Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TV's talking heads

Last night, I could not watch The Amazing Race in peace.

There I was, parked in front of the telly, watching a huge rat sniff out something buried in the ground (landmines??) in Mozambique, and wondering if the rat would do us all a favour and take a chomp out of Mirna, when my ears perked up.

An interesting conversation was going on, literally, behind my back. The MIL and KH were seated on the sofa behind me and the conversation went like this:

MIL: "Why don't you buy a tv and put it in the back room?" (The back room happens to be Lolita's room and the MIL shares it with her when she comes to stay. And for the record, the MIL comes to stay with us for one week out of a month. Sometimes she may not even come for several months - ah bliss!) She continues: "I never get to watch the shows I want. The children keep wanting to watch their cartoons - everyday from 4.30 to 6.30pm!"

I was indignant but I kept quiet. I knew that any outburst from me would swing KH over to the MIL - out of sheer clannishness. So I chomped at the bit and shut up, mentally telling KH to please please please don't say yes for goodness sake! He knows what our stand has always been on tv usage in the house, I just gotta trust him to come through and not cave in to the pressure.

Long silence. I could feel KH hemming and hawing. Then KH finally said: "The kids finish watching at 6pm. You could watch then..."

Hah! I was tempted to say that if anyone thinks they can pry Owain away from Yugioh at 6pm, they can think again unless they want a major tantrum on their hands! But I kept my mouth shut and my eyes conscientiously glued to the screen.

MIL protested: "But my shows are over by then! Why don't you just put another tv in the room so I can watch the shows I want."

KH tried: "But the room does not have a TV connection to the antenna." (I know he's dodging hard!)

MIL persisted: "You could get someone to come in and run the wire. It's not difficult!"

Long silence again.

MIL, sounding aggrieved: "I'll buy the television myself! You don't have to buy it."

KH waffled: "It's not that... er, it's just that... we don't want the kids to watch too much tv."

This key issue really is that we don't want a situation when a tv in every room means that every kid will just go into their room, slam the door and watch telly. God knows what they'd watch. And the worse thing is, we will not talk much as a family anymore. With one tv, KH and I have better control over how much tv time the kids have, what they watch etc. That's why we don't even have cable! And more often than not, the tv is off. I love it that my kids still ask me politely if they can watch tv. Its never taken for granted that they can. They know what we think about tv and they know they need to ask before they even switch it on.

This is the same reason why we only have ONE computer in the house and also why my kids look longingly at their cousins' expensive Playstations, X-boxes, Nintendo hand-helds etc. We don't believe that these items have any value for our children. They just promote self-absorption, addiction that results in hours goggling and toggling away at a screen instead of family interaction, conversation, books, creative play etc. That's why KH and I have made it a point never to buy these for them.

MIL crowed: "Your brother has FOUR televisions in the house! Every room has one!"

Now why is that something to be proud of? I so deeply badly wanted to jump up and retort here: "Well jolly good for them! That's why you're staying with THEM and NOT us!" But again, with superhuman will, I kept quiet and kept watching The Amazing Race, distractedly wondering who in their right mind would let a harpy like Mirna paint their nails??

KH said shortly: "That's them."

MIL, sounding miffed: "I don't see the problem in getting a tv for the room."

KH, getting up from the sofa and escaping upstairs: "Well here we have only one tv. And that will be in the living room. Anyone who wants to watch tv will just have to watch here!"

I cheered silently. Finally! Hooray!!

But that did not stop me from fuming. First: what gives with conducting a conversation about introducing a tv set into my house in front of me, but not including me, as if I was invisible! Hello, this does happen to be my house too! Second: the idea of these extended 'visits' was because she wanted to see/bond with the grandkids etc. But more often than not, she just parks herself in front of the tv and watches untils her eyes glaze over and she nods off. So much for bonding. And now she wants to have her own tv!!

It's like the movie Jaws you know. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

When KH said he was asking the MIL to come over, I figured: OK, it's been many months. I felt generous for a change and actually for once, was not resentful about this. But she hasn't been one day in my house when this thing about the tv comes up. It just reinforces every single negative impression I have.

After that conversation, the Amazing Race ended and Uchenna and Joyce were not eliminated after all. I wanted to watch the News at 9.30. But then my dear husband hissed: hey, the show is over! Pass the remote to mum!

Lucky for him, I was feeling benevolent. I passed it over and the MIL said: Oh so you've finished watching your show already eh?

I smile sweetly and say yes.

This morning, as we talked about it, the man had the nerve to tell me that he would never think of asking me to give up watching something just so his mother could watch tv. Whereupon I reminded him of his lovely stage whisper to me the previous night to give up the remote! He denied it of course - I swear the man has convenient short-term memory loss.

At the end of our conversation, I said: Just please don't let me find your sisters on my doorstep one day with a tv for your mother okay?

Because I would not put it past the SILs, to go ahead, buy the tv for her and bring it over! Fait accompli.

But KH said loftily: Oh they wouldn't do that to me. They'd talk to me about it first I'm sure.

All I can say is, he'd better be right. Or the Salvation Army would be a getting a brand new tv set courtesy of my ILs, personally delivered by me.

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