If you ever want to find out what other members of your family are really like, try eating your meals for a change without watching television.
Like most other families in America, we have a television conveniently located near the kitchen table and over the years have fallen into the bad habit of watching it while we eat. This is fine so long as you’re not disturbed by the fact that the only conversation taking place is between Jerry Seinfeld and George (old reruns being the only kinds of shows that seem to be on around dinner time) and you’re actually listening to it.
But over a while, we gradually began to realize that there are two problems with this habit. First, we had reached the point where we knew the dialogue on all the old reruns as well as the actors. Second, we now have two daughters, ages one and six, and the oldest one was beginning to think that people really lived like that.
We finally decided that dinnertime could be better spent in meaningful conversation. You know, that cute, anecdote-filled table talk you always saw on “The Wonder Years” or “Happy Days”. After all, we’d been watching it for years and could certainly do better than the scriptwriters. So the day came with the television would remain off until after dinner, over the objections – no, make that the howls – of our oldest daughter.
About ten minutes into our first no-television meal, several things became painfully obvious. For example, each of us seemed to have some annoying eating habits that had previously gone unnoticed. Also, try as we would we just couldn’t seem to keep a conversation going in anything other than two-word sentences.
Now, these problems would have surfaced long ago except for the existence of a scientific fact I’ve recently discovered: people are oblivious to everything else while watching television.
After a few minutes of silence at the table I finally decided to open a conversation with our six-year-old.
“Well, honey, what did you do at school today?”
“Not much. Can we turn on the TV now?”
“No, we’re going to leave it off until after dinner from now on so we can talk as a family.”
“But we’re missing the Brady Bunch. They’re a family too, aren’t they?
“Yes, but only on television. We’re a real family and it’s time we started acting like one.”
“But all my friends watch television while they eat. That’s what families do, you know.”
Realizing I not only wasn’t getting anywhere but was on the verge of being outsmarted, I desperately turned to my wife for support. What I got was a question.
“How do you like the pork chops?” she asked.
“Fine, just fine.” Actually, they tasted like beef jerky. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? “By the way,” I continued, “did you do something different to them?”
“No, why? Don’t you like them?”
“Yes, I like them, I just thought they tasted a little different than usual, that’s all.”
“Well, of course they taste different than usual, you’ve got them smothered in pepper.”
“They’re not smothered, I always put a lot of pepper on my food. Besides, it’s better than salt. Look at how much salt you pour over your vegetables. That’s not healthy.”
“Well, at least I don’t stir my vegetables in with my mashed potatoes, just look at that! It looks like dog food!”
“Dog food! Daddy’s eating dog food!” my six-year-old piped in.
Our one-year-old just sat there grinning, probably because dog food would be an improvement over the pap she ate out of baby food jars.
“Yeah,” I stupidly replied, “it may look like dog food, but at least it doesn’t taste like dog food, like this meat does.”
“Okay,” my wife glared as she whisked away my plate, “I’ll give it to the dog and next time you can cook it yourself.”
“I’ll be very happy to do that. And why don’t you turn on the TV while you’re up.”
True to my word, I did cook dinner the next night. Meatloaf. Burned meatloaf. Fortunately, the television was on so no one noticed.