Last night, I sat in my living room and for a moment, I couldn’t figure out the sound I was hearing or where it was coming from. From my vantage point in the dining room, I could see everyone, including the furry animals. My husband sat in the big, comfy recliner in the living room, reading a book about Celtic history. Next to him, A stretched out on the couch, reading a book about mythology. (Shocking.) Her sister was across the kitchen, in the school room, writing a compare & contrast paper for her World Religions class. The beagle and all three cats only periodically shifted in their locations. Everyone was accounted for, and still there was an unfamiliar sound in the house, or rather an unfamiliar sound that is becoming more familiar every day.
It was sometime after 9 that I realized it was the unfamiliar sound of silence that piqued my attention. The TV wasn’t on. It hadn’t been on all day; not even for the morning news. We didn’t “schedule” last night’s quiet evening. There was no big discussion during dinner nor reading edict issued. Well, not last night, anyway. However, the quiet didn’t just happen, either.
Several weeks back, we did have a family discussion during dinner. It was prompted by a question my Kansas Ya-Ya asked during one of our weekly chats. After keeping the TV off until 8, sometimes 9, for several nights in a row, I realized I was accomplishing much more in my evenings. Upon sharing this realization, my girlfriend asked me how many hours I thought I could reclaim if I/we continued to keep the TV off in the evenings. Though math is not my strong subject, it wasn’t difficult for me to calculate the number of hours we spend in front of the TV. “Too many” is the short answer, but the more accurate (and embarrassing) answer would be at least 15. I’ll break down the math:
The TV typically goes on after dinner, around 7. It then stays on until shortly after 10. (Just long enough to watch the weather, which, unlike all my years in the Bay Area of California, serves a purpose. When there are high winds or snow coming in the mid-west, you need to know.) Therefore, 3 hours X 5 weeknights = 15 hours of TV (+ an unnamed number of hours possible on the weekend. ) Fairly simple math, right? Though the math may be simple, changing habits isn’t always so easy, especially where teens and fatigue are involved.
I’ll be honest, I’m probably the biggest TV junkie in the house. It’s my pacifier. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know I get up in the wee-dark-hours of the morning because I love the quiet solitude. However, those wee-dark-hour mornings and long days homeschooling usually leave me brain-dead, droopy-eyed, and in search of a “mental check-out” by 7 in the evening. On goes the TV. It doesn’t matter what’s on, it’s the “white noise” that can put me to sleep within 20 minutes. And, I know my family will be sitting there, watching along with me, as soon as the set is turned on. They’re supportive like that. It all starts in my big, comfy recliner (the same one my husband sat in, reading, last night.) Under the guise of sharing some viewing time with the family, I grab my blanket, the TV remote, curl up in my chair, and shut off my brain. My family isn’t fooled. They know what I’m up to and they know I’ll be asking “Who did it?” after they wake me to head up to bed, even if it’s a re-run. (And, without cable, odds are good that it is and that I slept through the big reveal the first time it aired.) Like I said, habits can be tough to break. Which is great if it’s a “good habit” like regular exercise, and not great if it a “negative habit” like going comatose in front of the TV.
Nonetheless, I believe the first step to changing any behavior is identifying it. Within only a few short days of turning off the “one-eyed monster” (as my father-in-law used to call it), it became obvious to me the amount of productive/family time I was “losing” in my evenings. When I put a number to it, 15+, I could no longer ignore the harsh reality of my habit. I used the TV like an evening “fix”, and if our family evenings were going change, it had to start with me.
At dinner a few weeks ago, we each listed our top 5 favorite shows that we looked forward to watching each week. (Aside from the cost savings, another perk of “life without cable” is the ease of this task.) Ironically, none of us had 5, and there were several overlaps among us. From there, we each narrowed it down to our top 3, and further to our top 1. I then placed those programs on a roughly sketched out grid. There was one program per evening on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. None on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. And, that was it, our first step in weaning our TV habit. Like finding money in a coat pocket, we found an extra 10+ hours of family time in our week. Each evening, before grabbing a remote, we check the grid to see what, if anything, is on that we watch and the time it airs (because it’s still easy to leave the TV on once it’s on.) Thus far, it has worked well, even when we have chosen to throw an extra hour or two in here and there. Or, in the case of our recent discovery of Downton Abbey, Season 1, on Netflix, several extra hours last weekend. In any event, we are making conscious choices when we turn the set on; Is there really something we want to see or are we (am I) turning on the TV to “just veg out” and unplug from life, from my family? What else could I do with this time?
The TV stayed dark last night. We didn’t need to check the grid. It’s quickly becoming a new habit to leave the TV off on Tuesdays, and I have stayed awake to witness it all. Pages turned quietly, a pen scratched on paper, keys were tapped on the computer, and the beagle snored. And, for just a bit last night, I was stumped by that odd, unfamiliar, pervasive sound in our house. Shhhh…do you hear that? It’s silence. Beautiful silence. Silence we’ll enjoy again tonight because there’s nothing we choose to watch on Wednesdays, and the TV will stay off.
Is the TV making too much noise in your house? Please share what you would do with an extra 10 hours of unscheduled time in your week.