As soon as the children could switch the TV on by themselves, my bargaining power was gone. For the years between two and eight I could no longer threaten to whip the plug out of the wall if they didn’t get dressed or eat tea or stop whining.
After that they started wanting things that cost money, and all my bargaining power returned: off went the TV if they wanted new clothes or toys.
Of course, they had a dreadful example in their father. He belongs to a profession the members of which pride themselves on never getting home in time for EastEnders, but who nevertheless fill the minutes between coming in from work and going to bed with dedicated channel hopping, while munching on the dried-up dinner that has been sitting in the oven for two hours.
“But telly’s the ideal hobby for lawyers,” he once said when I challenged him about the long hours culture and his lack of outside interests. “It’s quick, it’s cheap, you don’t have to talk to anyone, there’s no reading, it’s all in colour, you don’t have to wear a suit and you can even lie down and do it. It’s the opposite of law, really.”
Actually, I’m all for anything that subverts the legal profession. Often there are times when only TV will do: if the children are punching each other at teatime, say, then the solution is to stick in a video of The Magic Garden, pour yourself a vast Martini, and you’ll all feel heaps better. Of course, the only reason we have Martini in the house is because Deminimus wanted to know what James Bond drinks – TV again. But in an educational sense.
Anyway, despite my inbuilt guilt at the children’s TV watching, I actually broke plates the other day after reading one of those snotty broadsheet columns penned by women with heavy fringes, telling me what a feckless mother I was for letting them watch TV in the first place; how children’s brains are precious and need stimulating every minute of the day. Smash! went the first plate. How children who are left watching TV alone grow up to be hopeless underachievers with no resources who will probably smoke or take drugs, or worse, not get decent jobs as lawyers. Crack! went that horrible china bowl the Lawyer’s auntie gave us. How mothers should put off all those piddling little jobs like cleaning the house or cooking or even working to earn money so they can spend every minute stimulating those tender little brains. Crash! went the teapot.
The Lawyer, of course, wasn’t home to witness the carnage because he was working, which is a respectable way of spending your time. I notice there’s no one criticising him for failing to make those little kiddie synapses connect; there’s no one demonising his absurd, bum-stuck-to-the-seat profession for allowing the TV to babysit the children.
Mind you, the floor show in the kitchen was so fascinating that the kids all came in to watch Mum lose her rag, and the TV played on to an empty sitting room while they whooped and cheered me on. By the time the Lawyer actually made it home I’d managed to get rid of all the revolting, chipped and ugly crockery we’ve built up over the years, and I felt terrific.
The kids, of course, were hyper. “Don’t ask,” I said, as he surveyed the china earthquake. “Just console yourself that the last few hours have been spent earning us a lovely new set of crockery. And it’s been very stimulating for the children.”