Watching TV as a family.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my brother and I didn’t have televisions in our bedrooms, so most of our TV viewing took place in the living room. We’d often watch shows together as a family, our eyes glued to the screen when our favorite hour-long dramas or thirty-minute sitcoms were on. We got to know all the characters in The Love Boat, Dallas, Hawaii 5-0, Remington Steele, Knight Rider, The White Shadow, and countless more. And we’d laugh at silly scenes during Three’s Company, Growing Pains, The Golden Girls, and Cheers, to name a few. We’d read TV Guide Magazine and plan our evenings around the scheduled shows we enjoyed. For the most part, we had similar television interests, but, like most siblings, we had our share of fights, particularly when we’d steal a special seat on the couch because one of us would forget to call out, “I get my place back,” before leaving to get a snack or go to the bathroom. As adults, we thankfully get along well, and to this day, we still reminisce about the shows that played such a big role in our upbringing.
With the availability of streaming services, along with an excessive array of shows to choose from, our children are growing up in an entirely different age of TV viewing than I did. Without a doubt, my children have surpassed me in the number of hours they’ve spent binge-watching shows on their electronic devices in their bedrooms. Who can blame them? Screen time has become an integral part of our culture.
The downside of my children’s TV-watching addiction is that, in our home, it has become more of a solitary activity, rather than something we do as a family. Every now and then, my husband and I will watch a series together or he’ll beg one of the kids to watch something with him. When the kids were younger, we spent a lot more time cuddled next to each other on the couch in front of the television. Back then, I never realized that family TV time would, one day soon, become rare.
Once the kids hit the teen years, their lives became much busier as they were trying to balance academics, extra-curricular activities, and social lives. Most evenings after dinner, the kids would head straight to their bedrooms to finish homework, and then they would spend ample time on their devices, watching shows, playing video games, chatting with friends, and scrolling through their social media accounts.
Even though our electronic devices are powerful tools to keep people connected outside the home, they also have the power to keep those living in the same home apart, which has been the case with my family—until recently, when I saw the value of watching a television show with my daughter, Taylor.
When Little Fires Everywhere first came out, Taylor and I were excited to watch it together, but since the series wasn’t released all at once, we had to wait each week for the next episode to come out. Initially, we were bummed that we couldn’t binge all eight episodes in a day, but in hindsight, it turned our shared viewing experience into a pleasurable ritual that we looked forward to every Wednesday. Afterward, we’d discuss the characters, the plot, some of the controversial themes, and how it differed from the book. When we finished the entire series, we felt a heavy letdown, not just because the show had ended, but because of what the show did for us—it had given us an opportunity to hang out and bond over a shared interest.
I’ve always considered watching TV as a perfect, mindless escape. It’s like taking a short trip into other people’s lives. For those few hours, staring at the screen, you tend to forget about your own problems while getting immersed in another world. But now I see that it can also serve another purpose, as an ideal group activity that offers a way to connect and spend time with others. While my kids are still under my roof, I’ll keep trying to find shows or movies that all of us would like, and when I do, I’ll be sure to relish the shared experience in the moment and be grateful for our together-time.
The gift of Barry White.
Back in 2018, I wrote a blog post about losing my best friend, Otis, my beloved Bernese mountain dog. He came into our lives when our children were ages six and four. Neither of them remember what it was like to raise him as a puppy, but for the rest of their lives they’ll never forget watching him take his final breath as tears pooled in their eyes.
After he left us, my heart was wounded, and I needed time to heal. I knew eventually I would want another dog, but I was far from ready.
The entire family had a difficult time shaking the pain. My daughter, Taylor, was convinced that we needed a new puppy in the house to help us move on. For weeks, we argued about it. I did everything for Otis when he was alive, and the end was especially difficult because he was in a wheelchair. I desperately needed a break from the enormous responsibility of taking care of a dog.
Taylor begged. She pleaded. She cried. But I wouldn’t acquiesce, until she reminded me that she would be leaving for college in a year and a half and that raising a puppy together would bring our family closer, strengthen our bond, and add more love to our home. I finally gave in to her relentless persistence.
I didn’t want another Bernese mountain dog, simply because I didn’t want to be reminded of what I had lost. So we settled on an Old English sheepdog. Taylor did the research, calling and emailing breeders all over the country. She eventually found a litter that would be born in the spring and ready to take home in the summer. When I put down the deposit, she was thrilled. My son was excited, too. But still mourning Otis, my husband and I were indifferent.
