Screens have always played a bittersweet role in my life. Growing up, I watched movies and TV shows quite often. As lame as it sounds, growing up alone (my brother and sister moved out when I was very young), the characters in movies and TV shows were the ones who kept me company. Looking back, it was probably an addiction. I remember coming home in middle school and high school with loads of homework, but not able to even start it before 10 PM, because I had to catch up on all my shows. And back then, you had to watch the shows when they aired on TV, or else, you had to hope that one day there would be a rerun. Or if you were super prepared, you could record it on a VHS tape and watch it later. I also remember a particular slumber party I had with a friend where we literally went to blockbuster (old school, right?), rented like 10 movies and stayed up all night on the couch eating the most random things and watching movie after movie. I get that movie marathons are a thing, and when I’m sick, it’s the best distraction, but all I remember from that experience was feeling so drained and like my soul had literally been sucked out of me.
When I got older, and my friend group leaned more on the religious side, I even tried to stop watching movies and TV altogether. I think I even remember competitions in school where you’d win prizes if you didn’t watch TV or movies for a certain period of time. I was getting all these messages that Hollywood was dirty and bad and it contaminated your soul. I can’t say I don’t agree to an extent. I went through different points in my life where I would fluctuate and try hard to stay away, but I always ended up coming back to it.
The first time I was forced to take a break from it in a real way, was summer camp before tenth grade and when I went to seminary in Israel for a couple years. Before then, television was a part of my daily routine: breakfast and dinner were always in front of the screen. Looking back, I think my parents were just the nicest parents in the world and they often told me that one of their favorite things was to hear me laugh; and I would frequently do so in front of the television. They truly just liked it that I was happy. When I went to camp, I remember trying to find different ways to fill my time. The girls at that camp weren’t exactly my scene (a different story for a different time), so I ended up spending most of my time writing letters to my friends and family back home. When I went to seminary, besides for when I visited my grandparents, I didn’t have too much access either, thus, I was forced to figure out life without the screen. And so I replaced one distraction for another. My latest obsession, you might ask? If you guessed music, you’d be correct. In seminary, I was infamous for having earphones in my ears more than not. In my last (super rambly) post, I mentioned a little bit about music. I think almost everyone has their own unique connection to it. I’m not sure, however, that everyone has the kind of connection I had to TV and movies.
All I can say, is that I am so grateful for my time away from the screen. I went to college in New York after seminary and, though I didn’t have a television, movies on the internet were way more accessible then. So while I can’t say that I didn’t watch TV then (because I definitely did), it was the first time I really felt in control of the frequency with which I was watching. And it was amazing. After I got married, Dovid and I started watching shows together (like How I Met Your Mother, etc) and it was definitely a bonding experience for us. But it also took up a whole bunch of my time. Besides for all the bad messages that the media tends to spread these days, the time sucking component is just the worst. I know I’ve talked about this before in my eulogy post, but at the end of my life, I’m not going to care how many movies I’ve watched, or shows I’ve seen; I’m going to care about the differences I made and the actions I took to make myself a better person and the world a better place.
I am far from perfect now, but I am proud to say I no longer have any subscription to cable TV or Netflix, and I am currently not avidly watching any shows on TV. I will, however, watch a movie every week at the most and once a month at the least. (Ironically, I’m thinking of doing a post on the top ten movies I’ve seen lately.) The only exception to that is when I’m sick (like right now for instance, which is what brought up this topic for me). And I wish I could say that I’m at this point because I’m filling my life with all these incredible things. But the truth is, I’m still a big music junkie, and my phone, social media, and YouTube are the latest distractions in my life. But for some reason, it still feels really good that it’s not TV and movies anymore.
If I take a real good look at myself, though, I’m restarting the cycle with my son. This is where the guilt hits real hard. Matis’s rambunctiousness and highly spirited demeanor is exhausting a lot of the time, and though I love him to pieces, I need a break quite often, and the easiest thing to do is turn on a show, a movie, or let him play games on my phone. We started using the TV when he was a little less than two, I believe, (or maybe even earlier) and we pretty much had control of what he was watching, because back then, he wasn’t smart enough to operate a remote control or a computer mouse. But as he grew older, he started to figure things out for himself, (as most new generations are prone to do) and he started watching things on YouTube that looked innocent enough at first, but after watching for a bit, it was clear that these shows were not what I had in mind for my young and impressionable son. I kept trying to prevent this from happening, but it usually happened at 5:30 in the morning when he was definitely not going back sleep and I’d just hand him the computer or iPad and let him choose the show he wanted on the YouTube app. I am not proud of this, and I justified it about a million ways. But I think my biggest justification was that I grew up watching cartoons that weren’t exactly the best, and I turned out okay, so why shouldn’t he? But after some time, it soon became apparent that Matis is a human sponge, and is greatly influenced by everything in his environment, especially television. So I finally put my foot down. He no longer watches anything without supervision and PBS kids (as they’re pretty much the only ones I trust to make quality children’s’ programming). I think part of me remembered being a kid and thinking how unfair it was that my parents monitored what I could and could not watch. I thought to myself, I’m gonna be “cool” and let him experience it all and be more worldly that way. Looking back, that was beyond foolish and I’m grateful that, even though it took some time, I have finally realized it, and made changes accordingly. I don’t know if I will ever be the mom who “limits screen time” or takes it away altogether. For now, it doesn’t seem to be a possibility. My top priority currently is making sure that if Matis is being put in front of the screen, it’s educational and adding something to his life. My personal favorite show out now for the littles? Daniel Tiger. By far. I know I’m probably the thousandth mom to tell you this, but emotional intelligence is invaluable to anyone, special needs or not, and I’m so thankful to Mr. Rogers for setting that foundation in place, so that my son could reap the benefits in this fantastic spin off show.
I know we all have our weaknesses and I’m not sure life is about completely overcoming them. That’s what former (extremist) Nehama would have thought. I’m trying to be more level-headed in my approach to things, and now I view life as an opportunity to improve. Any improvement, no matter how small is significant. And it should not be compared to others, only to the person you were yesterday. Wishing you all lots of success on this sometimes (read: oftentimes) difficult journey. And remember, life isn’t a straight line escalating higher and higher on a graph; it’s a series of ups and downs. If we can notice an overall trend going upwards, however, I think then we have truly won the game.
P.S. Check out my Instagram @girlbehindtheglasses26 in the upcoming days for this week’s music #mood.