Netflix Nearly Ruined My Life

Books serve as a window into different worlds, time periods and lives, and provide endless hours of entertainment and escape.

When I was a young child, books held a great mystery that I could not wait to unravel.

I remember the Bookmobile coming to our suburban-Pittsburgh neighborhood, and the excitement of checking out picture books. I recall the thrill of applying for my first library card (and bank account, on the same day), as soon as I could write my own name. And I have a fond memory of the first book my mom bought just for me; it was shaped like a sleeping cat.

Over the years, books have provided company during quiet afternoons, comfort in stressful times, unexpected knowledge and endless delights.

Movies provide much of the same pleasure, but in the past, they were less tenable and required advance planning.

Trips to the movies, for a family of eight, were rare. Birthday party outings to theaters were special.

We anxiously waited the once-yearly TV broadcasts of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  My mother let us stay up late when old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields films ran. My siblings and I watched “Bozo’s Circus” during lunchtime (what kid didn’t love hearing, “Let’s go over the Bozo buckets?”), “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons on Saturday mornings and “Laugh-In” on Monday nights.

photo-2But with Netflix, it’s all too easy to watch movies and TV shows anywhere, any time. And, recently I got sucked in to the abyss.

Perhaps I should blame my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the one who showed me how easy it is to order films on an iPad. And, she introduced me to a TV series I wouldn’t have watched otherwise.

In an effort to retain any shard of respect you readers may have for me, I won’t mention the name of the program. Let’s just say it’s about people much younger than me, whose lives I really shouldn’t care about.

Here’s what happened: During a recent road trip, I watched several episodes of that show with Pea. It gave us an activity to share and something to discuss afterwards, and those of you with teenage daughters may understand that is no easy feat.

While traveling together, Pea and I watched the last five or six episodes of the show’s six-season run, and I was left with many questions.

“It’s too complicated,” she said, with the patience of a teenager. “You’re just going to have to start at the beginning.” So, she showed me how to watch the show on my iPad.

Soon, I had it streaming when I was cooking, answering emails and lying in bed (my husband travels for work every week). At the gym, I could watch an entire episode during one workout on the elliptical, instead of covering 45 pages of a novel.

I became far involved with characters that had literally nothing in common with me.

Now, I might add that during this period, the escape was welcome. Those who know me well would agree that the past year has been more than a little challenging for my family. While my husband and I are still married, gainfully employed and well-housed, we have experienced unparalleled stress and sadness related to several loved ones.

So, perhaps a few months’ “vacation” into these other lives was just what the doctor ordered.

But the price was too high, as l stopped reading. My stash of unopened New Yorker, Sunday New York Times magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Kenyon Review publications piled up. My email queue contained more than 2,000 messages. I stopped looking for French-class assignments in Le Monde. I barely touched the assigned readings for my two book clubs, and went to meetings unprepared (definitely not my style).

I tried to skip several episodes of the program, but that left too many holes in the continuing saga. So, I rushed forward, feeling a burning pressure to complete the series before my life was totally upended. “Okay, just four more episodes, and then I can finish this month’s book club reading,” I told myself.

However, the book selection totaled about 450 pages, and there weren’t enough hours in the day – after work and family obligations – to tackle them.

Last Tuesday night, as we discussed Lent at the dinner table,  Pea announced she was giving up junk food. She asked what I had chosen, and it dawned on me that banning Netflix shows on the iPad would provide much-needed respite.

So, I stayed up late that night, finishing the show’s last two episodes. I did feel a sense of accomplishment and great relief when I turned off the iPad that night. And I was more than happy to say good-bye to those self-indulged characters.

The next day, I started reading a great book at the gym, and I have several more queued up. A new day is dawning.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 10 March 2014
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Keeping Out the Ks: Exercising the Mommy Veto

It’s hard to avoid hearing about the Ks. In supermarket checkout lines, their faces, boobs and butts festoon magazine covers, with headlines screaming about sex tapes, cheating, divorces and drugs.

photo-24This “famous for being famous” family has (or had?) a reality show on TV. Talk show hosts joke about the dad’s plastic-looking plastic surgery results, the mom’s pretty much everything, the older girls’ weddings, the days-long marriage and the “directionally” named baby.

