Our TV has been on only once a week since the week before Christmas. I finally took the plunge and drew a hard line with regard to TV viewing. And there’s a reason for that. Celebrities. I detest them. I know there are some admirable ones out there, don’t get me wrong. But, by and large, I detest celebrities. The snobbery. The duality. The sense of entitlement. The way they appear in public service announcements to guide us morally, even when their own lives are in shambles. I have always had a dislike of celebrity worship. But now that I have children, and have been exposed to children’s programming along the lines of Disney and Nickelodeon and their ilk, it behoves me to say . . . “Ew!”
Disney and Nickelodeon have a vested interest in creating a new generation of celebrity-worshippers. It’s central to their very existence: get kids worshiping celebrity status at a young age, and you’ve got viewers for life. Just take a look at the celebrity-themed shows on Disney and Nickelodeon — not just shows that have a celebrity cast, but shows in which the central theme is that of being or becoming a celebrity:
Jonas (three famous singing brothers)
Hannah Montana (famous teen rock star juggles celebrity with “normal life”)
Shake It Up (celebrity wanna-bes performing on dance show)
Victorious (celebrity wanna-bes developing their singing talents)
iCarly (teens gain celebrity status through internet show)
Sonny with a Chance (the lives of teen actors on a variety show)
I’m with the Band (yeah, it’s about people performing in a band)
Then there are the specials like: Camp Rock (Uhm, it’s a camp . . . where people learn to rock . . . you know: Camp Rock)
High School Musical (self explanatory)
Starstruck (regular girl has romance with celebrity)
Even shows which were previously devoid of celebrities, like Zack and Cody, end up bringing a celebrity on board — in the case of Zack and Cody, singing sensation “Little Little” joins the cast.
And Disney, in particular, really gets their money out of their teen and tween celebrities because every actor also sings and every singer also acts. In addition to the big-name singer/actors like Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place), The Jonas Brothers (Jonas and Jonas-LA), and Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana), you can also catch the latest vocal offerings by The-Guy-Who-Plays-Chad-on-Sunny-With-A-Chance, The-Gal-From-Good-Luck-Charlie, That-Other-Guy-From-Sonny-With-A-Chance, The-Gal-Who-Plays-Bailey-on-Zack-and-Cody, Zack-and-Cody, Sonny-From-Sonny-with-A-Chance, and Nickelodeon isn’t far behind — you can already listen to the crooning of The-Gal-Who-Plays-Carly-on-iCarly . . . none of whose names I could be bothered to look up. You get the idea.
I mentioned to my mother-in-law recently that the preoccupation with teen celebrity seems particularly intense these days, and she responded with a shrug, saying, “Meh. We had teen celebrities back in our day, too.” But that’s not the point. My problem is not simply that teen celebrities exist. My problem is that we have glorified their lives to the point where the majority the TV programing directed at elementary, tween, and teen kids revolves around the lives of those who are, or are in the process of becoming, celebrities — with all the false morality, dubious ethics, and disastrous lifestyle choices inherent in celebrity status. And that’s just not for me, nor is it what I want for my family. So be patient with me when I don’t know the latest happenings on a given television program — or even what programs exist. I’m only watching an hour of TV a week, and that suits me just fine.
It’s time for a change. A positive change. As our family has grown, and as our circumstances have been reconstructed, I’ve needed to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t work. I’m really excited about some changes that I’m implementing for my family. Without going into too much detail about the struggles we’ve been having, let me just say these changes have been born out of necessity.
- Limited TV viewing. And by limited, I mean REALLY limited. Cliff and I have one show we like to watch . We’ll watch that once a week, and that’s it. For the kids, no TV. They’ve gotten used to watching TV every day, because, when I was working from home, it was the only way I could get them to stop fighting while I worked. Without it, they were constantly interrupting me to tattle on each other for hurting one another. See? This is where the part about different circumstances comes in. I’m not working anymore; the TV has served its purpose, and now it has outstayed its welcome. My kids are picking up bad attitudes and rude behaviors from the characters they see on TV (Hannah Montana-inspired sarcasm, anyone?).
- Limited computer time. This one applies primarily to me. I find that the more time I spend on social networking sites and message boards, the more restless and agitated my kids become. I’ve decided to limit my online time to one or two Facebook status updates a day, and one blog every few days to a week or so . . . more on that in a bit.
