this – focus? A rarity for Mad Maximus Murphy in such busy social settings.
For lunch, he ate fresh cod and nine Brussels sprouts. I sang as I cooked. He swayed his hips and arms – his trademark move – to mama’s mediocre music. It was a peaceful meal. No television in the background. No leaning over the side of his highchair to see Handy Manny and his talking tools. It was just me and him and the sound of our chewing.
Next up – bath time. Sun poured in through the bathroom window as I leaned over to wash his copper curls. Everything was blissfully quiet, except for Max’s laughter, the splashing of water, and the squeaky friction of his little butt cheeks on the bottom of the tub. While he played in the bubbles, I wrote a few thoughts down in my trusty notebook. As I was scribbling, a picture of dad fell out from between the pages and onto the floor. Well hello to you too, Poppy Jim; we’re having a great day. (Side-note: When dad was about to take a bath, he’d announce that he was going to go blow bubbles in the tub.)
By 2:30pm Max was zonked and ready for a nap. Breaktime for mama, yeehaw. I had earned this, damn it. Hmmm, what would I do for the next 2.5 hours? Watch TV, of course! Psych. It crossed my mind, but naw. I read a couple pages in a book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (which is soooo not short at all), and caught forty winks on the couch. At 5pm I was awakened by a little voice down the hall. The sweetest sound in the world. Well, in my world anyways.
We remained TV-Free until bedtime, at which time we declared it was no longer 1918. 30 minutes of a Thomas dvd and the little man was on the Sodor Express to Dreamland.
Don’t worry, we’ll still be watching television. It’s Superbowl Sunday, for cryin’ out loud! Me and my first round draft pick (he has a onesie that says that) are gonna bust a move at half-time and watch for wardrobe malfunctions. Seriously though, TV is great. In fact, I attribute at least a portion of my creative chops to Mr. Dress-Up, and a small but respectable fraction of my intelligence to Alex Trebek, that sexy, silver-haired nerd. I know Max is learning a lot from TV. But I think we’ll be practicing idiot box moderation from now on. The electronic babysitter is switching to a (very) part-time position. Not just because of the theory that too much TV causes ADHD, but because yesterday felt real and rich and good. Undistracted by sophisticated animation, we made our own silly music in the quiet of each other’s company.