Does time together watching TV make the rest of the day easier?

Earlier today Jay looked at me and said, “I’d like glasses like yours.”

“No you don’t,” I replied, explaining that I need glasses because my eyes don’t work so well and he doesn’t because his eyes are really good.  Afterwards I recalled how as a kid I took such pride in my own youth- the fact that my bones healed fast when I broke them, that I didn’t have to worry so much about heart attacks or cancer.  As a kid I suspected that I wouldn’t be young forever but in my heart I didn’t see how I could ever grow old.  And so today I wondered if, as I noted to Jay the difference between his eyesight and mine, I was beginning the process by which Jay will come to mythologize his youth, too.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.

In forty minutes an alarm will go off down in the playroom where Jay has spent the last half hour by himself, playing with train tracks, rolling in boredom, and peaking up the stairs to ask me when quiet time is going to be over.

Our routine of late has been that when the alarm goes off Jay is allowed to watch one episode of Blue’s Clues, the 1990s kids TV show, after which we’ll wake up Wally, should he not have awoken by himself already, and then we’ll pack off to get Caroline.

I don’t know exactly how television became part of Jay’s daily routine.  I think I may have proposed it first, as a way to create a carrot with which to bait Jay into good behavior during quiet time.  Plus, as someone who watched a lot of afternoon cartoons growing up, I have warm associations with the ritual of zoning out in front of the television at this slack point in the day.

So Jay watches Blue’s Clues every weekday afternoon and each day I decide whether or not to join him.  At first I used his television time as a way to further my own work time.  But more recently I’ve been watching alongside Jay.

I don’t have any particular love for Blue’s though I don’t find it flagrantly annoying in the way of that other show Jay and Wally have spectated from time to time, Go Diego Go.  But I do love what this twenty-five minutes of television allows me and Jay to develop.  Though not overly cuddly most hours of the day, Jay’s happy to lean against me and lay his head on my shoulder as we watch Blue’s.  We rarely talk.  Sometimes we intertwine fingers.  Sometimes I fall asleep.

Cause and effect are hard to figure in the context of raising kids.  When Wally cries for 30 minutes before falling asleep as he did last night, I have no idea why.   Jay’s good moods and bad moods seem to come and go randomly, or at least in response to forces that I can’t perceive.

But I can say this.  On the days that Jay and I watch Blues together the rest of the afternoon almost always goes more smoothly than it does on the days that we don’t.  It has to do with intimacy, I think.  Our time together on the couch brings us closer together which makes it easier for us to coordinate all the practical chores we have to negotiate afterwards: putting on his coat, getting him into his car seat, keeping him from taunting Wally with his fruit leather (which Wally is not allowed to eat on account of the associated gagging risk) as we drive north to campus.

Put another way, on the days Jay and I watch Blues together it feels afterwards like we’re dancing together and on days we don’t it feels like we’re drifting near each other in space.

In order to give that statement more teeth I’m going to conduct an experiment.  Over the next week I’ll watch Blue’s with Jay every other day.  Each day I’ll time how long it takes me to get Jay’s shoes on, from the moment I first introduce the idea to him to the moment that the second piece of velcro is adhered on his second shoe.  My hypothesis is that on days we watch Blue’s together it will take less time to get Jay’s shoes on (on account of increased cooperation) than it will on days we don’t watch together.


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