- More time with the kids. If we’ve got no TV time and no computer time and no time shackled to the computer doing transcription, I’ve got plenty of time to involve them in my daily activities. I’m hoping to foster more of a sense of cooperation and consideration for one another. When they’re left to their own devices, it just doesn’t go well. Time to face the facts: I’ve got four young kids, and that’s a lot of work. Time to put on the big girl panties (har!) and accept the fact that I can’t ignore them while I get my own stuff done; they all, especially the younger ones, still need a lot of my time and energy. Time to accept that what other people do in 15 minutes I need 45 minutes to do because I’m doing it with the kids and I typically don’t have someone to tend to their needs while I cook/clean/surf the web. We need to simplify our lives enough to make room for what is really important, and cut out the time-wasting activities.
- Healthier meals. I’m not doing TOO badly in this area, but I rely on a lot of pre-prepared stuff, because when you’ve got four littles, and no one is watching them while you cook, you need to be FAST! I’m hoping, though, that the time I save by not working/watching TV/being online will allow me a little more time in the kitchen. We’ll see.
- More sleep. My sleep habits are horrible. I’m good about getting the kids to bed, but I am so used to staying up late working on my transcription until all hours of the morning, I’m still staying up past midnight every night. Time to go to bed at a decent hour.
- More physical activity. Since we won’t be watching TV, surfing the web, or working in the evenings, I’m implementing an evening walk for me and the kids. When Cliff is home in the evenings, I hope he’ll join us! I need to work in activity for myself, because all these pregnancies and c-sections have really taken a toll on my body – and now my gym has discontinued their child-care! So we’ll be walking in the evenings, and since I’ll be going to bed earlier (!!) I’ll be getting up earlier to exercise before the kids are up.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. Really, instead of all those other points, I could have just written this. (But then who would reap the benefit of all my verbosity? LOL!) I’m giving lots of stuff to charity, so we have less stuff – less stuff to clean, less stuff to deal with, less stuff to clutter up our lives. Simplifying and getting rid of the excess, both in terms of physical possessions and in terms of the things that clutter our lives and zap our time and energy.
- I’m blogging about it. I won’t be updating every day; that would defeat the purpose. I’m spending less time online, remember? But maybe once a week or so, I’ll post about what is working and what is not working, and what needs to be “tweaked” as Cliff would say.
My mother was only about six years older than I am when she died of cancer. She never saw any of her grandchildren. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that I want to make the most of what time I do have. I want to spend it on what really matters. I want to be present and joyful and healthy and hopefully live to see my grandchildren – hey, I’ve got the potential here for lots of grandkids to enjoy! I don’t want to screw that all up by dying!
But even if I were to leave this world tomorrow, I want to know that I spent today on what really matters. Today I lived in the moment and noticed every smile, every ray of sunshine; that I built sandcastles and listened to the leaves in the trees; that I held the hand of someone I love while watching the sunset. And I want to know my children reaped the benefit of my being there.
My 4-month-old smiles a lot. She smiles when I pick her up; she smiles when I put her down; she smiles when I change her diaper. A few days ago, during one of these smile-fests as I knelt over her and laughed I saw myself reflected in her happy eyes, and I wished for her eyes to always be laughing and dancing. But, of course, that can never be. There will be joys and there will be sorrows. So it is for us all. Happiness, bitterness, laughter and pain, and ultimately, an end. And one day — presuming things go as I would have them, because the alternative is unthinkable — her beautiful, happy eyes will fill with tears at my funeral.
We are, as far as I know, the only animals who are aware of our own mortality. What a blessing. What a blessing to know our days are numbered. How fortunate we are to know our time here is finite. There is a gift in the knowledge that we have no time to waste.
Look in the eyes of your loved ones — of your children, your spouse, your parents — look there and know that there will come a time when your eyes will never meet again this side of heaven, and let that knowledge spur you to action. Live sincerely. Love openly. Speak with gentleness and kidness, and share with your loved ones all that you have, all that is yours, all that you are. For no one knows when his life will be required of him; no one can say when that day of separation will come. So live genuinely and be present in each moment; be grateful for, and connected to those around you. And be thankful for the knowledge of the end.
“So what matters?”
This is my oldest daughter’s latest question, whenever she is told something with which she’s not entirely happy.
“I told you it’s time to brush your teeth; when I tell you it’s time to do something, you need to do it.”
“So what matters?”
“When you went running by, you knocked Samuel down.”
“So what matters?”
