This column appeared in August 11 issue of The Observer.
Six years ago, as we put the finishing touches on the cottage we'd built ourselves, my husband and I declared it a TV-free zone. That was before we entered parenthood and realized the true meaning of sleep-deprivation. That was back in the day when I'd spend an entire afternoon reading a novel in the hammock without a four year old mauling me. Pre-child, it was easy to live at the cottage without television. We could take a walk, visit friends, go out for dinner, or even (gasp) catch a movie.
Now, staying at the cottage every evening, there's nothing but silence...and time.
There's always a settling-in period during a TV detox--kind of like the horrible feeling on the second day of a fast. For the first few evenings, whenever I sit down to knit, or read, or write, my husband will sit in the chair across from me, a foul expression on his face, like somehow I'm responsible for his boredom. I politely suggest that he go find a novel to read. His response is similar to a raging tiger who has just been offered tofu for lunch. He just misses his TV.
It's not that I don't enjoy television. It would be unwise to call my house during an episode of Glee or Trueblood. I even catch the odd Survivor finale. While I try to regulate my own television viewing, I know it's crucial to limit my son's. It's not that television is inherently worthless--I know he's learned things from Diego (like that a Pygmy Marmoset eats tree sap?) but I simply think there are better ways for a preschooler to spent his time: painting, socializing, running, imagining, eating dirt...
Following the American Paediatric Society Recommendation that children under two have no screen time at all, our son passed his toddlerhood without being introduced to Dora the Explorer. Then, when he was three, we allowed him to watch an hour of television per day.
The television started to creep into our lives more than I wanted it to. If I had to get ready for work, it was easier to put him in front of the screen. When we were packing for our move, I think we almost wore out the Cars DVD. He was watching more than an hour most days, and although I think there's some wonderful shows for preschoolers, that didn't sit right with me.
So it was with a brave face that we set out for our summer holiday without a television. We packed lots of games, puzzles, toys and art supplies and borrowed our friend's DVD player for rainy days.
But we've made it.
The DVD player has not been used. Rainy days are spent visiting, doing crafts, and reading. Somehow the dishes are washed (usually) and the laundry is done (usually). Our son has occupied himself with imaginative play much of the time.
Now, as he goes from playing with play dough to building with blocks, to running on his "race track" outside, to wrestling with cousins, to collecting his toys for the beach, I wonder how we had time for television before.
And I hope we don't make much time for it again. Life is too good without it.