Jul 302009

The evening after the intervention, my sister took me to my first AA meeting.She held my sweaty, shaky hand and walked just in front of me, scanning for problems or people from whom to shield me, like she always does. She took an AA brochure from a table so we’d have something to look at as we sat and joined the circle. On the front was a list of warning signs of alcoholism:

Do you drink more than four servings in a setting? One time I didn’t. Do you ever drink in the mornings? Only on weekends. Do you ever blackout? Can’t remember.Have you suffered negative consequences from drinking? Well, being at an AA meeting seemed like a pretty negative consequence.

Neither of us said a word until my sister leaned over and whispered, “I don’t know if AA is going to be good enough for you. We might need Triple A.”

Aug 052009

During dinner the next night, we said to the kids, “Our family time is very important, and we want to spend it wisely and carefully. We’re not sure the TV is the best use of our time, so, for now, it’s gone.” We braced ourselves for hysterics. Instead we got, “Oh, ok. That’s weird. What’s for desert?” It was no big deal to them then, and it isn’t now- it’s their new normal. A week after our dinner announcement Chase said, “Mommy, without the TV I’m bored.” I expressed what a fortuitous delight it was that he didn’t have enough to do because I had too much to do… and I handed him the broom and some Windex and told him to go clean his bathroom. Look mommy, no more bored! Now they look to each other to figure out what to do next. Their reward for a long day at school is to build forts, play outside, or lie around and stare at the walls and sigh together. They are learning much earlier than I did that boredom is the place creativity begins.

I’ve never been comfortable with silence. I spend much of my day wishing for peace and quiet, and then as soon as it presents itself, I kill it with noise. I turn on the TV, the radio, the computer…anything not to be left alone with myself. When we got rid of the TV, I decided to actually give peace and quiet a chance. And in these periods of stillness I have discovered another life – a creative, reflective, spiritual life which is now layered on top of my daily existence as a mother. It’s when I am able to transcend the immediate and urgent needs of my kids and home and allow God to take my thoughts wherever He wants them to go, uninterrupted. It’s when I listen for and hear His voice. For me, the danger of constant input is that in the absence of that still small voice, any voice will do. So these days when the kids are off playing, when I’m doing the dishes, in the early morning and late evening… I discipline myself to keep everything off and just be for awhile. And sometimes I actually get some of that peace I’m always chasing.

Craig agrees that life without the TV is more peaceful. He reads more, and worries less…he’s discovered that our 401ks will be the same whether or not we allow our hearts to rise and fall with the Dow Jones. He’s proud that we, along with the Amish, seem to be the only Americans who didn’t know a single detail about Michael Jackson’s funeral. He also tells me that he feels closer to me lately. Like the kids, we have to depend on each other now for entertainment. He does note a few flaws in our experiment thus far. Our credit card bills suggest that my shopping habit hasn’t changed yet… so I ask him for patience, hoping that it just takes time to detoxify the ego and soul and to redirect the minivan’s trajectory. He also mentions that we don’t seem to be having all that frequent hippy sex that was predicted. When he removed the TV from the wall, he couldn’t commit to putting it away for good, so he slid it underneath our bed. Craig and the TV hang out in our bedroom together a lot, dreaming of their glory days and wishing someone would come in and turn them on.

Aug 052009

The morning after this embarrassingly typical day, I decided to stop and think, which is always a dangerous thing for me, and only happens in the shower. These questions started nagging me like Chase near an ice cream truck: After thirty years, was I finally willing to admit that the cause of my restless lessness might be that I’d spent too much time listening to the wrong voices? Was I allowing myself to be brainwashed into wanting things that I wasn’t designed to want at all? Because if I got what I really wanted wouldn’t I be happier? Could it be true that you can never really get enough of what you don’t really need? And if it wasn’t really the “stuff” I wanted, then what would I want if I were left to answer that question myself instead of accepting the suggestions of advertisers? What would I value if I only sought the opinions of wise people without their bottom lines in mind? And most importantly, what would I consider, discover and create if I allowed myself some quiet instead of filling every moment with manufactured noise? What was I avoiding anyway? And who is actually benefiting from this screen time way of life?

I was pretty sure it wasn’t my kids. So I asked myself some tough questions on their behalf. Isn’t this idea of spending much of one’s childhood staring at images in a box a relatively new human experiment? What are the results of this experiment? Would Picasso ever have picked up a brush if he had a WII, a DS and Noggin? And most importantly to me, how would it alter my kids’ hearts and minds if they stopped hearing conflicting messages in our home? Would they trust me more? I teach them about kindness, peace, and tolerance, and the TV teaches them to vote off the weakest link. I explain the importance of sportsmanship and then cheer as a lineman dances over the quarterback he’s just flattened. I promise them that they are not what they own, and then the TV winks and argues…”Oh, yeeeees you are. Your mom is just jealous because SHE doesn’t have the new Brat doll.” And I don’t blame them for believing the TV instead of me. It’s shinier and never loses its patience or makes them clean their rooms. And my kids don’t understand yet that people can smile and be a villain. And others can be a drag sometimes but desperately want the best for them. They just really like dancing cheese sticks, happy meals, and Hannah Montana.

During the following week I started to realize that it wasn’t just the TV I was angry with…it was the magazines, the catalogs and every other means that the consumer machine used to infiltrate my home and my head. And eventually my anger turned to sadness as I considered the huge role big business had played in my miserable self image as an adolescent. I started sympathizing with my young, insecure, and defenseless self. Since childhood we’re barraged with the message that we are LESS and that lessness can only be remedied through buyingmore. Is it surprising, or intentional, that so many of us are suffering from insecurity, materialism, debt and emptiness? And with rising panic I considered that with my blessing, my kids were now accepting the TV’s ageless invitation: “Sit down and get comfortable so we can make you uncomfortable. ” And I realized that the truth was the TV was just doing its its job. The only question left to answer was…was I doing mine? If I had a visitor who showed up in my family room daily to counteract everything I taught my children, distract me from my husband and my other sources of joy, and drown the voice of truth and peace …would I keep inviting her in?

So one night while we were doing the dishes, I told Craig that I wanted to get rid of the TV. And he lit up because he thought I meant that I wanted a bigger one, but when I clarified, his face went from hallelujah to hell no. He admitted to me that he was worried we were getting weirder and weirder and that our neighbors were going to start thinking we were anti-establishment hippies. And I got excited, really excited. HIPPIES! I’ve always wanted to be a hippy. Well maybe not actually be a hippy so much as be thought of as a hippy. And I considered that maybe now with the “no TV” thing, I could really pull the hippy look off. I made a mental note to hit the mall and find a peasant skirt and beads to fit my new persona. And maybe I’d grow out my hair and I’d probably have to stop wearing make-up. Maybe I could get away with no makeup if I started going to the tanning salon again. That might work, but I was worried about the sandals. Didn’t hippies wear sandals? I hoped the new hippy look allowed for at least a small heel. Also, what do hippies wear to the gym? I hoped it wasn’t going to cost me too much to transform into an un-material girl. At this point the conversation ended because I had forgotten what we were originally discussing and Craig was all too happy not to remind me.

The next morning when I awoke to Tish whining for screen time, I refocused and resumed arguments with Craig. He spent a lot of time cocking his head and looking at me like he always does, slightly intrigued, mostly weary. Until one morning over breakfast I mentioned that getting rid of the TV might encourage us have sex more, since there’d be nothing else to do. I said I was pretty sure that hippies had a lot of sex. When I returned from the grocery store that afternoon, the flat screen had disappeared, and standing in its place was a bookcase full of our family favorites.

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