A better translation for what she really means is probably, “So what? It doesn’t matter.” But the way she has worded it does get me thinking. So what matters?
There have been a lot of stressors here lately. My husband traveling. A new baby coming. My husband’s impending lay-off and the resultant financial insecurities. My taking on extra work to compensate. And it’s been showing up in unhappy ways in our household.
I’ve been focusing a lot on being a “good mother,” in terms of how I perceive the world to define the term. I’ve been trying extra hard to keep the house clean. I’ve been fixing meals from scratch. And while I’m doing that, the children are hitting and yelling. Things are getting broken. Harsh words are being said. The atmosphere of love and acceptance that I want for our family is falling apart. Relationships are strained. Frustration is running high. . .
“One day you’ll just decide it’s time to start spanking.”
Those words were uttered by a friend of mine, not too long after I had my first daughter. She’s a dear friend . . . but a friend with no children. Her own experience was one of being spanked and, “I turned out okay.” I can’t expect more from her, given where she is in life right now. But I knew, even then, that she was mistaken.
And so it was that I knew something had to change: I started thinking she was right. Six years and three children later, as I struggled to put my children to bed amongst screaming, fighting, roughhousing, and flat-out refusal to cooperate, I cried as I thought that, regretfully, she had been right all along. I didn’t want her to be right. But something had to change. Our family life had deteriorated to the point where I was ready to give up all my parenting ideals.
I managed to get the three restless children to sleep, and there, in the dark, watching their sleeping faces, I knew I couldn’t let her be right. I knew I couldn’t resort to hitting my children, no matter how desperate I was. I thought about the words my daughter had hurled at me a dozen times during the evening, “So what matters?”
What matters most? What should be given TOP priority?
For us, here, now, the answer is surprisingly simple: spending time with these little ones, before these days are gone forever, before this precious time is wasted on cooking and cleaning and working, before all the happy childhood memories we could have made are swallowed up in yelling and scolding and night after night of anger and frustration and tears.
So the housework will slide. The house is clean enough to function, and it’s not unsanitary; the rest can wait.
Meals will be simple. Black bean and corn tacos, chicken and rice, spaghetti with store-bought sauce.
Work will be decreased. No NEEDING the kids to nap in order to keep me from exploding because I can’t get my mountain of transcription done. The Lord will provide. He always has.
Instead, we will play outside. We will dig in the dirt; we will plant flowers. We will bake banana bread. We will read stories. And we will play just-one-more-please-just-one-more-game of Hi-ho Cheerio.
The result of this shift in thinking has been astounding and immediate. Peace is returning. Joy is returning. Not peace and joy as in perfect children who never squabble . . . but contentment – patience – room to breathe – space to handle everything and everyone that needs attention. And in the midst of it all, I will remind myself that it’s all good. All of it. Every moment is a waking meditation of the Lord’s good providence.
To everything there is a season. And this is the season of remembering what matters.
Walk in the rain, smell flowers, stop along the way, build sandcastles, go on field trips, find out how things work, tell stories, say the magic words, trust the universe. – Bruce Williamson
I’ve been taking “media-free” days lately — setting aside a certain number of days where I spend no time on TV and no time on the computer other than what’s required to do my transcription.
I’ve asked around, and apparently, I’m not alone in feeling that our culture of information is overwhelming sometimes. The Internet is such a major part of our lives, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine life without it. Message boards provide us with constant companionship. Social networking tools provide us with an environment where every aspect of our lives is a potential for dialogue: “I’m matching socks.” “Did you find them all?” “What colors are they?”
Those times during the day when we would naturally be alone with our thoughts become times for composing messages in our heads, for thinking about what we’d like to say in response to that post about cloth diapers, for wondering if anyone commented on our status update. (“I’m washing dishes.”)
When I really stop and think about how often I am not actually on the computer, but planning what I am going to do the next time I am on the computer, it becomes alarming how much time I am spending NOT living in the moment. That’s where media-free days help me regain my balance. After a day or so without electronic media, the chatter in my head slows down. I stop wondering what’s been said in response to my posts, because I haven’t made any. I start thinking about how nice the breeze feels, about how cute my kids’ dimples are, about the smell of the dinner I’m cooking and how blessed I am to have a family to cook for. I start thinking about this moment. I start thinking about God. I start praying.
And in the stillness, my mind composes internal dialogue with the Creator in the space left by the absence of media chatter.