Like many Americans, my middle-school-age daughter can’t seem to divert her eyes.

In all fairness, I know precious little about this blended family. I have never seen the reality show and don’t read the tabloids. However, I’ve heard enough to believe that the girls have nothing to offer my daughter, and couldn’t possibly serve as positive role models. So, after Pea quoted the show one too many times, I banned it.

Yes, I exercised the “Mommy Veto.”

We all know that mothers, as top executives of the household, hold this power. It comes in handy when absolute reason won’t work, when a vote has taken place and mom is in the minority or when we just inherently know that a course of action is wrong.

This is also known as the “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the mom” argument.

I have used the veto to negate our family’s democratic process on several occasions (“we all voted and decided the next vacation should be at Disneyland”) and I have employed it to ban plenty of activities, from playing violent video games to attending sleepovers to wearing sweatpants to school.

Keeping out the Ks was a bit harder. Aside from the possibility of watching at someone else’s house, Pea has access to Netflix and YouTube on TVs, computers and even an iPad.

Now, let me take a moment to state that if you have no idea what show or family I am discussing, no worries. I barely know who they are myself.

And, because I don’t want to bolster my reasoning with actual facts, which would require my watching the show, I need to trust my gut and just say no.

I think my daughter – who is still quite sweet and compliant – really has stayed away from the TV program. At least she stopped mentioning the family, primarily because I said she couldn’t even utter the last name in our home or around me.

That “around me” took on new meaning when I found myself in Los Angeles with Pea and her friend Smiley not long ago. Like many visitors to the area, they were on the lookout for stars, and mentioned several they hoped to meet.

photo-23When the “K” name came up, I took advantage of the “teaching moment.” “Honestly, girls, why would you want to see them? They are famous for all the wrong reasons. They don’t actually do anything. They haven’t contributed to society in a positive way.”

The girls tried to argue the girls’ virtues, and, after gaining no ground, took a new tack. “The younger two are okay,” Smiley avowed. “Those girls didn’t ask to be famous. They don’t want to do the show. They volunteer at an animal shelter. Their dad [that Olympian whose last name starts with a J] hates doing the show, too.”

I listened to Smiley and Pea, and replied, “Those ‘J’ girls are about your age, so they should be working on their educations, not out partying. They should do something worthwhile with their lives, and if I see them, I’ll tell them just that.”

Pea was aghast, and screamed, “Mom, you wouldn’t!”

My reply: “Oh, you’d better believe I would. I would have no problem setting those girls straight.”

At this point, while the conversation was all in fun for me, I’m not sure Pea and Smiley thought I was joking.

Which is why they both panicked a bit, the next afternoon, when they spotted a lanky teenage girl walking towards us in Studio City’s quaint shopping district.

“That’s one of the J girls,” Smiley whispered. “I know it is. She’s with her friend [whomever].”

The fact that Pea also recognized the girl, and knew of the friend, set off an internal alarm. I made a mental “We’ll discuss this later” note.

So, yes, there I was, face to face with the celebrity I had banned from my house and my daughter’s vocabulary, the same girl I had promised to “set straight.”

Both Pea and Smiley stopped dead in their tracks, and looked at me quite nervously. “You aren’t going to say anything, are you?” Smiley asked.

“Of course I will,” I challenged. “I’m going to give her the ‘what-what.’ “ Pea was praying, almost visibly, that I was bluffing.

We smiled at the gorgeous girl and her buddy, and watched as they entered the store we had just exited.

After the girls in my charge calmed down, Smiley announced, “I’m going in to ask for a photo. She’s really nice; I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

“If she agrees, I’ll take the photo,” I offered.

“Please, please don’t say anything to her,” Pea begged.

I kept up the charade a little longer. “Maybe I’ll just suggest she get a real job when she’s older.”

Of course, the very sweet-seeming 15-year-old “J girl” agreed to a photo. And, after seeing her up close, all I could utter was,  “Wow, you have amazingly beautiful eyes.”

We’ll see if Pea takes me seriously the next time I make a threat. Meanwhile, the show, the magazines, and both the K and J words remain on the banned list. Why? Because I’m the mom.

–Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Oct. 2013
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