TV-Free Week is OVER!


Question of the Week:
How do you keep a wild-child toddler busy for seven whole days without one bit of television?

I deserve a glass of champagne. No, wait, make that a margarita. No wait! Make that a pitcher of margaritas.

Oh, wait. Pregnant ladies can’t have alcohol? I’ll just take a cookie (or two), then…

Why the celebration, you ask? Well, we survived a week of Emma Vance being TV-free! I know this sounds like no big deal, but after having been through the trenches myself, let me confirm that it was freaking HARD.

To kick-off our 2014 New Year’s resolutions in the Shove household, we decided that since so many of our goals are long-term, we needed an instant-gratification kick-in-the-butt to get us motivated: For one week, I vowed to go wheat-free; “E.V.” vowed to go TV-free; and Ryan vowed to put up with us girls’ vows without complaining. :) I’m not going to say much about the wheat-free thing because it wasn’t that big of a deal for me, especially in comparison to meeting the goal of going without television for seven days. In summary, I didn’t eat bread. There. That’s about it. ;)

Why TV-free, you ask? Well, as Emma Vance has gotten more active and demanding of our attention, the television has slowly become a means for us to distract her. We started off only watching Sesame Street (educational) while taking her pre-bed bottle. She’s the type of kid who totally becomes a zombie when the TV is on, so it helped her to focus and actually drink her milk instead of running around with her bottle, playing but largely ignoring it. Then we started using it as a way to wind down before her afternoon nap…and then we’d turn on the TV and catch a few more minutes of sleep if she woke up too early…and then we’d turn on PBS when we needed a moment to do toddler-free things around the house…and then we started watching Tinkerbell movies and other non-educational shows when we got sick of Sesame Street reruns…and so on and so on. It was a slippery slope for us, and I was really concerned that we were relying on television too much. Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine getting through the day without it!

The hard thing is that I don’t believe that watching television is inherently bad for kids; however, I do believe it’s not preferable to most other activities. The real problem arose when it became a consistent activity in Emma Vance’s day. E.V. was quickly adopting the bad habits that Ryan and I have acquired over the years, i.e. constantly having a TV on somewhere for a means of entertainment, background noise, distraction, etc.  I was eager to put a stop to that cycle, and the new year seemed like a good time to start. I wanted this first week of 2014 to be to be a real challenge, and, man, did I get what I bargained for!

I don’t have any close friends who have 100% television-less kids, so I was really doubtful of my ability to get through the week. However, yes, it turns out it is possible! I do have to admit that it was a way harder week, a way more EXHAUSTING week, than usual. Before kids, if you vow to go without TV for a week, you get a million things done and feel so good about yourself; with kids, you get nothing non-kid-related done and feel like a truck ran over you each night. :) I really missed those 15-minute spurts here and there where I’d usually turn on Netflix Kids and go about my cleaning or emailing (or, truthfully, Facebook-ing). It was mentally taxing to have to give all of my attention to E.V. every waking second of the day. Yes, she played by herself here and there, but largely she wanted to be with either Ryan or me, doing whatever we were doing or begging us to come join her play world. We spent a LOT of time reading to her, playing imaginary games, teaching Emma Vance new tricks…basically being parents. I’m not going to lie–it was tough. I was desperate for a break! There were a million moments where I wanted to give in and quit. I was ravenous for the background noise, for the “life” that the sound a roaring TV brings to an empty house; I was aching for a moment to just close my eyes and not have midget hands try and pry them open; I was frustrated that I couldn’t get anything done around the house without little feet pitter-pattering at my side…

However, as the week wore on, it got easier. It was like a gradual magic. Once I had suffered through the initial detox of my addiction to Netflix, I began to feel better — happier. Ryan and I got more creative; E.V. got more independent. We learned how to include her in our daily activities; she learned more discipline than ever before. We taught her new and exciting things; she responded by amazing us in ways that we never thought an 18-month old could. I don’t want to give the impression that the last leg of our challenge was a piece of cake, but our shaken-up routine began to settle down as the remote gathered dust. The old way of doing things was replaced by a new, better way of interacting with our toddler, and it felt good.

