Friday, March 7, 2014


My co-worker Sue and I have the same conversation every few weeks. She makes a reference to a TV show or a commercial, and I stare at her with a blank expression. When she tries to draw me into the conversation, I gently remind her that I don't watch TV, ever. No sports, no news, no sit-coms, no reality shows. This goes for my family as well. My kids do get screen time, as do Susan and I (to a much lesser degree), but through Netflix and DVDs borrowed from the library.

I generally don't make a big deal about my lack of TV viewership. It isn't about high standards, morals or any other lofty ideal. Spending time watching TV, especially the commercial breaks, just annoys me. But I find the statement "I don't watch TV" to be equally annoying, so I generally try to keep it to myself. In truth, I've always thought that people who don't watch TV are odd. Purposefully separating themselves from the rest of society in an effort to appear high-brow. Now, as a member of that group, I realize that my motivation is much simpler, more honest. I can't find anything I want to watch. I'd rather read a book.

For the past two weeks, the TV has been on every night. It’s the winter Olympics. And because this is "history," I feel compelled to let my kids watch. For the first few nights, I found watching the events enjoyable. The commercials were entertaining, and even the sappy human-interest vignettes, mercifully less frequent this year, were engaging as well. This feeling didn't last. After a few days of viewership, my kids had started competing to see who could first name the product being advertised in each commercial. Two days later, they were talking along with the commercials’ actors. I've learned my lesson, the Olympics isn't about sports, it is about ads.

Every night, after homework, dinner, activities, we as a family settle down and read. Me with a glass of wine; Susan with a cup of tea; Sophie and Eli with their dessert. It is proof to me that we are doing something right. Susan and I have been doing this for years. Sophie joined us a couple of years ago. And now Eli is in the mix as well, ever since he became a skilled enough reader to enjoy a book on his own. This quiet time has become an important decompression period for all of us. But throughout the Olympics this time of the evening has been completely shaken up.

Bed times have slipped as well. As an event starts to wind down, NBC will flash up a teaser showing the next event that will start in 5 or 6 minutes. Eli likes the sledding events. Sophie likes the skating events. They both like anything "cross" and anything in a half-pipe. And they love the commercials (I mentioned that right). It is impossible to peel them away from the TV. "Awww, skating is about to start. But, I haven’t seen any skeleton yet tonight. After this commercial. Oh wait and this commercial, too." The little voice inside of me is saying "once every four years – let it go."
When my kids were babies, pediatricians and baby books repeated a phrase – sleep begets sleep. The idea is that the more a baby sleeps, the more it wants to sleep. Well, the past two weeks have taught me that this is true for TV as well. An extra hour (or two) of TV each night has conditioned my kids to want to watch even more TV at other times. We usually let them decompress with about forty minutes of Netflix afterschool – this is typically their only screen-time during the school week. A few days after the start of the Olympics, this afternoon session expanded. Previously, they had been pretty good at self-monitoring. Now they were sneaking in extra time. And not just staring at a TV. Other screens as well. Anything for their fix - games on their Kindles, checking weather on a laptop. Eli will even watch, over and over, the videos and photos that happen to be in our digital camera.

Because we don't typically watch sports, and my kids' activities so far have been solitary or non-competitive (gymnastics, running, scouts, choir, etc), the concept of rooting for a team is alien to us. Or was. By day two of the Olympics, Eli had picked up the U-S-A chant. And it has been a constant in our house ever since. Instilling national pride in children is probably a good thing, but that chant bugs the crap out of me. It strikes me as showy, even bullying. Rather than letting our scores and achievements speak for themselves, Americans need to shout everyone else down. Like we find it necessary to remind the world that we have the most – or at least had the most until a decade ago. That chant reminds me of suburban cookouts in Cary, North Carolina. Of the many commercials airing during the Olympics that imply a successful life is about owning an opulent car. Of our national ego getting bruised by our president suggesting that America might not be that 'exceptional' a country.
For me, the Olympics is about sports. I don't care if the US wins. I enjoy it when the favored athlete tanks and an underdog takes gold. I like seeing the Netherlands sweep the podium. This is an opportunity for new athletes to shine. For smaller nations to get some recognition. For my kids to learn a bit about the world. In two years, we will watch the summer Olympics – three weeks for that. Once again, I'll be enduring obnoxious commercials, expanding bedtimes, flag-waving jingoism. The up-side is that I vastly prefer watching the sports like soccer, track and volleyball to anything done in the snow.

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