The Luxury of Escapism

Lately I have been bewildered that some parents of toddlers and elementary-aged children, many of whom are my close friends, are watching an enormous amount of television, despite being busy, full-time parents.  

Since having kids, I had come to the conclusion that watching television on a regular basis, or following any particular TV series religiously, was a luxury commodity, and one not afforded to a person like me... a parent.

My belief in this has seriously been challenged lately as I have encountered so many parents that not only follow one show, but a whole myriad of shows, even entire backlogged series of shows that they catch up on during mini-marathons of their own creation via online streaming.

Whether they work exclusively in the home or outside the home seems irrelevant. They are all loading their DVR’s up to the last minute available, and then diligently going to work on them, watching shows every night like homework assignments. Mind you, this is not homework they dread - they relish it- vegging on hours upon hours of the stuff, losing precious sleep at night to catch up on the latest and greatest HBO original programming series or the newest Netflix original series.

Illustration by  Ben Douglass

Illustration by Ben Douglass

I can totally relate to the desire to do this, as I did a version of it before having kids, and even more before I was married. I had my shows that I was devoted to for which I didn’t miss an episode. It was an important part of my leisure time that doubled as legitimate homework for my career in the entertainment industry. I was a devout fan of film and television, I was involved in the creation of film and television, so I watched a lot of film and television... as inspiration, as research, as education, and even sometimes simply as entertainment. I recognize and believe in the power of television and film narratives to inspire, teach, and bring forth realizations in real life. I LOVE that about good TV, and a good film. I also greatly respect the artistry and talent of all those that create quality television and cinema.

But keeping up this ritual and watching a lot of it now? It seems like a dream. Why can’t I sit down and get caught up in weeks upon weeks of “House of Cards," “Mad Men," “The Walking Dead” or “Breaking Bad”? I used to think it was simply because these days... I have kids. With two small children, I have to feed them, bathe them, and put them to bed every night. I have to deal with revolving piles of laundry and dishes to be done, bills to be paid, and other incessant tasks like grocery shopping and meal planning. And then there’s the ever important personal bathing and sleeping rituals of my day. With all this, I find it challenging to even fit in one half-hour comedy, let alone a luxurious hour-long episode of “American Pickers” into any given weekday.

Apparently, these other parents manage to do it somehow, to my utter bemusement and at times, envy. How are they functioning? Do they just not do some of the things I deem to be essential to the daily running of our household? Or are they just more efficient than me and cram it all in somehow? Or... are they simply running on only four to five hours of sleep every night?

To be fair, these past few seasons, I have been known to watch “Downton Abbey” with the best of them, but that show's seasons are like 8 episodes long and air during only a short span once a year during the months of January/February... totally doable for me with no other television commitments at all, and a bit of sleep deprivation for a few weeks. But, that’s a few weeks... I don't think I could function doing the same thing for long network seasons or year-round DVR/streaming marathons of my own making.
I just started to wonder about all this after repeatedly witnessing this phenomenon (as eluded to in my last post It's Happy Hour at a Bouncy House Near You!) at all the kid birthday parties I have been attending recently. I call it the television “water cooler effect”, parent-style. I had previously thought this only existed among employees at their common work place, but it seems to have mutated to parents at these parties; and sadly, I am not one of those parents “in the know” around the punch bowl.

As described in that post, children’s birthday parties (whether they be at indoor play gyms or balloon & streamer laden backyards) have become the primary gathering places for weary parents of toddlers and elementary aged children; and as such, they have also become the best opportunities for moms and dads to chat and socialize with people their own age and with whom are, essentially, in the same proverbial boat.

But no matter the origin of the various relationships of the parents in attendance at these gatherings, television is the great equalizer amongst many of them. When the subject of a favorite TV show comes up, the parents that watch the show are immediately engaged and join the conversation. Gradually, a group converges in a corner of the party and they transform into this cult of devoted fans of "Orange is the New Black" or "The Good Wife." The passion with which they discuss these fictional narratives is unbridled, like they are discussing integral aspects of their personal lives, and suddenly they are all kindred spirits.

Except for me.

Although most of the time I have heard of the shows, I have never had the opportunity to set eyes on one episode of them. So, as the non-member of these newly formed clubs, I excuse myself and wander off to see how my kids are faring, and whether all the sugar they have ingested, between the piñata candy and the birthday cake, has taken affect. Surprisingly, this is a welcome relief to standing there listening to story lines being recounted that I have no clue about; but at the same time, it is kind of a bummer that I don't know what they are talking about. I then leave these parties with that same question running through my head of how they find the time to watch so much television.

But an even more interesting question that I have been pondering lately is: In their lives with young children, as busy and hectic as they exist now... WHY do they do it?

I could guess the answer may simply be, escapism. Sometimes you just need to escape the reality that is your life for a while. Kids will do that to you. As much as you love them, there are sometimes when you just want to be somewhere else, doing something else, anything else, that takes you out of the reality of caring for little people that look to you and rely on you for EVERYTHING. That's a potent thing - and hard for many to resist - even if it means losing some sleep or being faced with a sink full of dirty dishes the next morning. Totally worth it.

I know this because, here I am... up late, not watching TV, but writing this post at two o’clock in the morning. Losing sleep myself, but loving the freedom of a different reality - one of solitude and peace, of autonomy and silence - just sitting here in the dead quietness, with only the sound of my keyboard clicking away as I type. I am tired, but I'm also filled with energy to write, create and let what’s inside of me out... to communicate my own thoughts and feelings as they pertain to ME, and no one else, to inspire, learn, grow, and connect.

At the next party, I guess I could just ask my parents friends my "Why do they do it?" question... but I have a feeling I already know the answer.