Is Family TV Time Overrated?

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My family doesn’t watch much TV together. And hardly ever at night. I’m usually racing to get our daughter bathed and in bed so I have enough time for what I call Dora Déjà vu. For 133 consecutive nights, I’ve read "Dora’s BIG Birthday Adventure," which takes exactly 11 minutes and 22 seconds including time for “content questions.” For example, on page 8, Ava asks, “Why is the witch smiling if she’s mean?” And page 12, “Why do the flowers bite Boots?” (These are good questions, and apparently my answers are unsatisfactory since she repeats them. Every night.)

Plus, I’m always working at my computer in the evenings and my husband is prepping for the next day’s class (which means he watches movie trailers online in the name of “research”). It’s not that we think TV is bad; we just considered Family TV Time a luxury that our busy lives couldn’t afford right now.

But once a year, we get the rare opportunity to enjoy Family TV Time while visiting our relatives over the holidays. And if you’ve ever watched TV as an adult with your parents or in-laws, then you have experience–as I have–a little piece of your soul slowly dying away, like a withering bed of garnish under Grandma’s Jell-O salad.

My parents watch holiday country music concerts sitting three feet away from a 60-inch TV screen. Mom wears these special headphones so that she can control her own volume because Dad has had sole custody of the remote since 1983. It hasn’t put an end to their constant bickering. Dad has taken to flipping the channel at random. Sometimes it’s at the end of the holiday program when all the country music stars gather on stage for an ensemble performance, but usually he does it when Mom fancies herself a little bit country and starts singing along without actually knowing the words.

Last week, I sat there in the midst of their outrageous conduct, wondering why they try to watch TV together. My answer came in the form of a Jack-in-the-Box commercial.

Mom hollered with delight at the sight of the guy in the suit with the oversized clown head: “Oh, there’s that crazy Jack!” He said something so lame that I’d forgotten it as soon as he said it, but Mom erupted into a shrieky laughter, and slapped me on the thigh. I looked to Dad for sympathy but he was chuckling along with her! After enduring the longest 30 seconds of my adult life, Mom slowly recovered from her hysterics and Dad wiped tears from his eyes. Then they smiled at each other lovingly.

It’s come to this.

My in-laws have Family TV Time figured out–and by that I mean they don’t bother. After dinner, Ray’s parents gather in front of the TV in the perfect image of togetherness. His dad selects some reality program to my mother-in-law’s liking, turns it to the ideal volume, and sticks around for an obligatory seven minutes–right about the time the bachelorette’s mascara starts running down her face like an oil spill. We don’t see him sneak away to his bedroom where he’ll watch a 4-hour “COPS” marathon, but we know he’s there. And we know he’s happy.

I, on the other hand, was not happy. The reality shows were bearable, but once they were over my mother-in-law flipped to some black-and-white movie on some outer-limits station. I’m sure the only other person on the planet watching that station was a 94-year-old woman in Kansas, and that’s only because the batteries in her remote died back in ’91 and her walker has a bad wheel.

When the actresses’ nasally whines and feebleness became too much to bear, I retreated to the guest bedroom where I found my husband in bed wearing headphones and watching movie trailers on his laptop. So I pulled out some headphones of my own, turned on my laptop and dialed up Hulu.com.

I would like to thank my relatives for teaching me a special lesson: Family TV Time is grossly overrated. I should no longer feel as if I’m missing out on quality togetherness. Because like grooming and going the bathroom, watching TV should really be a solo sport.

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