We have a television. We even have it dominating the living room, that hallowed space in large modern houses that often sits in pristine elegance and neglect. No relegating this essential appliance to the dark basement or a messy family room for us. We tried that a long time ago when we first moved into our current home which, at the time, had a room we proudly referred to as our family room, our first ever (it has since been transformed, with the addition of a couple of walls, into a bedroom for Michael and a hallway). It was really nothing more than a mud room, a very large open space across which children would fling their messy boots and shoes as they rushed in through one of the two doors, missing every mat and shoe rack intended for their footwear. This room was also the toy room which meant Thomas the Tank Engine chugged his way around couch and table legs, and Lego blocks and small metal vehicles dug sharply into bare feet. We had one futon couch for the six of us and two cats to cram ourselves onto and pretend we were actually comfortable. Bonding. Meanwhile, an enormous, nearly empty living room sat unused, somehow raised to the status of the room for entertaining and quiet reflection. But we never entertained, at least not in any kind of sophisticated and genteel way, and no one ever reflected quietly in our house, at least not on the main floor. I will remind you that we had FOUR children, and even though our three daughters were pretty civilized, the same could not be said of their little brother. Unless we invited our own extended family or families with equally unruly little boys, we almost never entertained. Nor were we ever asked out, now that I think about it. So it was after a few years of discomfort and squabbling that I made a momentous decision: the television is going into the living room. More space, better couches, still lots of toys (they always seemed migrate with the crowd) but happily comfortable. We have never looked back.
We have graduated from a tiny screened contraption to a much larger gizmo, not big enough for the avid sports fans in the family but a reasonable compromise between the bigger-is-better school of thought and the lone voice of moderation and fear that our lives would be taken over by the Evil Eye.
And guess what? They were, taken over that is. It was a gradual, insidious process as children wheedled and whined over the years, breaking down my rather severe restrictions. With the television in the living room and essentially in the centre of our open concept house, it was now inescapable, so in order to remain sane I had to impose harsh parameters. At mealtime, the television was always off, still is. I cannot bear the racket while I try to eat, even if the silence emphasizes the complete lack of conversation between the two of us now. Only on rare occasions were meals allowed in front of the television. Also, certain shows were taboo, though over time even those restrictions were lifted as I came to appreciate the irony of shows like the Simpsons. Instead of listening to the characters' voices on the television while I ate, my children treated me to Simpson quotation contests. For several years my children only seemed able to communicate with each other through the words of Bart and Lisa Simpson. Perhaps it was payback for the original ban imposed on the show.
We have now evolved to the television blaring ALL day, save mealtime and those blissful early morning and late night hours when I find myself alone in the house with Michael in bed. I have learned to enter my Zen state as he whiles away the hours watching sports shows and horrendous documentaries about air crashes and boat explosions which curiously don't seem to bother him. My standards have flown out the window. And when you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em. To that end I have discovered a number of shows I really like (I'm partial to movies, murder mysteries and law shows) and, as long as I am stretched out on the couch with my feet resting on Michael's lap or at least touching him somehow, he is perfectly happy no matter what we watch, unless it freaks him out. If that happens I give up and switch to rugby or soccer or hockey or football or darts or poker (I had no idea that one was a "sport") and retreat to do something else, leaving him glassy eyed or peacefully dozing in front of the hypnotic screen.
So imagine my surprise when I had to interrupt an entertaining telephone conversation with an elderly friend who was regaling me with hilarious tales of her experiences in her new retirement residence. Michael was putting on his shoes, not glued to the television as always. It was nine o'clock and dark, not to mention very close to the ebbing of his mobility with end-of-day akinesia.
"Where are you going?" I asked with my hand over the telephone receiver.
"To get a movie," came the reply, his body now poised to step out into the darkness.
Oh. I said a hasty good-bye to my friend. The closest movie store is about two kilometres away, a short drive but an impossible excursion so late at night. Getting there would be no trouble, but negotiating through the narrow aisles of the store to the back room where the movies are displayed an impossibility for Michael at this time of night. I suppose I could have left him in the car while I dashed in to find the movie myself ("Blackhawk Down" was for some reason the desired film) but I wasn't feeling very charitable at that moment. Besides, the choice of film was completely inappropriate for my husband's unstable brain at such a late hour; he has seen it before and it unnerved him. Also we have Apple TV, a generous Christmas gift from the kids aimed at eliminating this problem by making movie rental a couple of simple clicks on a tiny remote control. I suggested we look first to see if it was available through this medium, hoping by making this suggestion it might derail the project. It did. He forgot all about it.
But what was so ironic about this whole episode was Michael's unusually articulate and vociferous assertion that he never gets to watch what he wants. It was a deluded declaration of annoyance at my perceived control over the television, which, I suppose, has some truth since, without my intervention with the now very complicated remote control, he would never watch anything. I had to suppress my amusement as I distracted him with a hockey game, but as deluded as it was, it was nice to see a rare flash of independence and annoyance. Perhaps this was a statement of his resentment of the need for my entire control over his life, indeed the disease's control over both our lives.
Too bad we can't just turn that off with a simple click of the remote control.