what happened when we threw out our TV set
You’ve all said: “If only we could just stop watching the thing!” Well, our family tried it— for a month. What happened? Read on . . .
VIVIEN KIMBER TELLS
. . . LAST OCTOBER my husband and I finally worked up enough courage to try an experiment: we took the TV set out of the house for a month, just to see how' (or maybe I should say "if”) we and our five children would get along without it.
Most of our friends were aghast. You’d have thought we proposed to stop eating for a month instead of just moving a piece of furniture. The women in particular said it wouldn’t work, the family would rebel. Actually, Earl and I felt they might be right, but we went ahead anyway. Now after having had time to think about it, we’re very glad we did. We learned more about ourselves, individually and as a family, than I would have believed possible in
such a short time. We got a glimpse ot
how lovely life might be if somehow we could accept that glowing box in the corner as an entertaining servant instead of a demanding boss.
But on the other hand we both came to realize how tough it can be for one family to shed TV while nearby friends and relatives are addicted to it and quite happy that way.
When w'e removed the set on Oct. 13, leaving it with a friend who didn’t own TV, our children didn't believe we actually meant it. They thought we were really taking it there to have the fuzzy sound fixed. But I’m happy to say that when we brought it back on Nov. 13 four-year-old June, our youngest, shouted, "Oh, the TV’s back!”— and immediately rushed out to play. I’m ashamed to admit it was I who finally turned on the set and was most grateful it was back.
What had driven us to take the set out was a series of frustrations. We live in Woodroffe, on the western edge of Ottawa. Earl, my husband, is an appraiser in the customs branch of the Department of National Revenue. It's a pretty good job. and Earl’s been at it ever since he got out of the air force, but w'ith five children and a car to keep up w'e’ve never had much extra money.
But we bought a television set: we thought it would be nice to see our children occasionally. When we enlarged our house in 1955 w'e laid it out so that everybody could have some privacy. Ruthie, the eldest, who is eleven and a perfect little lady, shares the downstairs bedroom wdth Ann, our rowdy third child. Ann can’t wait to smoke so she can scratch matches on her behind the
way the cowboys do. We hope a little of Ruth may rub off on Ann. and perhaps a wee hit vice versa.
Carol and June, our two youngest, share a bunk bedroom upstairs. Nine-year-old David, our only boy, has a room upstairs, as do Earl and I.
We designed every bedroom with separate beds for each child, and two closets— one for clothes and the other for toys. We figured they would enjoy playing in their rooms, and this would leave the living room free as a family room.
But, instead of staying at home and enjoying this new privacy, our children were forever wandering off to w'atch TV at their friends’ homes. So. though we were up to our ears in debt, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that if we wanted to see our brood now and then what we needed was TV.
Well, that TV set certainly kept our wandering offspring at home, in body, that is. In spirit, however, they were wherever the TV set took them. Many a time Earl would come in from work, shout, "Hi, kids!" and have to step over the mob watching TV to get to his chair. Only when the program was over w'ould they turn around and look at him in astonishment and say. "Hello, Daddy! When did you come home?”
David was the worst. He would come in from school and if the set was already on, he’d fed his way out of his coat and into a seat barely arm’s length from the screen. He liked some programs better than others, of course, but he’d watch anything. Violence fascinated him. If he saw a crowd gathered for the unveiling of a monument or the start of a
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What happened when we threw out our TV set continued from page 17
“Ann wouldn’t mind spankings — if TV were on at the same time”
race, his first question would be, “Who got killed?”
Action stories practically hypnotized David. He once sat through The Lone Ranger with a nail sticking up in his shoe, and though it had drawn blood and was painful, he didn’t notice it till the shooting and the shouting were over.
Ann, our tomboy, was almost as bad as David. She’s only eight but she can spot the bad guy in any epic before he even twirls a mustache. Her real forte, however, is stalling. The others can undress and be asleep before Ann unravels one shoelace. Earl or I often get exasperated and bundle her roughly into bed. No sooner are we back in the living room than she will blandly bleat. “I didn’t kiss you good night!" and rush out to do so, treating us to long, toothpasty wet smacks while she gazes past us at the TV screen.
Spanking Ann would be useless. She wouldn’t mind being spanked every night if she could watch TV while we walloped her.
This may sound as if we had no rules at all for TV viewing, but it’s not so. Every morning we’d agree on the last program they could see that night. Usually this would be one ending at eight, but on Wednesday it was 8.30. for Disneyland. On the week end, they could stay up for Jackie Gleason (or his opposite number, Perry Como) and Ed Sullivan, whom they adore. After the last commercial had laded on these shows they would go to bed willingly enough, all except Ann, that is.
