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The New TV

alec vanderboom

Five years ago, my young son cut our TV power cord with safety scissors. (Aren't Guardian Angels wonderful? Seriously, how does any male survive to adulthood without massive angelic intervention?) At the time we lost our only TV, TVs cost $50 at Target. While we were saving up to buy a replacement TV--the massive switch happened to HDTV/Digital. The Federal Government switched all the channels to Digital. Suddenly there were no more cheap TVs for sale at Target. I can't remember the price exactly, but I feel like the lowest end digital TV was $250 to $300. It was possible to buy a converter box for about $80, but while we were dithering about what to do, we experienced "Life without TV" for the first time as a family.

Jon and I grew up with cable TV. Jon's a visual artist, so TV shows are probably even more central to his childhood memories than mine. Yet I had the typical 1970s/1980s "TV as central to the home" too. I never imagined running my home without TV. There were huge, huge benefits.

We lost our TV at time when spiritually we were growing as new converts to the Catholic faith. Being detached from the mass entertainment really helped us make conscious choices about what type of family culture we wanted in our home. We have streaming video on Netflix and could watch current TV shows like Friday Night Lights online --so it wasn't like our "No TV" was a firm rule to boycott the industry entirely. However, it was a different experience. When I clicked on a TV show online, I made a more conscious decision about what "I could watch" or "what my kids could watch." TV became an active choice instead a passive one.

I also had a lot of natural "silence" in my life which helped me grow in prayer as a new Carmelite. TV is "noisy." The News Shows have loud vocal opinions that are different than reading the same thoughts in a Washington Post article. I really benefited from not having  a TV on at my house as I started out a new prayer routine.

Five years of benefit make it totally weird that last weekend, I bought a 32 inch flat screen for $229 at Target last Saturday. That's crazy, right? Winter is coming. We needed to buy more electric heaters for the house. I'm hand wringing my laundry because my ancient washer has an almost non-existent spin cycle. There are dozens of needs for my household but I decided I "needed" a TV.

I'm still trying to make peace with my decision. I felt total peace when I bought the new TV at Target (which is unusual. I get gripe of fear thinking "this is too much money to spend" when buying a normal amount of food at Aldi's.) I know that pregnancy is hard. Breastfeeding a newborn can be even harder. When my stomach feels sick. I like to lay in bed and watch TV. It's comforting to me, like drinking ginger ale.

While I nursed Baby Abigail Clare through colic eighteen months ago, I soothed myself by using the "free TV options." Netflix. Hulu. But for this new baby, I felt tired. I'd watched every episode of every interesting show on Hulu and Netflix. I felt ready for real TV again.

My husband and kids are ecstatic with our new TV, which scares me a little. It's awesome to connect our computer to the TV. We can now watch movies that we can all easily see at the same time, instead of fighting over a small laptop computer screen. I taught the kids the rules about Football, because they had never seen a game before.

After a few days of second guessing my decision, I think I'm developing a more moderate viewpoint of my Catholic religion. My family is not Amish. We've already elected a very radical decision to isolate ourselves by not attending public school. If I make blanket decisions like "All TV watching is bad, I should better spend that time in prayer," I'm really isolating us further. It's a delicate line, but I don't live in a convent. My family is supposed to be "out in the world." In my own head, "living in  the modern world as a Catholic" means some basic fluency in TV shows.

I'm hopeful we can come up with some TV guidelines that encourage moderation and responsible use of the media congruent with our strong values. Our house has enough coolness with origami, art projects, playful siblings, musical instruments, basketballs and an archery range. I'm trusting that cartoon watching time doesn't swamp all the other interesting things my kids do with their free time. If it does, we'll box up the TV and store it in the basement for a while.

That's the nice thing about having TV stripped away by poverty for five years. TV came come into my home now because I know for certain that we can all exist just fine if it ever needs to go out again.

St. Clare, patroness of TV, pray for us!