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The Babysitter in the Glowing Box

A byproduct of having a mother who can't physically lift herself off the couch, let alone stack your stacking cups into towers for knocking over, is a lot of second-hand television. Second-hand, because chances are, if you are fifteen months old, you are not terribly interested in cable news, the Olympics, or whatever Mommy has TiVod on the Bravo channel because she couldn't stay awake to watch it the night before. Fifteen-month-olds don't really have opinions about that Kenley girl on Project Runway, and are content to let the designers make it work in the background while they ram their new plastic truck into the coffee table over and over. (At least, my fifteen-month-old is not terribly interested. I have been around toddlers who would happily watch test patterns for hours.)

Sometimes I feel guilty about this. Sometimes I think, "Self? Even if your back is aching, and the heartburn is kicking up, and there's no way you can sit on the floor and teach Jack the intricacies of the shape sorter, the least you could do is turn off the television and read him a story." And? Sometimes I read him a story! Yay me! But other times? I flip to the public broadcasting channel and say, "look, there's Elmo!"

For a long time, Jack wasn't interested in any kind of TV. Not that I was trying to get him hooked, but I found it interesting that a child of mine wasn't at all distracted by the box with the flashing lights. The only time he seemed to notice the television was when it showed commercials with particularly annoying jingles. Then Jack would stop what he was doing, point his chin at the TV, and sway from side to side. Once the commercial ended, he'd go back to climbing inside the cupboards or tearing the books off the shelves.

But the other day when I could no longer stand the whining, I turned on the television and there was Elmo singing about doggies (Jack loooves doggies) and THERE WAS PEACE IN MY HOUSE. I even fed him lunch without half of it ending up on the floor. Did I feel bad about using TV to calm my kid down? Sure. Was I in a much better mood when Daddy came home? YOU BET.

Now I know exactly when Sesame Street airs. I've sampled most of the other toddler shows on TV and know which ones I can stand and which ones give me migraines. Jack likes anything with live action puppets, animals, and singing. He's not so big on cartoons or that one show where the characters put lyrics to classical music (MIGRAINE). But furry monsters and dancing? Sign him up.

It's kind of fun to watch him get so excited at the sight of certain characters, especially ones I remember from my own childhood. I know this means I'm headed for a future filled with licensed character underwear and lunch boxes, but from what I hear, that happens even if you live in the middle of nowhere without cable and internet access and phone service and neighbors.

All you perfect mommies can calm down, though. I may be a total television junkie, but the TV isn't ALWAYS on in my house. We own exactly one children's DVD and I plan to ration the amount he watches during the week. But you know, thirty minutes of whatever's on Animal Planet totally beats thirty minutes of whining, especially when Daddy won't get home for another hour.

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