I have a fantasy, and it goes something like this: I’d like my family to pile into a DeLorean Time Machine, Back to the Future-style, and head to the early 1980s. And stay there. Forever.
And this isn’t because of smart phones or Fortnight. It’s because I want to take my Apple TV and throw it out the window. I also want to disable my TV’s OnDemand function. Then I’d like to erase my kids’ memories so they forget that they’ve ever had the option of selecting which shows or movies to watch, and when.
Why? Because I’m losing my mind as the de facto IT person and electronics negotiation mediator for my four kids.
Yes, I admit that I started it — a lot of this is my fault. I typically let the kids watch TV when I’m out of steam myself. End of a long day? Sure, turn on the TV! 5:30 am on a Saturday morning? Go for it! But instead of just pressing the “power” button on the TV — giving me precious minutes to check email, pay a few bills, or “sleep in” until 6:00 am — I have to simultaneously put on two hats: That of IT Guy and Negotiator.
First comes the technology snafus: “Mom, you need to enter your Apple ID password!”
“Mom, Netflix isn’t working!”
“Mom, the remote is out of batteries!”
Then, once I’ve put those fires out, I have to deal with my kids’ competing preferences. Finding a show that all four kids — who range in age from 3 to 11 — enjoy is close to impossible. (101 Dalmations, the live-action version with Glenn Close, has been the only movie recently to entertain them all.) But at the least the two littlest kids should be able to agree. I mean, they’re only 17 months apart, right?
As soon as they sit down in front of the TV, their pleasant, easygoing, polite, collaborative demeanors vanish into thin air faster than I can say “Nick Jr.”
“I want Bubble Guppies!”
“No, Magic School Bus!’”
“I don’t want Magic School Bus!! What about PJ Masks?”
I dig my fingernails into the palm of my hand to avoid screaming. Did I mention I’d already run out of steam — hence the TV time?!
Somehow I get the little guys to alternate picks. One gets a pick tonight; the other gets a pick the next night. Miraculously, they agree to defer gratification and accept this plan. But as soon as they agree on the show, they start disagreeing on the episode.
Finally, finally, they agree on the episode, usually with at least one child still wiping their tears away. I click “play” and slump exhausted onto the sofa next to them, throwing the remote on the coffee table in front of me disgusted and watching it suspiciously like it’s a smoking gun.
But then, before I can even finish posting something on Instagram: “MAMA!!!!!! It’s over!”
Just like that, 22 minutes went by. Who came up with this amount of time for a children’s show? What happened to hour-long episodes of Little House on the Prairie? My mom had from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. free every single night! What about the power lineup of Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons and The Golden Girls — sometimes with a little The Facts of Life thrown in? My parents had dinner parties every Saturday night knowing I was occupied.
The expectation of watching what you want, whenever you want, sounds so appealing. And it is appealing — theoretically, at least. Because we forget just how much time, energy, and effort selecting shows can take, especially when you throw multiple kids in the mix. I mean, I should’ve figured, seeing how long it takes my husband and me to select a movie to watch — usually, by the time we’ve scrolled through all the screens and decided on something, I’m asleep.
I miss the way things used to be. The little panel with only 13 buttons. Programming on CBS, NBC or ABC — take your pick! Three choices are about all I can handle as a sleep-deprived mom. All the channels have actually made me stop watching TV — the stress of deciding what to watch makes me happily turn to the book on my bedside table instead.
What’s a modern day mom to do? If I can’t go back to the 1980s, I wish I could at least go back 11 years, to when my oldest kids were born, and tell myself in no uncertain terms: “Never allow on demand entertainment!” Now it’s too late. Captain Barnacles and I have to navigate these rough seas together. (I’d like to take a moment here to thank the captain and the rest of The Octonauts for our comprehensive, arcane knowledge of sea creatures.)
Sometimes I debate taking the TV away altogether — but then I don’t even get those 22 minutes a day to myself. And I do like the kids to decompress sometimes, to just chill and watch TV, without making it seem like all entertainment is cyanide in a flatscreen.
But from now on, I’m only going to allow on demand entertainment one day a week. The rest of the time, they can just watch what’s “on” or nothing at all. Ricky Schroeder, here we come.
I just hope they don’t find where I’ve hidden the iPad.