Our Television Testimony

We have three children – ages 6, 3, and 2 – all of whom enjoy watching television.  For a long time my wife and I struggled to regulate how much television our kids watched, at what times of day they watched, and what kind of shows they watched.  It was hard.  For one, our most lived-in room in the house – the family room – was laid out with the television in mind (all the seating oriented toward the television, shelves of DVDs, etc.).  The kids had learned how to turn on the television, change DVDs, and flip through their favorite kids channels.  And my wife and I had come to depend on the television as a lazy
parenting tool ("Hey kids, watch some TV and be quiet while I make
dinner/check my email/talk on the phone/waste time on Facebook").  Turning off the television sometimes involved arguments with the kids, and turning it on surely kept us more tuned in to the television than to each other.

But six weeks ago we decided to cut the cord … no more cable television at our house.  The decision was driven by a perfect synergy of both financial and lifestyle considerations.  We are saving money and our children are spending much less time in front of a television screen – both of which are good things.

In fact, we moved the television out of the first floor altogether, leaving my old computer and a stereo as the only electronic entertainment devices in our children's play area.  We still have the television, connected to a DVD player, but we move it to our bedroom … and it gets used about once a week for the kids to watch a Disney movie or a Backyardigans video.  And yes, the kids will sometimes watch partial episodes of Clifford on www.pbskids.org or Little Einsteins on www.playhousedisney.com, but overall their screen time has dropped dramatically.

And somewhat to our surprise, our kids didn't instigate a violent revolt.  For sure, the week after we cut the chord was a pretty tough transition.  But in the days and weeks that followed, we have watched as our kids have gone from complaining about being bored to coming up with their own games to play. 

Over the past six weeks the kids have built more living room forts and set up more make-believe yard sales and cooked more make-believe meals in their play kitchen than they ever had in the previous year.  Our six year-old, who is not the strongest reader, will sometimes grab a book and try to read by herself, and our three year-old will get a book, too, just so she can be like her big sister.  Instances of sidewalk chalk art have skyrocketed, as have the numbers of puzzles completed.  We also find that the kids need to take more frequent baths, since they are playing more often with markers or with dirt or in ways that get them quite sweaty.  It's been amazing.

It is highly unlikely that we will go back to television anytime soon, even if I do miss watching sports.  And I doubt that we'll be a family that owns a video game system, either.  Banishing the television screen to our bedroom where watching a movie becomes a weekly special event has been a great move for us, and there is little reason for us to increase the amount of time that we or our children spend in front of a screen.

So, a word to all you parents who struggle with the amount of time your children spend in front of a television screen: If cutting down the time your family spends in front of the television is hard to do, consider cutting it out altogether.  It is possible.

Saying Goodbye to an Amazing Caregiver

Today is the last legal working day for our current au pair, Ann, a wonderful young woman from Thailand who for two years has lived with our family and taken care of our children.  When she arrived to our family our youngest was not quite five months old, and hardly able to sit on his own.  Our middle child was in diapers.  Our oldest was in preschool.  I was on internship, and my wife was teaching with the informal title ABD – All But Dissertation.

In the two years that she cared for us – and I say for us, for her caring, her work, and her support was more than just for our children – our youngest has learned to crawl, then walk and talk.  Our 3 year-old child is reading letters thanks to Ann, and eager to learn so much more.  Our oldest is about to complete first grade.  I've been ordained and began to work in a new church, Jessicah defended her doctoral dissertation, and we moved to a new home and new community.

And then there are the little things – her willingness to work a few extra hours when an emergency came up, her wonderful jewelry-repair skills, the smell of Thai food that filled the house regularly, and the way that she would somehow always know when I forgot something and text me or come running outside with the forgotten item (as she did on Sunday when I nearly left home without my alb and stole for an afternoon service).

All this is to say that Ann has been there with us, at times carrying more than any wage-earning caregiver should be asked to carry, helping us through some amazing transitions.  She has been an amazing blessing and support to us.  We will miss her incredibly. 

With tears in our eyes, we say Goodbye, Miss Ann.  We love you.

The Gift of Worshiping with my Family

I'm a pastor.  I wear the funny shirt, the robe, the stoles.  I say the P parts of the liturgy.  I sit up front.  And I love it.

But one thing I don't love so much is that I no longer sit alongside my wife and children in worship.  Before I was ordained, I loved worshiping with my children. Yet I no longer worship alongside them, hold worship books for them, whisper instructions to them, or help them with their Bible story coloring sheet.  I do enjoy seeing their faces as they worship from my seat up front, and I cherish the opportunity to declare the forgiveness of their sins, and to place the sacrament in their hands.  But still … I'm no longer there, by their side, holding them, whispering to them, coloring with them.

Tonight I received a special gift as I attended my wife's cousin's wedding (yes, a wedding scheduled on the Monday after Christmas!).  There we were, Mommy, Daddy, and our two daughters sitting in the pew together (Naaman, our two year-old son, was more than glad to romp around in the nursery.  We were more than glad to let him!).  I held my 3 year-old up high so she could see the pastor's gestures as he said the Words of Institution.  I took her to the bathroom during the Prayers of the Church.  I struggled to hold a hymnal as I held her in my arms.  Yes, by doing these things, I wasn't tuned into every moment of the liturgy.  But I was participating and praying with my children, gathering with them around the table and at the foot of the cross, held with them within the Body of Christ and surrounded by the sights and sounds of God's people at worship.  It was a beautiful thing.

And so tonight I am grateful for this wonderful Christmas gift – the gift to worship as a family. I wouldn't give up my job for anything.  I love what I do.  But I also love when I get the chance to worship alongside my wife and children.  Thank you, Ben and Marissa, for getting married this evening.  You've given me a wonderful gift!

Blessings to Ben and Marissa, and to all in this Christmas season.