For the next few months, Taylor watched videos of Old English sheepdogs on YouTube and followed them on Instagram. She counted down the minutes until we got the phone call from the breeder announcing the birth of the litter, and that our pup was healthy. Meanwhile, I continued to maintain my ambivalence. Taylor called me heartless and soulless about my lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming arrival of our puppy. But how could I look forward to getting another dog when the spirit of Otis reigned supreme inside me?
Toward the end of July, I flew to Montana to pick up our puppy, who we decided to name Barry White. At only eleven pounds, he resembled a stuffed animal. Nestled in my arms on the way back to Colorado, he was sweet, soft, and cuddly. And of course, as soon as I brought him home, the kids were enamored with our new family member.
My daughter with Barry White.
For the rest of the summer, our lives revolved around Barry White. We stared at him while he napped, smothered him with kisses, spent hours playing with him, took turns house training and feeding him, and went on walks together. We even brought him with us on a beach vacation to California. We were obsessed with Barry White––and aptly named for the famous singer, we couldn’t get enough of his love.
At first, I convinced myself that he was Otis reincarnated. Believing he had come back to me washed away the guilt I had for getting a replacement pet. For months after Otis’s passing, I could no longer bring myself to walk around my neighborhood or walk into town, and I stopped hiking along the trails that he and I used to frequent together. It was as if I had put a piece of my life on hold, the part that always made me feel better: spending time in nature.
I’m not sure if Otis is inside Barry White, or if their predecessors, my two Labrador retrievers, are in him. Either way, it doesn’t matter. He is a gift to my family and me, one that I hadn’t realized I was craving. I get so much pleasure watching him hop around like a bunny rabbit, play with his toys, frolic in the snow, run next to me while I hike, and join me on daily walks near my house. Early one morning, I woke up to a spring snowstorm, but the blustery weather wasn’t going to stop me from taking my fur baby outside. He and I ventured to one of the ski mountains and hiked to the top. If it wasn’t for Barry White, I never would’ve motivated to go up there, especially by myself.
During the last two months of his life, Otis lived in the corner of Taylor’s bedroom, close to an exit door, to make it easier for him to go outside without having to climb the stairs. Having him by her side, day in and day out, strengthened their relationship. I like to think that maybe in the afterlife, Otis sent powerful messages to Taylor that we had to get another dog, knowing that it would fill the empty space deep within me. If that’s the case, then my angel Otis is still looking out for me, showering me with the same love he gave me while he was here. It’s the kind of love that’s transcendent, and Barry White carries it like a beam of light, illuminating our home and my heart once again.
Barry White with my kids.
Playing video games during the lockdown.
Ever since the lockdown, my fifteen-year-old son, Judd, has been playing countless hours of video games. He wears a headpiece when he plays, and I hear his voice reverberating through the house, sometimes talking, sometimes cheering, and most of the time yelling into the microphone at his friends who are playing with him.
The quarantine started right before spring break, which meant Judd’s lacrosse trip was cancelled, along with an early closure of the ski mountains. With not much else to do, I didn’t mind that most of Judd’s day was spent gaming. It kept him busy and happy, and he was interacting with his buddies.
As the days turned into weeks, I started to get annoyed that Judd would sit in his bedroom all day, still in his pajama pants, playing video games. Other than asking me to make him a sandwich, he and I rarely talked during the day. When the weather was nice, he’d go outside for a few hours to play lacrosse by himself, but as soon as he came home, he’d go right back into the gaming zone.
I wanted our family to make the most of this time together. I requested movie nights, but Judd would refuse to join, preferring to hang in his teen cave, playing Xbox. I assumed that when online school started, he would be so busy learning and doing schoolwork that it would cut down on his gaming obsession. It didn’t. The minute he’d complete his assignments, the gaming would resume.
A few days ago, I managed to convince Judd to join me for a walk with the dog. I was grateful to finally spend quality time with him. Chatting along the way, he shared two of his life goals with me. The first one he mentioned was to become a professional lacrosse player. Grinning, I told him he should focus on that dream and that he should continue practicing and working out. But when he also told me that he wanted to be a professional video game player, I flashed him a disapproving look.