But the trouble was, they would watch almost everything up to these programs, half-watching those they didn't quite understand, but always to the detriment of supper, homework, chores, play and other activities. Often I thanked my stars we lived in Ottawa, where programs usually don't start till four. I can imagine what a time parents must have where they can get several channels all day.
1 suppose the obvious thing would have been to shut off the TV from, say, 6.30 to 7.30 or later, and make them
do their playing and homework in peace. But Earl and I like the news and Tabloid, and we thought we needed afterdinner relaxation as well as the children.
Our eldest child, Ruthie, and our two youngest, Carol and June, were not nearly as rabid about TV as David and Ann, but they had their moments. Ruth liked Lassie, Burns and Allen. News Magazine and Ed Sullivan, but her favorite has always been Father Knows Best. She could easily see this when it was on CBOT at 6.30 Sundays, but for a while they switched it to nine on Sunday night. This meant that if Ruthie could stay up to see it all the children could see it too, because you can’t play favorites—even with the eldest—in a family as close together in ages as ours.
“I’m afraid you’ll havt to give up this program,” I told her the firstnight of the new schedule. “Your school work
is getting harder and you need all your rest.”
Ruthie hung her head and said bitterly, “But you promised I could see it.”
“That was before,” I admitted. "I didn’t know they would change the time, did I? Nine-thirty is too late on a night before school.”
She turned, stiffly, and like she always does, rushed into her room and slammed the door. We could hear her sobbing, flinging her clothes and books about and muttering, “It’s not fair, it’s not fair! You can see it and I can’t!” I was happy a few weeks later when CBOT returned Father to his old time at 6.30. and so was Ruthie.
Carol, who is seven now, likes Howdy Doody, Junior Magazine, The Peppermint Prince and most children’s shows, but she can be diverted if anything interesting is going on elsewhere. June is
the same. If there’s much talk, her four-year-old mind wanders. Candy, our black tomcat, will climb on top of the TV and watch quick-moving commercials upside down. But he’s just as happy scaring squirrels.
By last September, then, we'd had the TV set only a year, but it ruled our lives. When the children were watching it they might as well have been wrapped up in cotton wool for all the notice they paid to other things around them—such as their parents.
When Earl and 1 decided on the drastic step of removing the set, we waited till the good winter shows that we both like were under way. This was so it would mean something to us as well as the children, though it was them we wanted to impress. One of the last things I asked them was whether they remembered what it was like before TV. They thought 1 was joking.
'There's always been TV. Mummy!” laughed Carol, and the others nodded. That jolted us. We’d only had the monster a year but to them it was a lifet i me !
David finally recalled listening to Boston Blackie on radio. He also remembered Rawhide. Ann thought of Aunt Lucy and Folk Songs for Young Folk. Ruth surprised me most. She vaguely remembered some radio programs when I mentioned them, but on her own couldn’t think of one. Our children had stopped listening to radio entirely since the advent of TV.
Massacre in Woodroffe
We chose Saturday, October 13. to remove the TV, so the children could see it going. Carol and June went along for the ride to Rosemary Wallace's, where we were leaving it, but the others were playing and couldn’t have cared less.
1 put the radio and the children's record player on the empty TV table. I had to dust the records. When I turned on the radio it was weak. I felt a little panicky till I noticed the aerial had fallen down. It came on louder when I strung it up again.
When Earl came back I told him of my moment of panic at being totally cut off from civilization. He snickered horribly and said, ‘‘The only thing that would cause a real panic among you gossipy old women would be to cut off the phone for a month, or even a day.”-
Twice during the afternoon Ann came in to look at Cowboy Corner, but went out to play again quite happily when she saw the set was gone. They all trooped in, had their supper, read the comics, bathed and went to bed without a murmur. They were tired from playing, of course, but surely it wasn't going to be all this easy!
Earl and I spent that first evening mapping out what promised to be an exciting vacation at home. Earl had that undersea book of Cousteau’s to read, and he also wanted to get our 1952 Vanguard in shape for the sports-car fall rally two weeks later. He has dozens of trophies for sports-car trials, and is past president of the Motorsport Club of Ottawa.
I had a much more imposing list of Things to Do: shampoo the chesterfield, get Ruthie started practicing the piano again, clean out the medicine cabinet, make myself a suit and dress, write the Christmas cards and letters, and sort out five boxes of papers. That would do for a start. I could add more later. I also started keeping a diary, which I happily headed: “Our Month Without TV or Massacre in Woodroffe.”
