I grew up before the internet, video games, cable TV and smart phones had been invented. My childhood electronics included a radio, alarm clock, record player, and television.
I learned about the world from news my parents watched or from folded newspapers tossed on our porch in the sleepy hours of the morning. I would skim the headlines trying to make sense of the grown up world which often seemed boring compared to the colorful antics of my favorite characters in the cartoon section of the newspaper.
Library shelves held thousands of books with topics like Shakespeare, wild horses or the Great Wall of China. The Encyclopedia Britannica offered bite size pieces of information on most subjects A to Z. My world may have been small, but it was more than enough.
My mom worried too much television would stunt our brains, stifle our creativity and taint our view of the world. My siblings and I were quite willing to take that chance if it would mean we could watch an endless stream coming from the rabbit eared antennae box plugged into our living room wall.
As if keeping all of her children fed, clothed and somewhat clean was not enough, my mom took on the responsibility of doling out healthy doses of screen time. She gave each of her children one half hour of TV per week.
An exception she made was for “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights. Hair still wet from our baths, we’d throw on our pajamas and rush to the couch. We didn’t want to miss Tinkerbell as she flew across the screen heralding the start of the movie with golden pixie dust cascading from her wand. We watched “The Parent Trap”, “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes”, “That Darn Cat” and “Herbie the Love Bug Rides Again”. We gobbled down buttery popcorn from brown paper bags popped in hot oil in our large soup pot.
Mom’s system involved each of us choosing our half hour show before the week began. Using the TV guide we took turns perusing the offerings before circling and writing our initials next to our chosen show. Picking between “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Brady Bunch”, “Ponderosa”, “I Love Lucy”, “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Little House on the Prairie” was often excruciating.
Negotiating skills came in handy as many favorite shows lasted an hour which was twice the measly thirty minutes we were given. I’d start my sales pitch to my siblings by saying, “if you add your half hour to what I want to watch this week, I’ll give you my half hour next week.” If this approach didn’t work, I was not opposed to coercing younger siblings by either promising to play with them or threatening to never play with them again. I learned to prioritize, deal with disappointments and delay gratification.
I don’t think we ever thanked our mom for caring about our brain development. Instead we’d grumbled about the shows our friends got to watch because their mothers weren’t so horrid. I figured it was her fault if she failed to notice when I “accidentally” didn’t turn the TV off after my show ended. Each stolen moment I was able to sneak under her tyranny left me feeling powerful.
Now that I am older I appreciate her attempt at curbing childhood time staring at the screen. She gave me open ended moments and unfilled days. I had time to use my imagination. I had time to be bored. I knew better than complain for my mom had a long list of jobs that would become mine if she heard the words, “I’m bored.”
With my brothers and sisters we created our own entertainment. We built forts fashioned from blankets and boards fastened together with clothespins and rope. We were brave pioneers trekking across the unforgiving mountains. Each night we circled our wagons and built blazing fires only we could see. Some days we lived in cool limestone pyramids. Wrapping ourselves in loose tunics from mom’s silkiest fabrics we became Egyptian queens and pharaohs.
We tested our physical prowess and climbed trees traversing branches which led us to the roof top where we picked and devoured ripe cherries. We giggled when we found clouds shaped like an old man with an uncharacteristically huge nose. We ran miles until the setting sun told us it was time to go inside.
I enjoy remembering uncontrollable belly laughs from watching the genius of Carol Burnett or peeking into the comfortable lives of the Brady kids. I was tickled at the shenanigans Laura Wilder got into over and over again while living in her house on the prairie.
But mostly I am grateful for childhood time spent thinking my thoughts, whispering secrets, battling with siblings I couldn’t stand and then playing harmoniously with them until dusk.
I appreciate quiet moments lying on my belly inspecting ants marching methodically together. While picking the petals of tiny white flowers growing among the green grass I had all the time in the world to imagine my grown up life.