For the rest of our walk, he lectured me on how much money pro gamers make, which is significantly more than a pro lacrosse player. He told me about a few of his gaming idols, one of whom, along with earning millions of dollars, is also a pro skimboarder. He went on and on telling me about his earning potential if he became a professional video game player. I wanted to tell him that I thought his fantasy sounded ridiculous and that he should consider pursuing an intellectual career, perhaps something in engineering or computer programing. Rather than speak my mind, I kept my lips sealed and listened to him as he bubbled over with enthusiasm.
For the next few weeks, Judd continued his gaming addiction, while I swallowed my irritation that he was wasting his life away in some imaginary, action-packed world in front of his monitor. Even though we live in the same house, Judd was spending so much time in his room playing Xbox that I missed hanging with him.
One afternoon, during a lunch break, he told me about a YouTube video he had watched the night before that he wanted me to see. He said it was moving, and knowing how much I enjoy inspirational stories, he thought I would like it. When I asked him to give me some background on the video, he told me it was about the number one Fortnite streamer who won three million dollars at the 2019 World Cup Finale. I rolled my eyes in annoyance when he turned it on.
Sitting next to me, Judd and I watched the video, highlighting the journey of sixteen-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, who goes by his gaming name, Bugha, to the World Cup Finale. Bugha is a clean-cut, well-spoken teenager growing up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. Like so many of his peers, he’d been playing video games throughout his childhood, and with hours and hours of practice, he’d managed to earn his way to the super bowl of gaming. In the video, Bugha’s parents supported their son’s dream every step of the way. Speaking about their son, his father was bursting with pride, and his mother’s eyes were filled with tears of joy.
Learning about Giersdorf’s accomplishments changed my perspective on becoming a pro gamer. Like any sport, it takes skill, hard work, practice, and determination to achieve success. And it’s not a solitary activity; it’s interactive, allowing kids to play with each other and make new friends. Prior to understanding what it takes to make it in the gaming world, I was angry about how much time Judd spent playing video games, and I would have preferred that he practiced lacrosse for six hours a day instead. I now realize that my ignorance kept me from understanding the value that some video games offer and the difficulty it takes to master them.
As long as Judd’s gaming hobby isn’t taking away from his academics, and assuming he’s still getting fresh air and exercising, then why not let him pursue this fantasy—for now, at least? If I’m supportive, then he’ll be willing to talk to me about it, and the conversation will serve as an opportunity to spend time with him—which selfishly, as his mother, is all I want anyway.
The Favorite Child.
There’s a running joke in my family that my son is my favorite child. Of course, I don’t play favorites. Well, maybe I’m lying––just a little. The truth is I love them both equally, but my relationship with each of them is different. After all, no two relationships are the same. I have lots of close friends whom I turn to for various reasons depending on what’s happening in my life. For example, I might call one of my besties to discuss family concerns, another I call when I’m looking for a light-hearted conversation, and a few others are great when I need a laugh. They all serve a purpose, and on some level, they’re all a reflection of me and how I identify myself.
But why my family thinks I favor my son is another story, a story I’ve told myself about what happens when a boy grows up and gets married. One day, in the future, he might fall in love with someone and want to spend the rest of his life with that person. When this happens, it will be my turn to take a step back. I will no longer be the number one lady in his world. It’s only natural for his spouse to replace me—because, let’s face it, if he’s choosing his momma over his partner, his marriage will probably suffer.
The well-known quote, “A son is a son till he takes a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life,” has been ringing in my ear since I the day I gave birth to my boy. It’s also the underlying reason why it may seem as though I favor him. To my detriment, I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m on borrowed time with my son and my role in his life will ultimately change––as it should.
My daughter makes me feel as though she’ll always have my back, no matter what. Along with mothering her, and of course, setting boundaries, I also consider her my perfect best friend. We share a lot in common: a similar sense of humor, hobbies, taste in food, and political views. Don’t get me wrong, like most mothers and daughters, we have our battles, but overall, we get along well and enjoy spending time together. And for that I am blessed.
Inside my children are two beautiful souls. If I only gave birth to boys, or only had girls, or non-binary offspring—I’d be grateful, no matter what. Mothering is one of the roles I came here to do. I have other important roles to play, but raising my children and creating an infinite, healthy bond with them takes precedence. Whatever their personalities, I need to honor who they are and continue to do what comes naturally to me: love and support them with all my heart.
