When I picked Emilia up from preschool one day last week, we went through the usual end-of-day drill: engaging in long, dramatic goodbyes with friends, gathering her coat and hat, and sifting through her collection of newly produced artwork.
Each day at school results in a gallery's worth of masterpieces. Her favorite medium is a purple marker. Her favorite canvas is anything she won't get in trouble for decorating. But on this particular day, there was one drawing she was really excited to show me. We stood in the doorway as she detailed its various elements.
"This is you and daddy sitting at the table." (I liked that part. Our table had fresh flowers on it. We looked deep in conversation.)
"This is me holding Gracie when she was a baby." (Cue my heart jumping into my throat and the welling of warm tears.)
"And here's the TV."
Ah yes, there it was — large and looming above all of the other goings on in this family snapshot. I complimented her skilled artistry and swooned over the picture for a few minutes longer, because it really was beautiful. But as we proceeded with our evening routine, I couldn't stop thinking about her use of symbolism.
It was obvious. She views the television as our fifth family member.
And if I'm being honest with myself, I understand why.
Our house isn't large, so the TV definitely has a presence. In the mornings before work and school, the girls like to come downstairs and wake up with "Wild Kratts." In the evenings, Lester Holt likes to hang out in our living room and detail the day's events. Sometimes there are more cartoons after that. And on weekends, even more.
We try to keep it at least semi-educational by relegating the girls to PBS and a few Netflix favorites (Grace is currently in love with a Russian cartoon about a bear). But ultimately, the quantity is just as important as the quality, and we could probably stand to step back and re-evaluate the role of television in our lives.
But it’s a challenge.
Because I know that television shouldn’t be a baby sitter, but sometimes, in a pinch — when we are rushing to get ready or just need a moment to sit in priceless parental silence — it makes a pretty decent mother’s helper.
Because the months of January through March are the absolute WORST, and sometimes, in the midst of dark days and freezing evenings, the warm glow of the TV runs second best to a roaring fire.
Because it’s just ... easy. That’s not an excuse, but it’s the truth.
Still, Emilia’s drawing kind of haunts me. My goal for the remainder of winter is to make a more concerted effort to redirect our attention — away from the television and toward activities that bring us together in a more genuine way. Like puzzles, reading, baking or adding more artwork to our extensive collection.
I have the feeling that, especially in during the colder months, television will always be a family member of sorts. But hopefully, we can reduce it to something less essential — a crazy cousin who stops by and entertains us, but never overstays his welcome.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of two young girls – Emilia, 3, and Grace, 1. Originally from St. Louis, she lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.