Sunday was almost a repeat of Saturday. Normally the children would have
been in for Junior Magazine at two, outside from three to 3.30 when What's My Line came on, or perhaps if it was fine, play right through till 4.30 when Lassie came on. Then they'd come in for the night. Today they played out till six, and came in for a good supper, homework and bed without a peep. But I had the feeling they thought the set would be back by Monday, so weren't complaining.
On Monday night I saw David look for the set, but he didn’t say anything. He was sulky at supper, even though it was
his favorite, meat balls and spaghetti. Luckily, it was his night for Cubs, the only thing that ordinarily could tear him away from TV. and he left at 6.30. Ruth and Arm did homework together, and Carol and June played records. At eight Earl came into the kitchen and said. "Do you know you've been singing?” 1 replied that 1 gave a concert every night, but he’d always been so busy ogling the Tabloid cutíes he'd never noticed before.
On Tuesday, Ruth was across at the Frasers’ where her best friend Martha
lives. Martha wanted to watch Let's Go to the Museum and Captain Gallant, so Ruth stayed, but left in the middle of Captain Gallant to come home and practice the piano without even being told. Ann joined her on the piano bench. Earl looked at me as if to say. "What next?”
David brought his Meccano set downstairs and played with it till bedtime. apparently unconcerned.
When they were asleep, 1 turned on the radio and listened to Leicester Square to Old Broadway. 1 hated to hear it end. Earl was hacking away at
something in the cellar, and it seemed as if I should start a book or get out the pattern for my suit. But somehow I couldn’t get started.
“What do you really want to do?” I asked myself. I was ashamed at my answer: 1 wanted to go next door and
1 checked the paper and it said The Lost World of the Kalahari was on. It didn’t give details, but I was sure it would be good. I was on the point of calling mother to come over for coffee, knowing she’d invite me over there in-
stead and save my face, when two friends of Earl’s came in—Doug Turner and Stuart Lyle—and the three of them started their unending talk on cars, cameras and hi-fi. For once I listened almost eagerly.
On Wednesday, the seventeenth, June and Carol came tearing in to see Rin Tin Tin. but turned cheerfully back to play when they saw the empty corner. David came in late and the way he ate his supper made me uneasy. At seven, while I was in the kitchen. I heard the front door opening, and without know-
ing definitely 1 called, “David, where are you going?” There was no answer, so I hurried out and eaught up with him. He mumbled something about going somewhere to see Disneyland. I said he was not going anywhere else that night and to get out his American Logs if he had his homework done.
Suddenly, David blew up. He stamped his foot and flailed out at me till 1 stopped him with a whack. Then he ran upstairs and sobbed there till he fell asleep.
After this outburst things went much
better. On Friday, David actually got his own back. He was playing outside and getting very wild. He's like that, going at everything as if his life depended on it. Feeling he might hurt himself, I called and said Ed phone Nana (my mother) and see if he could go there and watch Roy Rogers. He was halfway up our tree by this time, and he hung on precariously with one hand while he said, very slowly, “I don’t want to watch Roy Rogers. I’d rather play outside since we don’t have TV.”
He didn’t even crack a smile as he said it, but 1 could almost hear him mutter, “Mark one up for the good guys.” Sunday was Ruth’s eleventh birthday, so we had her party on Saturday. She invited eight girls and they had a hilarious time playing charades, which they’d seen played on Fun Time, with Frank Heron. They were remarkably quick at guessing. Of course, most of the characters were easily recognized TV people —Ed Sullivan. Clarabell, Jackie Gleason and Cousin Elmer. But Earl and I were baffled on Twinkle. Twinkle. Little Star and Three Men in a Tub, though the kids got them. TV had sharpened their wits, or something had.
The next (lay, Sunday, was the most gorgeous day we ever spent. The children were away at mother’s cottage near Carleton Place all day, and Earl and I just loafed. Even years ago when Earl would get a forty-eight-hour pass from the air force and want to spend it just sleeping, we never had it so good. Maybe because then we were blissfully ignorant of how complicated life could get with five children and TV. Radio was never that much of a strain.
Who needs television?
When the children came home at five we had a wonderful, gay, giddy supper in the dining room, with no sense of urgency to see anything on TV. At 8.30 we got a call from friends we hadn’t seen in months. “Is it true you’ve abolished your infernal machine?” they asked. When I cautiously admitted it was, they said they’d be right over. They came and we talked till long past midnight, something we haven’t enjoyed in a long time. When we were finally in bed. Earl said he didn’t care if the TV set never came back.
The following week, things got even better. Here are some notes from my diary:
Monday, Oct. 22—I played the piano and we all sang. Later, Ruthie read aloud two of the books she’d got for her birthday, Robin Hood, and Bunny Brown and His Sister. She said this Robin Hood wasn't anything like the one on TV. She didn’t say which was better.
