I was 5 when I got my own TV set. Maybe I was 4. I could watch
whatever I wanted. There weren't that many stations back then, so there
was little worry that I would be corrupted by Fox News or some other
I loved my TV set. For nearly 10
years, I was an only child; but what I lacked in siblings I made up for
in fictional friends: Kermit, Danger Mouse, Jack Tripper, and my first
crush, Fonzie. All of these friends lived in the warm, glowing innards
of my constant, reliable roommate. It was a happy childhood.
So why, my mother wants to know, am I denying my own child the same joy?
my son was born, I horrified Mom by declaring two things: That I would
nurse, and that Zev could not watch TV until he was 2. I was giving him
the boob, but not the boob tube. Mom was outraged.
Kids need TV, she told me. How was he going to learn anything?
found the argument curious, since my mom had been a teacher for more
than 30 years, but I decided not to debate her. Kids under 2 learn by
doing, hearing, touching – and, of course, by sticking things in their
mouths. Grandparents learn by seeing.
I figured she'd
see what an engaged and intellectually curious baby he'd turn out to
be, and she'd drop her TV demands before the first year was through.
I smiled patiently during the early arguments: Zev
would be the only kid in preschool who didn't know Elmo. How will he
learn to talk? "Baby Einstein" teaches the kids classical music.
showed off Zev's first Elmo doll, pointed out his remarkable mastery of
language and bragged about the always-running iPod in the baby's room
programmed with everything from classical to rap (He has shown a
preference for Tchaikovsky over Mozart and Busdriver over the Beastie
Boys – beat that, Einstein.).
This failed to move Mom,
who believed I was somehow doing injury to my son by denying him the
joys of "The Wiggles." She'd call to tell me about all the fabulous
children's programming her friends' grandkids were consuming. Why, oh
why, couldn't Zev join in the fun?
She went so far as to suggest – based on something she'd seen on "The Tonight Show"– that if I exposed Zev to the "Baby Einstein" video series, he'd become an instant music prodigy.
even said I was likely damaging Zev's attention span. When he finally
does get to watch TV, she said, he won't have the discipline to sit
still for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and reap the full benefits of
those cathode rays.
I'm sure at first Mom thought I'd
break. That I'd see how difficult it is to raise a child without
television, and I'd cave to the reassuring baby-sitting abilities of
Barney. When I didn't, she called me "too strict," and warned me that
my son was going to rebel one day. I tried to picture what this would
look like. He'd spend his 20s binging on "Max Headroom" reruns? Marry a
Philo Farnsworth descendant? Run a network?
never know. Last week we introduced Zev to television – one month to
the day before his second birthday (See, Mom? I'm not strict.). Hubby
and I TiVo'd a few episodes of "Sesame Street" and sat down to watch
one with him. Perhaps you've seen it? It was brought to you by the
letter "V" and by the number 16.
Zev took to TV with
aplomb. He confused Grover with Cookie Monster – a common rookie
mistake – but other than that, my mom's worries have proven unfounded.
Even with a two-year delay, Zev managed to laugh at everything Elmo
did. He looked deeply concerned for Telly Monster when Telly expressed
trepidation about trying a square-shaped sandwich. He even counted
along with The Count.
His gaze didn't wander, and his comprehension of the various story lines didn't falter. Zev didn't just watch TV, damn it, he understood it.
And when the final credits were running, Zev said something that I'm
sure I'll hear time and again. Something that will make my mom proud.
After we turned the TV off, Zev pointed to the screen, and like every
normal television-watching toddler everywhere, he demanded: More show.