Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Watching the watchers

We're not one of those families that outlaws television. Are you NUTS? Parents who do not sometimes need to tie small children in front of the TV to get a few moments blessed peace are made of stronger stock than I. We try not to let it interfere with homework time and meal time, but sometimes TV-watching is our family time. And I won't apologize for that. Though I will be defensive about it.

My kids' taste in programs often skews too young; they'll both be happy, at ages 7 and 10, to watch the little-kid cartoons on Nick Jr. My 10-year-old daughter watches Zoom, which is somewhat age appropriate, but also watches DragonTales, which is somewhat not. Happily, though, she seems to have lost her interest in Barney.

My son does enjoy the evening Nicktoons, and my daughter does watch the horrible Nickelodeon variety and comedy shows as well as the way-earnest Disney channel dramas. But each of them is starting to make non-kid-oriented choices in their viewing, and I wonder if it says something about their future tastes and directions in life.

My son, for example, will sit rapt in front of the Food Network. For him to sit rapt in front of anything is a small miracle, since he is a boy who needs to move. But to watch him watch, say, Martha Stewart make pancakes with such unwavering attention makes me wonder if we have a budding chef on our hands. He does like helping his Papa in the kitchen. He does have the play stove that originally belonged to his sister in his room now. I've always felt he would have to find some creative way to be in the world because the normal ways would not contain him; I suppose cooking is creative. I can see it now, 20 or so years down the road: "The Hyper Chef!"

My daughter's TV tastes, on the other hand, are more spiritual. Her channel of choice: the PAX network. Hardly a night goes by when she doesn't finish her dinner quick so she can go watch "It's a Miracle" with Richard Thomas. It's a show with all the cheesy hallmarks of reality TV--cheesy reenactments, fervent descriptions by the real-life participants. But in this case, the stories aren't about crimes and mysteries but about miracles, ordinary and extra-. The woman who found her long-lost friend in a diner after car trouble stranded her there. The man who saved people from a car crash at the very spot where he earlier crashed. The people who by sheer coincidence were in the right spot to save a drowning boy. The adoptive mother who fell in love with an ailing baby while somehow not noticing the daunting array of machinery surrounding him. The planeload of passengers who should never have survived an airline disaster.

Pretty predictable stuff, all of it. Not profound, really, and yet it does bring a tear to your eye. Even as I realize that just about any story that involved any degree of coincidence could become a miracle just by editing and Thomas's gentle urging, I do believe there is a higher force guiding us. And while it's hard to believe that He has enough time to guide not only the humans on "It's a Miracle" but the animals on "Miracle Pets," it's nice to think so. I mean, how else could that blind dog have saved that rip-tide-caught teen swimmer?

My daughter loves this stuff, though how much she really understands is debatable. She's something of a miracle herself, my girl. They thought she was going to die! She languished in an orphanage for nearly five years! A New Jersey couple who never wanted to adopt overseas was mysteriously led to look at her referral! Authorities in Russia delayed, but this family was meant to be! Tests shows her to be severely delayed in language; would she ever be able to function in her new land? They said a regular-ed classroom would destroy her, but she's thriving now in 3rd grade!

That is, if she doesn't waste too much time watching TV.

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