And then the freeze hit.

God is so funny. This kick-off challenge would have been hard at anytime of year, but winter made for an especially challenging challenge since we couldn’t play outdoors. Thankfully, the beginning of the week had nice, reasonable temperatures where we were able to run a few errands (gym, groceries, etc.), which ate up some time during those looong days. However, right about when I was feeling confident in my ability to parent without technology, God laughed and challenged my attitude. Wait, you think you’ve got the hang of this? Yeah, right! Let’s see how well you do when we throw cabin-fever into the mix! The past two days, which were the last two days this challenge, brought teen and single-digit temperatures to the South, and although people may think that’s appropriate weather to take their kids out and about up North, we’re not of that mindset here in the land of cotton. The three of us spent almost 48 hours straight in our house with nothing but ourselves for entertainment. It was the last big push of the week, and that’s when we really needed to think outside of the box. What do you do with a toddler who has about eight hours of free time a day (12 waking hours minus a nap, mealtime and bath time) and no siblings to entertain them? Well, you find stuff to do. Anything to do. And you do it…until you can’t move. Until you pass out in bed, achy and exhausted at night. And then you feel great about yourself because you know your child felt loved, paid attention to, special, challenged and excited all day long. Now THAT’S what the week was all about. :) It was a really, really tough ending to the week, but we did it!

Today was our first day post-challenge, and you know what? I didn’t need television. In fact, I didn’t even really want it. Truly, it has been cleansed from my system; I don’t crave it anymore. I won’t say that we’ll be TV-free forever (heck, we watched a little Sesame Street with our bedtime snack this evening), but I feel freed of needing it to survive the day. When Baby #2 arrives, I know we’ll be relying on Netflix Kids to control the chaos a bit, and that’s okay. Until then, I can honestly say that the past seven days has changed my attitude and my heart about what my eyes see, how my child’s time is spent, who influences our lives and what we consider truly “necessary” in our modern parenting world.

Still wondering how on God’s green earth we kept ourselves sane over the past week? :)

Here’s a sampling of what TV-free activities kept us busy at the Shove household:

Emma Vance’s favorite activity right now is coloring/drawing. She’s constantly finding pens, pencils, chalk, crayons–you name it!–and scraps of paper to scribble on. When she can’t locate any impromptu art supplies, I find her begging at the foot of the fridge (where the crayons are kept), “Bloo! Pur-pah! Color!” (Apparently she favors blue and purple because they’re the first colors she’s learned.) So far she’s only made one mistake — marking on her practically-brand-new play table with a (yep, you guessed it) PURPLE marker. (I have no clue where she found that one.) However, as she’s gotten more “into” drawing, I’ve become increasingly concerned about her potential to “add color” to our decor :), so I had seen on Pinterest where someone suggested giving a toddler a coloring “box.” Boxes? I have a few lying around… :) I intended for this to be a one-time activity, but she loved it so much that it’s become part of her play things. Besides having difficulty climbing in and out by herself, it’s been a great Mom-free way to take up some time this week. Plus, we’re of course always interested in helping her pursue outlets for her art. Ha!

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This cold week was tough for the dogs, too, since they typically spend a fair amount of time outside harassing the wildlife surrounding Amityville. Olive is a polar bear at heart, so the freezing temperatures didn’t seem to bother her, but I was still worried about her playing outside too long. This meant that the dogs were allowed to play ball in the house this week! THANKFULLY Emma Vance has learned how to (somewhat) throw the ball over and over for them to chase. (Otherwise I get bored more quickly than Olive would like.) Of course this ball-throwing comes with a price tag — namely license to harass (i.e. hug and kiss) the dogs as much as E.V. wants while they play. I think Oscar and Olive weighed out the pros and cons and decided to put up with E.V.’s affection in exchange for a playmate with an opposable thumb.

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Without television to occupy her attention, E.V. rediscovered a LOT of her long-forgotten toys over the past seven days. Before Christmas we did a huge clean-out of unused, broken or unloved playthings, but she still has a TON of stuff. Although each night ended with a huge pile of toys for me to clean up, it was worth the moments of sanity her making that mess gave me. My favorite re-discovery? Her stuffed animals, which she had totally abandoned for a while. She’s gearing up to be a big sister, so at night she had to put them all “night-night.” Sigh.

