Square eyes

I once read that, when you don’t have cable, a vacation is going anywhere that does. Certainly, that’s the way Rowan must have seen our trip to British Columbia. Ask him what he did, and instead of talking about — among other things — puddle-jumping through old-growth forests, visiting an animal-rescue centre, digging in the sand at Jericho Beach, seeing his two great-grandmothers (as well as two grandmothers and a grandfather), or navigating the kids’ market and model train museum at Granville Market, he will tell you he ate ice cream and watched TV.

For this, we flew on two airplanes across three time zones and got up at 4:30 a.m. each day with Isaac, who never adjusted to the time.

But then again, this is the same child who told me that his favourite thing about yesterday morning’s brunch at a diner with his beloved godmothers, Judy and Jill, was getting his toenails cut before we left the house.

And it’s not just Rowan. Jill says that she used to bust her ass thinking of fun things to do —mini golf! tubing down the river! hikes! swimming! — when her nephew used to visit them each summer, and then when he spoke to his parents on the phone to tell them how he was doing, all he would say was, “Yeah, we had pizza for dinner.”

But I digress from the boob tube. Each morning, Rowan woke up, bounced out of bed, and asked, “Can I watch TV?” Each morning, we debated the pros and cons of letting him watch the idiot box. The pros: he was quiet and happy, and stayed occupied and out of trouble while we got ready each day.

The cons? Well, first, Rowan began talking like Max from the world’s most annoying kids’ television show, Max and Ruby (or Ruby and Max, I forget which way it goes), in which Max, the younger of two rabbit siblings seemingly abandoned by their parents, monosyllabically torments his well-meaning but condescending and prissy older sister, Ruby. For a week now, Rowan has reverted from full sentences to one-word utterances: “Cookie!” “ Rabbit!” “Poop!” “TV!”

Second is I can’t get the theme song from Wonder Pets of my head. For weeks, I have been tormented by Winnie the guinea pig announcing, rock-opera-style, in my head: “The phone! The phone is ringing! There’s an animal in trouble somewhere!”

But the biggest drawback to letting Rowan watch TV — staying out of all the sanctimonious arguments as to whether television is good or bad for children — was that any time the set wasn’t on, he whined and wheedled for more. He was relentless in the way only a three-and-a-half-year-old television addict can be: “TV now? Now can I watch TV? Can I now? Why not? Now?” He quickly figured out the remote as well as the buttons directly on the machine. We finally resorted to unplugging it, and weathering the storm of tears and wailing that followed.

More than anything else about coming home — besides not getting up at 4:30 — I am grateful that we don’t have cable here. Because if we had to fight with Rowan each day over whether he could watch TV, we’d lose, going crazy in the meantime. (And, Rachel adds, we’d get divorced.)

I realize that our lack of cable makes me just more fodder for Stuff White People Like, but I’m okay with that. Before we had children, we had Rachel’s grandfather’s old TV, but no cable, on which, geek that I am, I faithfully watched Jeopardy! at 7:30 each evening. Then we moved to an apartment with free (read: stolen) cable, and our lives turned into one big Law and Order 24-hour marathon. When that gravy train ended, via a handy landlord-tenant dispute, we discovered that, after the shakes had subsided, we rather enjoyed each other’s company. Which was a good thing, since we couldn’t afford cable anyway. Plus, we were awfully pale and Rachel had to finish her dissertation. When we moved again, it took us the better part of the year to realize that the cable was still hooked up. Mercifully, the company pulled the plug shortly thereafter.

And that’s how it stayed. Now, we watch the occasional movie or television show on DVD on one of our computers. We’ll sit side-by-side on the couch, sharing a set of earphones, a laptop balanced on someone’s lap. It’s sort of pathetic, but it’s sweet. I’m not sure what we would do — aside from fighting with Rowan — if we had cable, anyway, given that life around here seems to be a constant flurry of activity from dawn ‘til dusk. Who has time?

My friend Shannon tells me that her childhood television exploded during a particularly rowdy segment, featuring Animal, of The Muppet Show. Apparently the set went off in a shower of sparks and for a few seconds she and her brother weren’t quite sure whether it was the message or the medium. They probably still aren’t. Her mother came into the room, assessed the damage, and said, “Well, that’s that.” And they never got another television. And they turned out just fine — and so will Rowan.