I shouldn’t feel bad for them, but sometimes I do.
Yesterday, my son unwrapped a birthday present from the kids next door. It was a few days early but they were going away and wanted him to have it. My son is turning 3, and this is the first year he is REALLY EXCITED about his birthday.
He unwrapped the gift to find a Toy Story playset. When he took it out of the package, he held up Buzz Lightyear and proudly said, “I’m going to call him Larry!”
Yes, it’s true. He doesn’t know what Toy Story is. It’s hard to strike the right tone with what I’m about to say: we don’t have a TV in our house. We’re not crazy, anti-technology people who protect our kids from the seedier influences like Disney or Pixar at all costs. We just have a busy life and a small house and don’t have the mental or physical space for a TV.
Despite this, I think my kids are also incredibly lucky. As I look out the window over my desk, I see a huge trampoline, my daughter’s treehouse, bikes, a ninja-line, our canoes, kayaks and sailboat. We have camping gear and skiing gear, all of which get regular use. Today we will probably go for a 2 or 3 mile hike in our local town forest and later this afternoon, both kids will participate in a running series at the local track. Tonight, we’ll play Legos before reading books together in bed.
My daughter is 8 and she’s just terrific. She loves to read and spent most of yesterday in her room organizing her many craft supplies. When she was about 4, she went to a Disney on Ice performance at a nearby arena. Where we live, most every family that can afford it, as well as lots of families who can’t, take their kids to Disney World over our school vacations. When the topic of Disney comes up, more than once, I’ve heard my daughter say that she’s been, but it was when she was too young to remember.
I cringe when I hear this, but I don’t correct her. If she has mixed up a 2-hour ice skating show that she went to with a $10,000 trip that she didn’t take, what’s it to me? Never mind that there are no photos or souvenirs. Revisionist history at its best!
On a few occasions, my kids have mentioned getting a TV. Sometimes we see free TVs on the side of the road— those huge old ones that people switch out for flatscreens — and they will beg us to stop and get them. Or heartbreakingly, when my daughter was younger, she pulled a few crumpled dollars out of her change purse and gave them to me to help me save up for a TV.
It’s not that I don’t want my kids to watch things or know at least the bare minimum about popular characters. It’s just that I want them to do other things more.
And while it’s great to have lots of hobbies, I do understand the cost of standing outside the circle of popular culture. I have never seen on minute of Game of Thrones, House of Cards, or even the Superbowl. Almost everything I know about popular shows, I get from listening to TV Critic Eric Deggins on NPR.
For me though, it’s a choice. I know enough to stay quiet when conversations about these shows come up at work or parties.
My poor kids though, are so beautifully naive. Just like most kids, their normal is all they know. But as much as I love having a Buzz Lightyear named Larry in our house, I also don’t want them to get teased or feel ostracized for not knowing about popular shows or movies.
Or maybe, deep down, I don’t care. Because if I did, TVs are abundant and cheap and there’s nothing stopping us from getting one. Except for time…and space…and the fact that my kids are already having a blast playing with Larry and his buddy the Cowboy.
Maybe next time it comes up, I’ll explain that we can’t get a TV this year because we spent all our money going to Disney.