• Carmen Marie Fabio

Therapy in a box

Even more than school, family members, or neighbourhood friends, television shaped a major, indelible part of my childhood, its influences soaked up like a sponge by my malleable, juvenile brain. And while it's not a condoned upbringing by today's standards, that's just the way it was as we would spend many a meal before the 'idiot-box' enjoying Kraft-Dinner lunches alongside a helping of The Flintstones, or dinner hot-dogs on squares of Wonder Bread eaten while taking in the Carol Burnett Show. If we were especially lucky, Swanson TV dinners would be on the menu, those magical foil-wrapped dinners that included everything from veggie, something protein-ish, and dessert cobbler, all which passed for haute cuisine in kids’ eyes.

Good times.

The TV stayed on, pretty much as the background soundtrack to my life, well into my 30s and though I didn't always sit intently watching it, almost by osmosis it continued to both provide context for, and make me question, the world around us.

When my first son was mere months old, I found it disconcerting that his eyes and attention were so easily diverted to the screen, by extension opening my eyes to what we were both missing.

I quickly banished the television set to the basement where it stayed in subterranean confinement for the next 17 years, save for the 2001 September 11 attacks that had a portable set running in the kitchen nonstop for days as we did our best to watch and comprehend what had just happened to our sedate and oblivious conception of our lives in a privileged time and place.

The entertainment value of our pedestrian television was eventually replaced by gaming systems and as the boys aged, outgrowing Kipper the Dog VCR tapes and Kaput & Zösky DVDs, the television set moved to the master bedroom so I could at least watch the news. And there it stayed, for the most part unused and gathering dust, as my husband and I juggled diametrically opposing schedules. Yelling at TV news loses its catharsis if it has to be done in whispers.

It took a recent bit of furniture rearranging to tip the proverbial lifestyle dominoes as we welcomed a dog into our home for the weekend with the hope of adopting him. As he worked out his separation anxiety, we arrived at the logical conclusion of bringing the unused television back into the family fold by simple virtue of wanting to alleviate the dog's stress level at being in foreign surroundings.

And so it was that we dusted the old beast off and reinstalled it back in the living room, the epicentre of social intersection of our household. A cold, rainy, and windy Sunday afternoon was spent curled up on the couch watching all 158 minutes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with my son, and a German Shepherd/Doberman mix curled up between us, enjoying attention and warmth as the bonding process began.

The long-maligned television set, upon which scads of sociologists and psychologists blamed increased violence, desensitization, and aggression, had, at least in our home, reestablished a central locale where we all gathered together to help a frightened and confused canine relax. Not only did it work, the evil screen forced us all to drop our individual phones and focus on a single vantage point and goal.

Heck, we were all bonding.

We've come full circle and while it may not be ideal in terms of actual human interaction and exchange, I have to accept it as a compromise that has us at least all in the same room, hanging out together, while a frightened dog gets tummy-rubs and ear-scritchies.

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