Thursday, October 13, 2011

Three Answers

How do I solve my no-cable dilemma?
That's why God made Apps.
I know it's shocking, but I am not subscribing to cable television in my new house. When I moved into my apartment a year ago, I decided not to get cable because I was afraid I would spend my days (and nights) watching endless episodes of CSI, Iron Chef and House Hunters. Previously, when things weren't going well, I could sit for hours with reruns, but in my Do-Over Life, I made a conscious decision to "do," and watching TV is decidedly passive.
   It was easy for me to give up Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentis and Cooking at Home with Ina Garten and even Mad Men (although I did download last fall's finale from iTunes.) But for my nine-year-old son, the absence of the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon and Disney was a little distressing. Last July, while visiting my family in Little Rock, my brother-in-law took Jack to buy fireworks, and checked-in with him about the recent changes in his life. "What's the worst thing about your parents getting divorced?" he asked in his typical cut-to-the-chase manner. Jack thought for a moment and then answered honestly, "My Mom doesn't have cable."
   As the move into my new house grew closer, I gave a lot of thought to whether I should subscribe. I don't think television is evil. I'd just rather live without its constant drone. And let's face it, there is a lot of crap on TV. I think I can happily live for the rest of my life without watching an episode of Hillbilly Handfishin' or Real Housewives of New Jersey. And yes, there's a lot of good stuff on TV, too, but most of it can be selectively downloaded. I don't live in a vacuum. I receive news through daily email delivery of The New York Times and The Washington Post and via radio on NPR—oh yes, and from Facebook. Yet, Jack has different needs and wants.
   I remember tumbling out of bed on Saturday mornings to watch Scooby Do and Josie and the Pussycats. I never missed an episode of The Brady Bunch or The Beverly Hillbillies or Carol Burnett, so I understand how television is central to a kid's culture. The good news is, he has access to all his favorite shows at his Dad's house. It's not as though the child is cut off from civilization and Sponge Bob indefinitely.
   Yet I felt the tug to conform, to provide Jack the one thing he said was missing in his life now that his life had changed, but I felt a harder tug to stick to my convictions. I just don't like mindlessness, and mindlessly watching cable television because it's available, didn't sit right with me. When it came time to order my internet and phone service for the new house, I made the executive decision not to include cable in the bundle. It was very difficult to convince the Brighthouse representative that I absolutely did not want the full cable-phone-internet bundle. He thought I'd lost my mind, but I stuck to my guns no matter how seductive he made the bundle sound. would I break the news to Jack? Then the solution hit me: I would answer Jack's request for cable in the same way God answers our prayers.
   You see, my friend David recently told me something that shifted my perspective in many ways. He said, "God only has three answers to our prayers: 'Yes.' 'Yes, but not now.' or 'Here's something better.'" I know I've heard this before, but I never considered what it meant, which is that God only gives us good things in our lives, even when we might not recognize them as such right away. (Who knew? God's  Buddhist!) And I do think of God as being the best parent ever. Why not borrow some parenting tips from the Expert? How could I say 'yes' to Jack, but still stick to my principles?
   I soon realized my solution. By not subscribing to cable, I'd save $50/month. Why not use some of that money towards a game system that Jack wanted? I could control the content (no violent games!) and the time he spent on it; and a game system, although mesmerizing and somewhat sedentary, at least encouraged mental engagement.
   As my move day approached, I took a deep breath and let Jack in on my decision.
   "I've done a lot of thinking about this, and I'm not getting cable at the new house," I said.
   Jack moaned. "But Mom!" he cried. "I thought—"
   "I've made up my mind," I said. "No cable. But, here's something better..."
   Fast forward to last Tuesday night as a very happy nine-year-old boy named Jack proudly selected his game system: An iPod iTouch. It may sound indulgent at first, but the iTouch cost less than a new TV (which I would have had to purchase so Jack could watch cable or play games on an Xbox)—not to mention what I'd spend each month to subscribe to a bunch of junk I didn't want in my house. Although I don't know how God feels about App games like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, I'm pretty sure he'd approve of my application of His parenting strategy.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I completely understand why you did this and I agree 100%. You are right, it is mindless. The TV is on all the time here and when it is, no one talks, everyone just stares at it like Zombies. I refuse to allow it on when my daughters eat. Instead they turn to face me, not the set and we talk over meals. I think people use TV as a way to avoid interaction with others. A numbing agent if you will. A wall. It is isolating and anti-social. Good for you for sticking to your guns. :-)