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TV Is Good for Your Family

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I grew up culturally Amish. Yes, we were that family. My two sisters and I were allowed to eat one piece of our Halloween candy before we threw the rest away. We could have sugar cereal once a month. And for one hour on Sunday, we were allowed to watch TV (Wild Kingdom, if you want to know what we were allowed).

As my sisters and I got older, our TV choices got a little more sophisticated (read: we had terrible taste in TV but loved every minute of it). And while we still weren’t allowed soda or candy, we could squeeze in a bit more TV. From Dynasty to The Dukes of Hazzard, I loved them all. I loved when the Fonz hit the jukebox and made it go on, and I eagerly anticipated Gary Coleman’s deadpan, “What you talkin’ 'bout, Willis?”

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Our love of TV was the bane of my dad’s existence. The more he’d restrict our watching, the more we’d want to watch. Dad would call the TV "the idiot box” and was sure we’d never make it to college because of The Love Boat. Me, I loved Laverne & Shirley and couldn’t wait for Lenny and Squiggy to enter, complete with their catchphrase, “Hello!”

But as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who loved Laverne & Shirley. Though he’d never own up to it, my dad loved them as well. Whenever I’d watch, he’d stand in the doorway with his arms crossed to show maximum disapproval, laughing and laughing and laughing. I’d always say, “Watch with me,” to which he’d scowl and leave the room, staying just far enough away where he could disapprove and listen all at the same time. I always wished he would've sat down with me.

I think of this as I raise my own kids. Truth be told, dad’s dislike of TV has worn off on me a bit, and I restrict my kids' viewing. But on weekends and holidays I let it go a bit, and my kids get to watch more. So on this past Memorial Day holiday, the show Wipeout came on. If you haven’t seen it, the show is basically one pie-in-the-face after another and one very long slip-on-a-banana-peel. In other words, it’s a 5-year-old boy’s dream.

Too old for sweet, innocent cartoons, my son is also too young for most network television.

So after four days of holiday weekend fun, my 5-year-old boy asked to watch TV and I said yes. Too old for sweet, innocent cartoons, my son is also too young for most network television. But on came Wipeout, and my son asked to watch. Since there are no ninjas killing each other and no teenagers making out, I figure grown ups getting pummeled by giant water toys seems pretty innocent. Secretly, I figure it’s a good chance to clean up after the long weekend. He plops down to watch, and I get to work.

But then I hear his little voice: “Mommy, watch with me.” He’s seen something funny, and he wants to share. I stop what I’m doing and sit with him. There’s a woman—she’s about my age—and she has to jump over hurdles, while wearing fins on her feet, while dodging a tornado of whip cream. I must admit, it’s really funny—especially the noise she makes when she falls into the whipped cream pool below. My kid doesn’t watch long, so the chances of him someday going to college are still pretty good. But we shared a funny moment together, and we both had a good time.

Later, I’m putting my son to bed. Like every day, I ask my son what his favorite part of the day was. “I like watching TV with you, mommy,” he says, “I knew what to laugh at by watching you.”

After the kids are sound asleep, I’m relaxing myself by watching TV, and a commercial comes on for a new reality show hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. (Admit it, that redneck stuff was really funny. Unless you learned you were one, then it probably wasn’t quite as funny.) It’s another cooking reality show, but this one features real people (not famous chefs) competing using recipes passed down from their grandparents and parents.

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The commercial is funny and sweet, and I hate myself for wanting to watch. It’s not my normal fare. But I’m watching the commercial thinking, "If I watched this, my son could watch with me." Because in all honesty, my son wasn’t the only one who liked watching together; I did. I don’t necessarily want my kid watching TV all day, or even every day, but I like relaxing while watching a funny show. Why shouldn’t he? And why shouldn’t we do that together?

By restricting our TV and watching from afar, my dad made TV separate from our family. But sitting with my son watching a silly show, TV felt like a part of our family—a part that didn’t have to be the end of all things good. I felt as connected to my son watching that lady fall into a pool of whipped cream as I do while reading a book, going to the zoo or working on a project with him. It’s not what you do together. It’s the fact that you are together.

I wonder how much funnier Laverne & Shirley would have been if my dad had been sitting next to me, showing me what to laugh at, rather than off in other room disconnected from the fun. So, I set my DVR for The American Baking Competition on CBS and anxiously await the jokes to fly from Jeff Foxworthy. The next time my kid and I have a chance to watch TV together, I’m going to turn it on. And I’ll hope that my kid will enjoy watching with me half as much as I enjoy watching with him.

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