Television

How Mummy and Daddy and Freddie and Debbie stopped living and loved the tube

William Casselman April 9 1979
Television

How Mummy and Daddy and Freddie and Debbie stopped living and loved the tube

William Casselman April 9 1979

How Mummy and Daddy and Freddie and Debbie stopped living and loved the tube

Television

By William Casselman

Once upon a time in the land of the google-box, a mother told a school psychologist the story of her children and television. The father was too busy to visit the school that day.

See we always had a TV. When we got married, Jack brought his old black and white set from home. I didn’t go back to work until Freddie was six and Debbie was five. That’s all alone for five years with two small kids. After Freddie gave up his nap—he was about two—I tried to get him interested in Sesame Street. Heard it was good for youngsters. I’d flick it on and Freddie would look for a while, then go right back to his toys. Sometimes I would sit down with him and try to get him caught up in it: “Look at Big Bird. And there’s Cookie Monster.” Still he didn’t care much. But if he had his bottle while watching, then he would stay longer in front of the set. I borrowed a picture book about Sesame Street and that got him involved.

It took about four months and soon he watched every day. After, Mister Rogers used to come on. Freddie learned to like that. So I had an hour or so to get supper ready.

I did try to have a quiet time after he gave up naps. You know, in his room alone. But it didn’t work. TV was more effective keeping him quiet. But it really helped in toilet training. I’d put the potty in front of the set, and if he went potty he got to watch cartoons— and if he made mistakes too often, I would warn that he couldn’t watch this or that. Worked for Debbie too. She seemed to like TV from the start.

When he finally began afternoon kindergarten that was a big load off. But I did notice Freddie wouldn’t always go out after school and ride his bike with playmates down the block. Even if it was a sunny day. He would come home and turn on Batman or those stupid Flintstones, any show where characters clobber each other. By that time Mister Rogers was too tame. When he was five, both kids got hooked on watching in the morning before school. First they would

wake up and stare at Captain Kangaroo, get dressed watching Bugs Bunny, gobble breakfast during Fangface, see half of Godzilla, then off to school.

When Jack and I encouraged Freddie to join Cub Scouts, I was really upset. He went to about three meetings then quit. Would not go back, screaming fits, the whole production number. I didn’t realize it at the time but, well, we let him quit and he didn’t like Cubs because it meant he missed Superman and The Partridge Family. Bedtime was always yelling and crying ’cause they would

both want to stay up and see The Waltons. One year, a local station ran Batman and those old Lone Ranger things between six and seven. That was a nightmare. Jack would come home and want the news at six. The kids screamed for Batman. And I wanted to serve supper then. At first I would pry them away from that damn boob tube, get everybody at the kitchen table, and we would eat, if you could call it that—fast, gulping, grumpy meals. Jack bitching, the kids throwing a tantrum. See, just before we sat down, Jack would switch channels to the news, turn the volume up real loud. He would yell if the kids were so loud he couldn’t hear the news. It went on for months. But I solved it. Bought some plastic TV trays and we all ate in front of the set. During the days I started to watch a lot of TV myself. I was kind of used to it, you know.

Now I look back on it, we never seemed to talk very much as a family. Kids never told us much about school. What little chat there was concerned

television, you know—“D’y’see when the Hulk creamed that guy!” Sometimes I miss the fun my family had when I was growing up. We used to do things together. Freddie and Debbie never liked going on an outing. After about three times even the zoo bored them. Animals were better on Wild Kingdom, they said. Just not great talkers, I guess.

Of course, we don’t have as many fights now. I fixed that by buying a second TV. Jack has the color one in the living room and the kids have their own in the basement with the record player. Mind you, now they eat supper down there. But at least Jack gets to watch the news.

What I really came to talk about is their putting Debbie into a commercial course next year when she starts Grade 9. They say she can’t do advanced work because her English is so bad. We hoped Deb would get to college. And Frederick’s already in a remedial reading class in Grade 10. Is all that supposed to be my fault? I tried to get them to read when they were young. They both did their homework with the door open so they didn’t miss anything on TV. I don’t know when it happened to us, but there came a point—back in public school, I guess—when they would rather have watched TV than do anything else. Anything.

The school psychologist took off her glasses and looked at the mother. When the psychologist and her husband had decided on no TV in their house, friends dismissed them as weirdos. Their children were just starting day-school when they sold the set. Withdrawal symptoms caused havoc: a week of screaming, a month of pouting. But gradually her family had free time—meals lasted longer, the family talked, read and played more. Though it was too late for the mother, the psychologist gave her a book, a frightening paperback called The //#\\ Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn. Subtitle: Television,

Children and the Family.