There was a time in our lives when mornings began with our three sons in front of the television.
They’re up early, always before six, and my husband and I prefer to wake slowly (for the first hour anyway). Turning on the TV resulted in kids sitting quietly while Chad and I sipped coffee and talked to one another about the things we were reading and thinking and planning.
At one point, I questioned the morning TV habit. The kids were always grumpy and whiny when it came time to turn it off and get ready for school or church. It seemed like that hour of television cast a shadow over our mornings.
What would happen, I wondered, if the screen remained black?
What would the boys do?
How would our mornings look? How would they sound?
What else could occupy the space of the first waking hours where, often unnoticed, the sky turns gray-green behind the birches across the pond, then gold, brightening our schoolroom window?
My husband and I discussed the patterns of our mornings and decided to try a change. That night, we announced to the boys that we’d be trying something new the next morning – keeping the TV off.
Of course, the kids protested. There were days, maybe even weeks, of mornings pocked with whining and begging for someone to turn on a show.
My husband and I considered caving – it would be so easy to fire up an episode of Curious George and allow the kids to zone out so we could do the same. But we felt we were on the brink of something potentially good, and we know enough to understand that when we replace a habit or practice, we must pass through some tumult, through an unsettled stretch of searching for a fix (or a replacement), before settling into the new rhythm.
We committed to trusting the process.
The black box remained black.
This morning, nine or so months after our declaration, my sons are at the school table at their own will, coloring pictures for their grandparents in Ohio. I’m in my favorite rocking chair reading Twelve by Twelve, a book I had no idea I was even hungry for. My husband, also having read through the dawn hour, slices potatoes and drops them into a hot cast iron skillet.
“Mom, how do you spell ‘See you soon?'” my five-year-old asks from the table, washable marker in hand, blue spots and smudges on his face and fingers.
I dictate the letters to him, allowing time for his hyper-conscious letter writing.
My youngest notices three strips of light reaching through the front door windows and stretching across the living room. Dust particles hover in the air, illuminated. He waves his hand through one of the shafts, then holds his open fingers in the light, turning his palm again and again.
I wonder what he’s thinking. Does he notice his own opaqueness? The translucency of skin between fingers? Does he, too, find beauty in the white light?
He flops to the floor, rolling onto the warm spot of carpet.
My oldest son rises from the table, walking a circle through the living room, kitchen, and hallway, flying a Lego aircraft he built this morning. He pauses and tells me he has to build something Thanksgiving-related for his Lego group this week. We share some ideas, then his eyebrows raise as he exclaims, “A Mayflower!”
He grabs a piece of white paper from the closet for his “blueprint” and returns to the table.
My coffee cup is empty now, my mind readied for the day.
Across the room from my chair, the quiet black television screen reflects the empty sofa, disorganized throw pillows, a tipped over sippy cup containing the last few drops of pooled orange juice. The bottom corner of the screen is cut on a diagonal by the light, a bright triangular collage of dust, smudges, and variably-sized fingerprints.
“Breakfast!” my husband announces from the kitchen. He serves eggs and potatoes to our family, some of us in pajamas, some in only underwear. We talk about the today, the things we need to do or hope to do in the short hours of autumn daylight. Sort the recycling. Put away the outdoor furniture. Play with a neighbor friend. Walk the dog.
We don’t know exactly what the day will bring, what we’ll accomplish and what will have to wait. We don’t know if we’ll land on that couch together this evening with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in the DVD player and bowls of popcorn on our laps.
I’m not ready to say there’s no place for screens in our household. Honestly, movie nights are some of our best times together.
I’m not saying there’s nothing to learn from television or that it can’t add value to our lives.
I’m just saying there are a whole lot of things that feel right here this morning, from the paper to the sunlight to the perfectly-browned potatoes.
I’m saying the way we’ve done things in the past isn’t the way we have to keep doing them.
I’m saying, ask the questions.
Thanks for visiting me here.
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