I know that doctors recommend against it. That there are probably white papers proving long-term effects from it. I know it shouldn’t be considered a babysitter. But when you have three kids, the television doesn’t only become a nice must-have, it becomes a necessary tool for survival. All of those things your momma told you to never say never about… well I’ve put my foot in my mouth many times, and one being around TV use at the dinner table.
I grew up eating dinner at the bar table in our kitchen where the small but mighty TV box was nicely perched on a swivel top. While I didn’t always get to pick the station, I did always have my eyes glued to its contents. I turned out just fine if you ask me, but I was determined to limit my kids screen time when I found out I was pregnant with my first. By the time the third rolled around, I made sure we have enough TVs for everyone in the car to enjoy. Like I said, I’m not proud but I am truthful. It’s a very important part of my daily survival technique.
And even if I wanted to test out a night without it, my kids would be sure to let me know. Our house’s open floor plan, while great for entertaining, makes it far too easy for them to constantly be entertained by Peppa Pig or PJ Masks, our family’s current favs. So it surprised me when a recent dinner gathering didn’t resort to the newest episode we could find on DVR, but instead resulted in conversation. Imagine that.
Even though we have a dining room with an elongated table, we always gravitate to our old kitchen table that I inherited from my parents. The small round has fit upwards of 8-9 people squished while our other dining room table remains untouched. And this night was no different. All five of us fit with not only meals but artwork cluttering the space.
As an only child, sometimes my large family overwhelms me, and tonight as each kid tried to talk over the other, I sat back and just watched. It was only then that I realized I never asked the kids what they wanted to watch on TV, and no one called it to my attention either. I opted to let it go and see how long it would last, and boy was I surprised.
I find that today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and texting leaves me being a full-time multitasker every waking hour. I can’t seem to find time to focus on one thing. If I’m cooking, I’m checking Facebook at the same time. If I’m driving, I’m on the phone catching up with a family member. I don’t give myself the opportunity most days to pause and just soak up life. But I did that evening.
I stopped talking and I started watching. The older kids were playing with our youngest, offering up words for him to mimic. Occasionally they would get out of their seats to give him a love pat on the head. They told us about their days in typical kid-like fashion, and we laughed a ton about almost everything.
Just when the conversation lulled and I knew the kids would notice what was missing that evening, my oldest evolved the conversation to something deeper. “Momma, I wish you and daddy were both good drawers,” he told me, which I found comical as I would never consider myself worthy of those accolades. But, here lately he has been begging me each night to draw him a character of his choosing for him to color and collect in his Superman folder.
A sweet compliment it was, and while Cory and I giggled under our breath, I replied, “Well daddy may not like to draw, but he’s great at lots of things, isn’t he?”
And then it started. A game that all family members took an interest in. Eli looked right at his daddy and asked, “Who is the best at putting pictures I color on the door really high?” To which, Cory raised his hand. I did too, but it was obvious that I wasn’t worthy of that praise because Eli followed the next question with, “Who is the best at putting picture on the door medium?” I raised my hand while laughing, knowing that that was his attempt at a short joke.
The game continued. We went down the list multiple times. Who was the best at coloring and dancing? Who was the best at eating dinner and playing with their little brother? As we went around that tightly packed table, I listened closely to each of the kids as they tossed out what they thought was pretty amazing about each person, so that everyone had a chance to raise their hand and get praise. Though the honors may have been silly, the intention was in purest form. Through the mouths of kids, you only get the truth, one-hundred percent. Like it or not.
Even after their bellies were full and we migrated to the living room, they never noticed the television remained off. Again, we united for a little doctor/patient play, Eli being the doctor and all of us being sick patients. He checked eyes and ears. Took our temperatures and checked our reflexes. And when our bunch of sicklys wasn’t enough, he decided to accept new patients, stuffed animal patients that is. Good thing we have an overabundance of them, and Pete the Cat was a willing contender.
It wasn’t until after we played finger puppets and puzzles, even until after baths have commenced that they noticed it was time for the tube, to watch their evening Christmas show, Frosty the Snowman. I cuddled with the older two on the couch, all squished again under my too-tiny of blanket watching a cartoon made in the late 60’s. No one cared about the outdated names or the poor animation. We just tapped our foot and hummed the tune to the iconic diddy. Together.
I typically have my phone connected to my hip, checking my email or something else that is seemingly important at the time. But that night I didn’t have it nearby, and I didn’t even want it. Instead I wanted the kids to scoot even closer and to cherish the hand that was holding mine and the head that was resting on my lap. I wanted to soak up the present.
In the other room we have a slew of them already wrapped and waiting. Presents, that is. Each with a name of a deserving kiddos anxiously waiting to open and explore their contents. We have some for others we love too, although it will be a miracle in our cat doesn’t open them first.
But that one night where I was void of the digital world and not as easy to find, or at least not as quickly, I realized that we could have oodles more under the tree and I wouldn’t get the present that I would want most. I don’t need a new computer or an upgraded iPhone. I don’t need shoes or clothes; what I’ve been wearing the last decade still works and if you hang on to them long enough, I’ve found that they come back in style. And I know that my kids don’t need any of those presents either. We have more toys than we know what to do with.
No, that one night where we were free of outside stimuli, I realized that the best present I could get doesn’t come wrapped in a box or adorned with one of my handmade bows. It comes in the time I spend with those that matter most. It comes in belly laughs and sweet little giggles. It comes in drawing cartoon characters so I can watch my kids color with pride. And in couch cuddles and wink blinks. The best present isn’t one you buy, it’s one you freely give and the one you deeply feel. Giving of your time or your talent. It’s building people up instead of tearing them down. It’s offering a hand to hold or a lap to lay.
This Christmas season, give the best gift you could give another. And I promise you the best present fills you up and much as it does those around you. It won’t break or go out of style. I promise you. And re-gifting is not just okay but encouraged. If you get this present this year, consider yourself among the lucky. Because no Hatchimal can beat this gift. Now that I’ve found it, I can’t wait to ask Santa for it again next year. Because the best present is being present.