Wednesday, Oct. 24—David asked if he could see Disneyland, but when I said no he cheerfully went down the cellar and wrapped papers for the Cubs’ paper drive.
Thursday, Oct. 25—All well. Kids seem to have forgotten TV. Heard some heavenly Chopin on CKOY. (On this night, probably because nothing had happened, I added a random thought: Kids now going to bath-
room when they feel like it, not waiting for commercial or station break. Possibility world raising generation with kidney trouble called Teeveeitis?)
Friday, Oct. 26—Went over to the Frasers’ to see Jack Kash on Graphic, having met him at Children’s Concerts. Enjoyed it. Felt like staying for feature film but since kids home alone our consciences wouldn’t stretch that far.
Saturday, Oct. 27—Children played out all day. Dinner early. Left brood with sitter while we went on car-club masquerade. Random note: Hard to get sitter if you don’t have TV. First thing regular sitters asked, incredulously, was, “Is it true you’ve lost your TV set?” Finally had to get father to stay, though this meant kids would wreck house.
Sunday, Oct. 28—Two weeks sans TV and how nice! Random note: It had to happen and did. June was listening to Just Mary on the radio when she suddenly piped up, “Why can’t we see who is talking?”
On Tuesday I called up Rosemary, the friend who was keeping our TV set, and asked how she liked it. She said she liked it but her sixteen-year-old daughter Pamela detested it most of the time because she couldn’t play her records or talk for hours on the phone while it was on. She said Pam claimed most teenage girls feel this way. I wonder if this is so?
Wednesday was Hallowe’en and 1 wrote in my diary:
The Frasers are away for a few days, and we're keeping Martha, eleven, and Simon, four, with us. Kids very excited about their Hallowe’en costumes. June brought back three baskets of loot and was raring to go for more but I stopped her. Ruth and Martha came in very disgusted because the other neighborhood kids had gone home to watch Disneyland on TV af 7.30. I felt sad for them because Hallowe'en used to be so much fun for me, and if this keeps up it could disappear altogether.
On Thursday the rosy goodness of living aloof from TV began to fade a little. Earl stayed in bed with a cold all day, and at night, after the kids had gone noisily to bed, we played cards and listened to the radio, but couldn’t find much to interest us. Seemed to me there used to be more plays before, but now most of them arc on TV. It came to me that I hadn't even started attending to any of the odd jobs on my list. It was too late to do anything that night, but I resolved to get started next evening.
On Friday, which the children would have looked forward to because of Bob Cummings and The Plouffc Family, they went to bed quite happily after dancing to their Frank Luther records. Earl was still home with his cold and he was a little irritable. We looked at each other and wondered who would say it first.
“All right,” said Earl, finally, “I admit it. I miss the darn TV, if only for the news.”
It was true. What an awful time we'd chosen to remove the set—Poland revolting, uprising in Hungary, wild goingson in Suez, mine disaster at Springhill, N.S.—dozens of big stories happening at once, and here we were with no way of keeping up. Oh, the newspapers and radio were giving marvelous coverage, but I never realized how much we missed seeing the people and places they were talking about.
Two of Earl’s car-club friends came
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in, saying they'd heard he was sick, but they left early because they said Earl seemed tired. Actually, he admitted later, he’d finally got fed up talking cars. Imagine!
On Saturday, the kids played out all day. Some of their friends went home to see Cowboy Corner but ours didn’t go with them. Even our little visitor Martha Fraser didn't seem to miss it, and she's usually as bad as David. The supreme irony, however, hit us about 7.30 when 1 heard Carol say, upstairs, “Let’s go downstairs and play Snap." To which
Ann replied, “Naw. let's play here. Daddy and Mummy want to listen to the radio.”
On Tuesday I went to a PTA meeting. Miss Grierson, Ruthie's teacher, said she didn’t think lack of TV would unduly bother Ruthie because she had "inner resources.” Miss Hodder, David’s teacher, however, said that David had been nervous lately and she’d wondered why. 1 replied that I thought one boy in a family of girls has a tough time of it.
"Maybe TV is David's relaxation,” said Miss Hodder. I'd never thought of
it that way before, but it sounded reasonable. David certainly does relax, if you count shouting names at the villains and shedding tears when anyone raises a voice to Lassie.
Miss Hodder said that several boys David’s age were allowed to see the late movie, and often fell asleep in class next day. And I’d worried about Ruthie staying up till 9.30 for Father Knows Best!
