I stand in the doorway and watch my daughter stare into the television. I am supposed to tell her something. From the dining room, I can see her but not the screen. Blue and white light project onto her as scenes change on the program. Her eyes move in little stutters – right and left, up and down – as she tracks some animated character. This is some modern hybrid of REM sleep. She turns to TV when she is tired and needs downtime. I do the same thing. Television serves as a bridge for me between being fully alert and the swinging hammock that leads to unconscious rest. Her shadow looms large and motionless on the living room wall. What is she thinking about as she watches? She blinks and I know we’ve gone to commercial.
“Time for bed,” I finally say.
We have a routine, my wife and I. The kids are in bed by nine o’clock. That gives us an hour, sometimes and hour and a half to be alone with each other. We talk about how Alex is doing in math (he started the year gangbusters but has settled into some difficulties neither of us can pinpoint). We discuss, okay, argue, about how to deal with Mara’s new-found taste for “being difficult.” That’s a euphemism for being argumentative which is somehow less acceptable in a seven year old than two forty-somethings.
Often, after they are up in bed, we are literally ‘alone with each other.’ Sitting in the same room, perhaps, but our conversations never leave our own heads. That silence will go on until I feel compelled to make some comment about some trivial thing or another. We both like TV commercials. Sometimes we talk about whether that one was a good one and why. There’s nothing wrong with this, I suppose. I don’t mind keeping my wife company as we watch television. Some couples don’t spend any time with each other.
We are in that last dry stretch of reruns that make September the longest month. Had we been born of this earth a hundred years ago, we might have looked to the Farmer’s Almanac with its moon phases, crop cycles, and weather predictions for guidance. Planting and harvesting, that’s what it was all about. For us now, it’s the television programmers with their whiteboard schedules that guide our yearly rhythms. The new season breaks right around October first. Season replacements trickle in around the first of the year. We have even learned the meaning of “Sweeps” which is to say, we don’t know really what it means other than the best shows are on for a brief, promising week in May.
September reruns are like milk blood: that drawing back of the blood in the junkie’s syringe only to push it back into the vein carrying any last molecules of opiate. You can’t run out. I don’t know this first hand, but I go to my meetings. There are all types there, and I have learned a thing or two about substance abuse since I put down the bottle.