Writing this blog has made me realize that holding on to this story about raising my son on this notion of borrowed time is wrong and that rather than focusing on how our relationship may or may not change in the future, I should instead be thankful for what I have right now: a teenage boy who likes to hang out and talk to me.
Humans are meant to grow at every stage, from our first breath to our last. The same evolution applies to our connections with one another. Placing value on every single relationship I have with friends and family members in the present moment will bring me greater joy than concerning myself with what will happen in the future––because only tomorrow knows what tomorrow will bring. So, from now on, this is the new and improved story I’ll tell myself: that every relationship I have today is precious, and that’s what makes each one of them special.
My greatest parenting failure.
When the stay-at-home requirement was put in place in my community, I decided I was going to redo my biggest parenting mistake––enforcing household chores. I had visions of my teenage son making his bed every day: folding the top sheet over the blanket, tucking in the sides, fluffing the pillows, and arranging his throw in a perfect rectangle. No longer would I see his dirty laundry scattered on the floor, but rather, placed in his hamper. He’d empty his garbage can, take his evening glass of water and place it in the dishwasher the following morning, and his schoolwork would be piled neatly on his desk. He and his sister would take turns vacuuming the floors in the house, emptying the dishwasher, and wiping the kitchen counters after we eat.
My fantasy remained just that––a fantasy. Unfortunately, my children haven’t helped me with the household chores, and the only person to blame is––me.
On the days when I stay on top of the cleaning, I’m okay with my children’s lack of assistance, but other days, I get fed up and make nasty, backhanded comments to them. But the truth is, I was the one who gave up trying to get them to clean to my standards. Constantly nagging my son to straighten up his room was draining. So I subconsciously picked the lazier route and did it myself. I’m aware that what I’m doing is a disservice to all of us.
My mother-in-law raised my husband the same way. In the early years of our marriage, we would bicker about how messy he was. After work, he’d take his socks off and throw them across the room, leave dishes in the sink, crumbs on the counter, and dirty clothes everywhere but the hamper. I took the lazier route with him, too. Rather than fight, I found it was easier to clean up after him. Over the years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t turn my husband into a neat freak like I wish he would be, and that if I don’t remind him to put his clothes in the hamper, he won’t do it. He is, however, respectful when I go out of town, doing his best to straighten up before I get home. Although his cleaning is not exactly stellar, I, nonetheless, appreciate his efforts, and I’m grateful he tried.
Sometimes I wish I could turn the clock back and start over, teaching my kids, particularly my son, (my daughter is much better about keeping her room tidy) how to make his bed neatly and clean his room properly. I remember when the kids were little, we would sing Barney’s “Clean Up Song” together and pick up their toys and put them back where they belonged. My cute toddlers loved this little game of ours. Back then, they thought cleaning was fun rather than a dreadful chore.
But what happened? Where did I go wrong when they got older?
Most likely, it fell apart when they started school, and we found ourselves rushing in the morning, attempting to arrive on time. Every now and then, usually at the start of a new school year, I would try to get them to make their beds when they woke up, but as the year progressed and the kids got older and needed more sleep, I never forced them to stick to it. Periodically, I would make a chore chart, rewarding them with allowances when they kept up with it. Like everything else, that too fell by the wayside.
Life has taught me that how we think about our circumstances serves as the lens through which we perceive our experiences. In other words, I have the freedom to choose how I want to view my current situation. From a negative standpoint, I can beat myself up for failing to get my kids to help around the house, but other than making myself angry, where is that going to get me? On the other hand, I can let it go and focus on my children’s positive attributes. They’re polite, loving, compassionate, have good values, work hard in school, and are loyal to their friends. At home, they always clear their plates and put them in the dishwasher, and from what I’ve been told, they do the same when they eat at someone else’s house.
Despite my enlightened perspective on this matter, I’m sure I’ll continue to cringe when I walk into my son’s room and find empty soda cans and bags of chips lying around, dirty clothes tossed everywhere, and his bed unmade. But then I’ll need to remind myself that this time is fleeting, and in a few short years, he’ll be graduating from high school and moving out of the house. Somehow, when he’s ready and living on his own, he’ll figure out how to pick up after himself. Maybe he’ll realize that living in a clean environment feels better. Then again, he might not—and if that’s the case, so what, for it will no longer be my problem.