My diary entry for Wednesday, Nov. 7, reads:
Earl's sister-in-law Eunice was here
“We matured that TV-less month. Now we can’t kid ourselves we bought the set just for the children”
for supper. At seven her parents came in from the farm, where they have no electricity, and were so obviously disappointed at us having no TV that Eunice took them to her place to watch it. TV is wonderful for most elderly people. Earl’s grandfather, however, is ninety and he says he “can't abide it.”
The last few days of our month dragged on interminably. The children's talk was as much about their Frank Luther records or Viewmastcr slides as it was of TV. They saw some of this when other children did, but didn't seem to go out of their way to do so. David had got interested in radio’s Boston Blackie again.
On Saturday, when I vacuumed the living room, I picked up very few food crumbs but many odds and ends of toys. That night the kids almost drove us crazy with their racket. Sunday was restful again, but not as good as it had been.
On Monday, Nov. 12, Ruthic mentioned that Jack and the Beanstalk was on TV that night. She only said it casually but it started me wondering: Should I call up Rosemary and get our set back today? After all, the month was up. wasn’t it? If we waited till the thirteenth, wouldn't that be a month and a day? I never was any good at arithmetic. Then I thought: "Good night! Here I am actually counting the days! Has it come to this?”
I was so relieved when mother invited us over for dinner, and we all enjoyed Jack and the Beanstalk.
Tuesday night, when the set did come back, the first snow was a far greater attraction. I turned the set on, just to make sure it was working, and Ruth and I watched Dragnet, till I realized it was past nine and bundled her off to bed. I left the set on and watched Pick the Stars till ten when another part of The Lost World of the Kalahari came on. Without even waiting to see what it was about—this program I’d wanted so desperately to see a month before—I shut the set off and sat down to read a magazine.
Earl came up from the cellar a few minutes later. He looked at me in surprise and said, “I thought sure you'd be watching TV.”
"No, I shut it off." I said, carelessly. Why did I feel so smug and virtuous about it?
The rest of the week, till we got it fixed, the set was acting up. It would go for tin hour, then go haywire. If there was anything we really wanted to see we shut it off till then. The children didn't seem to mind at all. As far as I could tell, they had got out of the habit of having to have it.
All this happened last fall, but its results are still with us. I’d say we all matured that month, Earl and I. as well as the children. Never again will we try to kid ourselves that we bought the TV set just for the children. We wanted it just as badly. And never again will I believe that television has killed good talk. We had all the time for it, but I only recall one good session of conversation during the whole month. What does
kill good conversation is narrowing down your interests so there is only one topic you can talk about intelligently—as Earl admitted when he finally got fed up talking about cars.
The children are back to TV, of course, but they’re not quite as avid as before. Now when we agree on the last program, it is not unusual for one of them to switch off the set when it’s over. So far, Ann hasn’t, but she’s improving. She only gets that terribly parched throat or passionate desire to smooch with her daddy two or three nights a week now, instead of every night.
Does TV help parents?
Actually, now we shut off the set altogether between six and 7.30 to give the kids a break on their supper and homework, even though we miss the news and Tabloid. We sec the late news at II, as a rule. What I’d like to see is the networks themselves close down from six to 7.30 and take sonic of the burden off the parents.
We’ve come to some other conclusions about TV since we've had it back:
First, children learn a lot from it. Ours know very little about the Hungarian and Suez problems except what they’ve been told in school, but they’re pretty bright on events that have happened since our TV set came back.
Second, it's a tossup which is worse: kids sitting quietly watching TV before bedtime or in wild noisy play. Our doctor seems to think the TV is worse, but I'm not so sure.
Third, for a mother of a family, TV
is more of a welcome change than a rest. So long as nothing faced me but shampooing the chesterfield or making clothes, these seemed like dreary extensions of the day’s chores. Actually, I didn’t get any of the things done I’d planned. Now I find I get them done either while a show is on or while waiting for one I like. I managed to get the medicine chest cleaned out during I I.ove Lucy and the Denny Vaughan Show last Monday, without missing anything but the occasional facial expression on the characters.
Fourth, I think TV is a wonderful peacemaker in a family—at least in places like Ottawa where there is only one channel. Watching a show and commenting on the actors seems to ease the small tensions between Earl and me. Both of us remember how irritable we were with each other those last few days without TV.
Mainly, we are very happy and proud that our children proved they had “inner resources,” and were able to amuse themselves. They could have easily gone looking for places to see TV. as they'd done before, and probably would have if we’d done without the set much longer.
Just the other day the children saw a neighbor's set being taken out for repairs. They came running in and Carol shrilled. “Mummy, are we gonna take our TV out again, too?”
When I said no, I couldn't tell whether they were disappointed or pleased, but I know how I felt about the idea of taking it out again: I winced, ever so slightly. ★