Cutting the Cable

This week, I returned our digital cable (with DVR) box to the cable company. I had to bring back the telephone modem anyway, so Tuesday was as good a day as any to bite the bullet and make the break.

James and I had been discussing this since January. We both agreed that it would be best for the budget to get back to basics. Even if basics meant rabbit ears and five fuzzy channels if we were lucky. I felt that I was less attached to the big picture box than he was, but I hesitated, procrastinated, found excuses to put it off. We had done the math, and we knew that cable was costing us more than it was worth. But it had been a big part of our lives for several years, and though I told myself it would be easy and good for us, I knew that it had already become kind of a big deal.

You see, the optimist in me was looking forward to getting this particular chore done. I would watch my husband and son go glassy-eyed in front of the television and think about how this couldn’t be good for my little boy’s rapidly developing brain. As for the grown boy in the room, well, if pressed I could probably give you more than a few reasons why I was looking forward to him losing that particular daily distraction.

I thought that once the box was gone, we would miss it less than we thought. We would watch our shows via the Internet and play Lego Star Wars or watch DVDs if we felt the need. And for me, so far it has actually been kind of nice. I turn on the boob tube with intention now, whereas in the past I might just set it up as background noise. Somehow, it’s not quite background noise when the picture’s full of snow. But it has hit James a little harder than that, which is something I should have better anticipated.

Television was his unwinding from a hard day at work. And he both needs and deserves to have that time to unwind. My problem with it comes when the line is crossed from unwinding to something else. I have felt it turn into that something on occasion before. That what was on in the room was becoming more important than who was in the room. I have found myself thinking back. To before baby, before home-ownership, before wedded bliss. I was trying to remember some of the things we used to do in Boston when we had no money to spend on frivolities like cable television and never seemed to miss it. I thought about high school and college, and how it never mattered whether or not we were home in time to catch the new episodes of Dawson’s Creek or whatever show was “must see” back then. Did I watch a lot of television when I lived at home? away at school? Sure. But it didn’t matter then like it came to matter to us more recently.

So what changed?

Friendship was one element. Having friends all over the country or even the world makes it difficult to get together and socialize on a moment’s notice. Having a kid has that effect, too, for a wide variety of obvious reasons. I miss just hanging out with people. Talking and laughing together until you pass out from exhaustion or someone decides it might be a good idea to head home sometime before their carriage turns back into a pumpkin. Having the days free to meet people and host or attend play groups with other kids my kid’s age helps ease that longing, but it would be nice to have those kinds of friendships again, old or new.

We also got married, got a mortgage and had a baby. That adds some stresses to life, for sure. And we started to count sitting on separate couches watching syndicated reruns as quality time together. It’s not. So even though we enjoyed a lot of the same shows, I can see in this reflection that it was not the ideal way to stay close and get closer to each other in our relationship. I can feel the difference in our interaction when the TV is turned off. We are all more present, more focused, more aware of each other, and that includes the little one. This is why I looked forward to the absence of “easy” TV. Because it had become too easy to fall onto the couch every night, zone out, fall asleep.

So even though James is having a hard time, and we might have to break down and pay a little something monthly in order to receive our local channels clearly, I am still optimistic. So optimistic that I started writing this in order to work out my own ambivalence toward this loss, but instead have found myself focusing on the good that I have no doubt will come from it.

I just know that I don’t want all my memories of this time in my life to revolve around what was happening on Lost or The Office. So breaking up with cable is probably the first step in making that happen. And it’s not that we won’t be watching our favorite shows, just that after awhile it might not be the first and only idea we have for what to do on a given weeknight. We might even find ourselves getting a little creative, becoming more ambitious in other areas of interest and perhaps spending more real quality time together, even on the days we don’t get a lot of time together period. Either way, the cable is gone now, and we have already entered a new era, even if it still mostly looks the same as the old one. It’s not. I won’t let it.

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