We turned off the TV

Two things I know about myself: I am inherently lazy; and I am predominantly grumpy.

Sure, I can be motivated and cheerful, but it’s a fight. As an insomniac, I’m also usually tired and the extra effort required to overcome my natural grumpy laziness takes even more energy. So it doesn’t happen first thing in the morning very often. Which sucks if you’re my kids. (And probably my husband.)

My kids wake up happy! and excited! and energized! and all things exclamation pointy! I wake up grudgingly. It’s not always actual waking up, just a change from being angrily awake in bed to being angrily awake not in bed. Add to this mix the fact that Luke is an early riser, and you have a recipe made for watching morning TV.

Over the years, each time my kids plugged into early morning TV I felt a pang of guilt. For the longest time I kept the programming to the PBS variety, and it made it feel alright. “It’s OK if they watch a little Arthur or Martha Speaks before school. They’re learning stuff. And, mmmmm coffee.” But “a little” was actually “a lot” and eventually the shows were not of the PBS variety.

So we slid down the slippery slope of children’s programming, and soon my kids were watching obnoxious TV shows and were acting obnoxious accordingly. As much as I’d like to deny it, the truth is that they watched hours of TV on most days. We don’t have to leave our house for school until 8:20 or so, and with Luke’s love for 6AM, you can see how the hours might accumulate.

It does not take a parenting guru to see the correlation between my kids’ behavior and their TV consumption. The change in them is pretty immediate. Happy children sit down in front of the TV, cranky children walk away from it. Every time. Something had to change. But to take away morning TV meant that I would have to step up my game. Did I want to do this? While they plugged into their thing, I plugged into mine. After taking care of breakfasts and lunches, I’d sip coffee while catching up on Facebook. Technology ruled our mornings. Any change was going to be rough on all of us.

And then, just like that, I had enough. It was a typical weekend day. Beautiful outside. I decided there would be no TV. Sally balked but then quickly busied herself with her toys.

Sally plays

Luke balked, then fought, then complained, then cried, then fought, then complained, then tried to sabotage Sally’s fun, then fought, then complained, then cried… This went on for five hours. See, not only did I say no TV, (or any iDevice,) but I also insisted that he entertain himself. No, Daddy would not play soccer and no, I would not play games. Mom and Dad were busy.

Five hours. It took five hours for my 7.5 year old to figure out how to play without the help of technology or the undivided attention of an adult. Five hours where he tried to spread as much misery as possible. Somehow, my husband and I stuck it out, not knowing if it would ever end. We paid him as little attention as possible, knowing that, for him, negative attention is just as good as any.

After those five terrible hours something amazing happened. Luke noticed his long ignored Legos. Both kids played with Legos for hours – in between snacks, fights, and meals. The day closed with both kids happy.

That night I told the kids there would be no TV in the morning. We hid the remotes, the computer mouse, and the iPad just in case a sneaky early riser “forgot.” The kids were surprisingly accepting of the morning’s dearth of technology. They never even asked. They played. I certainly couldn’t go sit at my computer, so I busied myself with chores I normally leave until after they’re off to school.

Is this what it’s like to be one of those nice families? 

OK, so that’s one day. Surely this will get hard. That night we again told them there would be no TV in the morning. We again hid all the things. They again didn’t ask. This time, we played several rounds of Uno together. The kids were DELIGHTED. So much so that I felt like the world’s worst mom.

Look how happy my kids are just to get a smidge of attention from me in the morning. Holy shit have I sucked for all these years!

It’s now been nearly two full weeks of no TV in the mornings. This means no computer time for me too, and I have to muster up a lot of friendliness before I’ve finished even my first cup of coffee. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made. Just starting our day with a little more effort helps us all have better days. Leaving the house for school requires so much less reminding, rushing, and nagging on my part and involves so much less complaining on theirs. They haven’t been asking for much afternoon TV either. Will things change when the weather gets colder? Possibly. I hope we land somewhere moderate. Things had really gotten out of control for a while there.

Could I have done this as successfully years ago? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t see much point in looking back though. There were a couple of years when survival was the name of the game. I’m happy to report that we did indeed survive them.

Many of you are probably thinking, “Of course things are better! And yes, you were a shitty parent all those years!” Fine. Judge away if it makes you feel good about yourself.

But for anyone reading who is thinking, “I could never do it. I need that morning TV time for my sanity!” I have something to say: That’s OK. I needed it too. And then, one day, I didn’t.