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When temperatures in Georgia officially hit the single digits and we were really stuck indoors, I decided that we’d beat Mother Nature at her own game. If she was going to deny us our warm weather, we’d just have to pretend! I set up a beach party for Emma Vance (and a few close “friends”). It only took a few minutes to grab a beach towel, sand toys, ball and lounge chair, and then I decided to top it off with a fruity snack and fun drink for good measure. We pretended we were in Florida, sunning at the ocean’s edge in our short-shorts: E.V. ate pineapple, read a book, threw her ball around and played the ukulele to cap off our beach party. :) (Is this the equivalent of a former sorority girl reliving her social days? Maybe. I do love a good theme…)















Recently E.V.’s favorite Sesame Street character has become Elmo (no rhyme or reason there, although I suppose whoever invented Elmo must’ve gotten something right!), but strangely enough, coming in at a close second place is ERNIE. Yep, Ernie. I have no clue why other than she has a little Ernie figurine that she carries around with her… Anyway, since we failed to invite Ernie to our beach party (Mom fail!), we had to invite him to lunch, where he, um, “helped” E.V. eat her yogurt. Usually I’d file this under “Bad Manners,” but it entertained her for a good 20 minutes, so….yeah.






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Ernie’s lunchtime “misfortune” leads me to one of our biggest non-TV time-killers: Sink splashing. We got a Little Partner’s Learning Tower for Christmas (which was the BEST idea ever) so that E.V. could be safely at my side whenever I cook or do the dishes. She spends a majority of her time climbing up in the tower, peering down on the world below. We keep it in the center of the kitchen so she can’t reach anything when she gets in it without our supervision, but I’m constantly moving it around for different “activities,” including playing in the sink. She wants to wash her hands (“Hands?”) about ten times a day, and if I needed a moment this week, I’d just fill up the sink and hand her a cup or spoon (or whatever) to occupy her attention for a bit. Yes, we ended up with wet floors more often than not (we’re working on the “Only in the sink!” command), but she was happy as could be. Ernie was her best companion in these sink-splashing endeavors, including getting a much-needed post-yogurt bath. ;)




I wasn’t able to take many pictures because I was busy making sure my child didn’t crack her head open, but there was also a LOT of climbing/jumping/wildness that occurred this week. I’m in the parenting camp that believes kids should be allowed to explore and make mistakes and get hurt (within reason–no knives or fire or anything), so it was especially entertaining to see E.V. get creative with her Toddler Parkour :) this week. Her Anywhere Chair seemed to get the brunt of her energy…

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Perhaps the most popular activity this week was reading. We did a lot of reading. And I mean A LOT. Poor Ryan (who doesn’t love to read) had it especially hard; I think he read more books this week than he has collectively in his whole life! ;) E.V. was constantly requesting us to read to her (“Bookie?”), and unfortunately although we have about a million books, I think we read all of them at least twice. I do have to say that for the first time this week she seemed to have a better attention span for the longer books in her library. This made me happy; I felt like taking away her time as a TV zombie may have influenced her ability to focus on reading for more than a few minutes at a time. By far her favorite books, though, were and are the ones with animals in them. She’s going through a phase where she is ravenous to learn animal names and sounds, and it’s pretty darn cute to hear her repeat them back. (Her favorite is roaring like a lion, which she does constantly.) No pictures because, well, you can’t take pictures with a book in your hands, now can you? :)

This morning we celebrated reaching our TV-free goal with Belgian waffles. Since I went wheat-free as my own personal kick-off challenge, the treat was my choice. :) Ryan bought an industrial waffle maker at my brother Jon’s request for Christmas morning, and although I initially rolled my eyes at the purchase, it’s awesome! Plus E.V. LOVES waffles, so I figure it’ll be a fun thing to do on the weekends throughout her childhood.

And with a mouthful of wheat-y Belgian goodness I say, WE DID IT! YAHOO!

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