I try to do right by my progeny. They get plenty of exercise, fresh air and educational toys, even though I’m the only one who plays with them. What? I spent good money on that 200-piece marble gravity maze; I hate wasting STEM.
Similar effort applies to nutrition. For example, we’ve never once fed our daughter McDonald’s in her entire 11-year life (Subway is a different story). Her younger brother hasn’t even seen a Chicken McNugget, and I aim to McKeep it that way. Although, his hot dog consumption recently forced me to institute a two-per-day limit, and even then I let him switch to reindeer hot links.
And, of course, we spend inordinate amounts of quality time together. We read together and cook together, do homework together and play board games together; nothing makes you question your intelligence like losing to a second-grader at Connect Four (except trying to figure out fifth-grade math). I chaperone their field trips, coach their youth sports teams and even let them pick the music in the car (sometimes); there’s only so much Maroon 5 a man can take.
But, the problem my wife and I encounter, specifically on non-school days: providing 14-16 waking hours worth of nourishing activities for two people whose own idea of fun involves hurting each other and destroying the house. This proves especially challenging in inclement weather. Earlier this week, I took the kids with me to buy some ingrown toenail softener — and they were happy to go.
Inevitably, however, I find myself scrambling. That’s when I turn to an old friend: television.
Of course, conventional wisdom frowns on any type of screen time. Ever notice all the rationalizing that accompanies parents’ admission to letting their kids watch TV?
“We only watch educational programs,” goes one popular justification. Of course, you wonder what, exactly, constitutes “educational television,” considering most of the Learning Channel’s current programming concerns people with some type of unconventional family arrangement, medical curiosity or both.
“We do Netflix, so they aren’t exposed to advertising,” people say. True, unless you consider product placement advertising. Advertising agencies sure do.
“We don’t even own a television,” they brag, but then, it turns out, they’ve been Huluing “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and “Game of Thrones” on their MacBooks all along. Not only does that count as watching television, it counts as watching television on a crappy little television.
I’ll fully admit it. In our house, we watch TV. Not all the time, not on school days (unless the Yankees are playing the Red Sox) and never when we have friends over. See how compelled I feel to explain? But when we watch TV, we really watch it: 60-inch 4K HDTV, premium cable, Apple TV, DVD player (for all those discs I bought right around the turn of the century) and, once this year’s income tax refund arrives, the finest mid-grade sound system Costco has to offer.
Not only is TV the cheapest babysitter around, it’s the only babysitter available at 6 a.m. on weekend mornings, at any price. Four episodes of “Some Assembly Required” add up to 92 extra minutes of sleep. I taught both kids how to operate the remote and reset the Wi-Fi before they were fully potty trained. Who says TV isn’t educational?
Now, some might ask: why can’t my children read books instead?
Forget, for a moment, that once upon a time, books were television. Critics levied the same allegations at both novels and comics, when they first came out: domain of the lazy, harmful to children. Today, half of every elementary school’s library consists of graphic novels.
That aside, the books-instead-of-TV idea works better in theory than practice. You see, if I don’t let my kids watch TV, they won’t leave me alone for an hour or two, and then how am I supposed watch TV?
Which brings me to my final point: kids want to do what they see their parents doing. And no matter how hard I try to hide this particular habit, when my kids wake up for a cup of water or to pee (maybe they should stop drinking so much at night) where do they find me? On the couch, glued to food shows a man of my girth has no business watching, with titles like “Deep Fried Paradise” or “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
So rather than employing the old do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy of parenthood, I’d rather teach my children reality, rationality and responsibility.
Plus, look at all the TV I, myself, watched as a kid. Not only did I turn out fine, but I can tell you who played Alex P. Keaton’s alcoholic uncle on “Family Ties” (Tom Hanks), the alma mater of “Simpsons” ensemble character Snake (Middlebury) and both the married and maiden names of all four Golden Girls without having to reference the internet.
Admit it, you’re impressed.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors.