How to Make your Kids Hate Television

Part II of the Telly Kibosh Chronicles (read Part I here)

In 1966, my mother broke down and bought an electronic babysitter. And who can blame her? She was 25 years old, had three kids—age 2, 3, and 4—and was going to graduate school while my dad worked swing shift at Pearl Harbor. We were all stuck in our small apartment due to long, heavy rains that left ankle-deep puddles outside. We watched Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo, and then, despite her pressing tasks, Mom would stay up late to watch Johnny Carson. The neighbors would comment the next day on her loud laughter (especially if Buddy Hackett was one of the guests). Wasn’t that alone worth the price for the relief it provided a busy young mother? I’m sure the small television was a huge expense for the struggling family. When I left home for college in 1982, I swear we were still watching the very same TV set (how else can I explain the 13-inch b&w with snapped-off antannae?), so they got their money’s worth.

Mom had earned her undergraduate degree while bringing three kids into the world. Her accomplishments put me to shame. In my forties, I still had not managed a Masters, a noteworthy career, nor a single kid. But I had television.

So when the Little Monster moved in when I was 43, my husband and I took the opposite approach to hers and got rid of the electronic babysitter. The Little Monster was six, and our new ragtag family had a lot of lost time to make up for, so why spend it looking at something other than each other? (Answer: because the 732nd game of Go Fish will cause you to consider sticking your head in the oven. Doesn’t matter that it’s electric, it’s the symbolic act that counts.)

Despite getting rid of TV, we did keep a hand-me-down nineteen-inch screen and an ancient, cheap DVD player (I am sure made by a three-year-old in a developing country, so my moral imperative as well as my thrifty heritage is to run that sucker into the ground). We get videos from the library and have a tradition of Sunday Night Movie and Pizza (often handmade by moi). We’re working our way through The Waltons, The Partridge Family, and the old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (tight pants alert!) series. We enjoy old musicals, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Singing in the Rain, and old Disney movies like The Love Bug and the ones with Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette. Boy, were we surprised when Suzanne Pleshette showed up in the first Wild Wild West episode (tight pants alert!) as the floozy hotty. I only remembered her from the original Bob Newhart.

All we saw were the collars

But we had a few problems with our set-up: we couldn’t see night scenes, we couldn’t hear dialogue very well, and the player often froze on DVDs that had seen a lot of use. MIM and I found this state of affairs to be just fine. The more irritating the television experience, the less the Little Monster would be enthralled by it. Many movie nights found us leaning forward over our pizza, squinting and cupping our ears, intermittently chirping to each other like finches roosting in a hedgerow, “What did he say?” “I don’t know. I couldn’t hear it.” “What happened?” “I don’t know. I couldn’t see it.” It’s as if we were reading the script for Tommy.

Not until you can’t see what’s going on during night scenes do you realize how many characters go gallivanting all over town after dark. When do Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank Hardy ever sleep? They are constantly out on the prowl after bedtime, witnessed by us as an occasional flash of white spandex and a sparkle of white white teeth.

One day, after we’d been squinting at night scenes for about a year, I accidentally discovered that the screen was tilted down at an angle. I straightened it up, and suddenly it was as if Kevin Costner had hit the floods on Field of Dreams.

Mr. Kincaid, who's my real father?

But the volume problem grew progressively worse as the Man I Married increased his cider-making activities, oftentimes leaving me and the Little Monster to finish up a program while he traipsed off to clean kegs or bottles—which sounds like a quiet activity. But it involved hauling heavy loads up and down the creaking stairs in his steel-toed boots and running the bathtub water at full pressure for long periods of time. I took to hitting pause, waiting for the racket to quiet down when he was at his loudest. He would clomp through the livingroom with a bucket of iodine-treated water to find me and the Little Monster sitting frozen in front of the frozen screen (which is oddly disturbing when it’s Danny Partridge), like cats waiting to pounce.

When I watched adult movies on my own after the wee one was tucked in, I took to selecting English subtitles, which makes for a dissatisfying viewing experience when you know the language. The subtitle always jumps the gun or doesn’t quite match what’s being said. Try it with Joan Crawford sometime and all you’ll start to care about is getting up to make a martini. 

The Man I Married became so annoyed by my annoyance that we decided to break down and buy ourselves a new video system. While rearranging the furniture to make room for a new setup, I, um, found the volume control on the old system. So that’s what that extra remote control was for.

I need make no apology for my technological ineptitude, but I find it a bit scary from a man who used to steer a nuclear submarine. He says I can’t say that he “navigated,” but I say that’s mincing words when it comes to the person who’s pointing a fast-attack sub in whatever direction it’s going in.

We were so thrilled with our renovated sound system that we marched to the video store and paid three dollars to rent a real movie. We chose The Black Stallion. Which turned out to have zero dialogue. Just a horse and a boy cavorting in broad daylight on a desert island. We could have watched the whole thing on MUTE and been just as happy.

Go, My Little Monster!

“That Teri Garr sure looks great,” I said to MIM. “She’s hardly aged at all since Close Encounters and Oh, God.” Turns out The Black Stallion was made in 1979. Where did the last thirty years go? And here I thought the only thing I’d missed was Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Like so much of life, especially as parents, blink and you miss it. But as the Black Stallion pounded around the track, his hooves thundering through our livingroom, I glanced over at the Little Monster. He sat forward on the edge of the couch, as if he were in the saddle, ready to ride off into the sunset. All too soon, it will be my job to let him go.

“Go, Little Monster, go!” I’ll yell from the sidelines, sounding just like Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein.

“What?” he’ll yell back, already too far away to hear. “What did you say? I couldn’t hear!” he’ll shout—just like old times.

The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition Now $0.99 at Amazon

12 humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

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