Pin me: We turned off the tv

 

Summer, I say “UNCLE!”

With the kids around all the time I’m going to seed. I haven’t been working out, eating well, or, you know, showering on the regular. And my hair? It’s gotten bad. It’s been so long since I colored it, that I’m no longer on the root touch-up regimen but in desperate need of an all over do over. Also, I pair my monthly at-home hair coloring with deep cleaning the upstairs bathrooms and bedrooms. I couldn’t possibly just sit and relax for the 30 minutes I have dye in my hair, so I do a speed deep clean. In this way we avoid living in complete upstairs squalor and I have nice hair to boot.

I probably don’t have to tell you, but we’ve been living in complete upstairs squalor.

One look at myself in the dirty mirror this morning and I decided that today had to be the day. After breakfast and some outdoor play time, I gave the kids second breakfast and put on a movie.

“I’m going upstairs to shower. Don’t touch each other or do anything generally terrible.” (It’s best if they don’t know just how much unsupervised time they’re actually going to have.)

Hair dyed, tubs scrubbed, and bedrooms picked up I return downstairs. Before I reach the living room, Sally comes running to me.

“Mommy, can we paint?”
“Are you asking because you want to paint, or have you already been painting?”
“Ummmmm.”
“Not in the living room! Tell me you aren’t painting in the living room!”
“Ummmmm.”

I round the corner. Sure enough, the paints are open; wet painted papers are strewn everywhere; water-logged paint pallets overflow; and there’s a huge puddle of water-color water on the stainable wood of the coffee table.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”
“It was Sally’s idea to paint.”
“Was not! You got the paints down!”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”
“Come on, Sally. Let’s go play outside.”

I turn on them. Full of fury.

“What were you THINKING? When have I EVER let you paint in the living room? You both should have known better! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? NO! NO! NO!”

I continued random nos, and should have known betters, as I sopped up the water with paper towels. I’m pretty sure there was a visible swirling cloud of expletive symbols circling my head. $#%@#!! The kids stand nearby, possibly paralyzed with fear.

“You know, this table might be stained forever!”

And if I didn’t already feel like killing the little buggers, Luke says in a calm sweet voice, while holding his sister’s damned hand,

“Mom, aren’t people more important than things? Aren’t we, your children, more important than the coffee table?”

Are you freaking kidding me with this, you manipulative little shit?!

“Not right now you’re not! GAH!!! I don’t really mean that BUT I’M REALLY MAD so I’m about to say it again! NOT RIGHT NOW YOU’RE NOT! GAH!!!! AGH! NOW GO OUTSIDE BEFORE I SAY EVEN WORSE THINGS TO YOU!”

And that’s how I lost at parenting today. You?

UNCLE

A Startling Development

Something strange keeps happening around here. On multiple occasions lately, my husband and I notice ourselves having fun. Actual fun WITH OUR KIDS! Not, “oh it’s fun to watch my toddler feed a goat” fun, I mean genuine fun. The kind we generally only have without our kids.

This is incredible news, people!

We like our children!

I think that the ratio of Needy Little Buggers to Funny Little People is starting to tip in favor of the latter. And thank God for it!

We just returned from a mini beach vacation. The water was a balmy 58 degrees, so I can’t attribute our good time to the restorative nature of warm salt water. I guess it could be the restorative nature of cold salt water, but I’m going to take a leap and give credit to the kids. They are becoming less and less unpleasant.

Occasionally anyway. I wouldn’t want them to be perfect. If they were, I never could take pictures like this:

time out with a view

We enjoyed catching crabs, finding starfish, flying kites, building sandcastles, and jumping in the freezing waves together. We had full 20-minute stretches where my husband and I could talk to each other while watching our kids play adorably together! We could fit all this in between snacks and sunscreen reapplications thanks to our growing kids’ larger stomachs and willingness to wear sun hats.

Sure, we had a couple of meltdowns and a few instances of sibling assholery, but the good outweighed the bad, by far, despite overly long car rides, less than ideal sleep situations, and that special brand of exhaustion born from full summer days spent outside.

I didn’t know if I’d ever get to this point. Our baby and toddler years felt long and punishing. Gone are cute pudgy legs and wet baby kisses, diapers and colic, and inflexible toddlers made more impossible when naps are disturbed. I feel the heart-squeeze of nostalgia, but mostly I feel lightened by relief. Here are my long-limbed, capable, humorous, adventuring huge personalities, who can almost wait five minutes until dinner. Hallelujah!