I miss commercial breaks.
Quick confession: my family and I are borderline TVaholics. I mean - we work at lot, and exercise, and read, and travel, and ski, and swimbikerun and do all the things but seriously - if it weren’t for work, and school, and goals, and vitamin D, and maybe the need to eat and eliminate, we would park ourselves in front of our gorgeous, behemoth flat screen and consume obscene amounts of media.
Our TV is endlessly entertaining. Our family loves shows like America’s Got Talent, Alone, Face Off, American Ninja Warrior, and anything to do with buying an island in the Caribbean. (Hey HGTV - how do I get on that SHOW??) A few months ago HBO did the ole bait and switch and gave us three months free. I started watching Game of Thrones, which was a mistake, because now I dream about Jon Snow and dragons and believe that I am Sarah, of House Wooten, first of her name. I literally am obsessed with that show, except not when they cast Ed Sheeran as a soldier in the red army. Just no.
All that to say, when we have some down time, my family likes to hang out and watch TV. All of the shows are DVR’d, and while we are watching, I wield the remote like Arya handles Needle, parrying and thrusting in endless swordplay with commercial breaks. It’s annoying really, stopping and starting, and stopping and starting. My thumb gets tired. I don’t like it.
One day, in an effort to be rid of the ceaseless battle, I handed the remote off emphatically to one of my family members. “You fast forward through commercials,” I said. “I’m done!”
The thing was, none of them ever fast forwarded. Like...EVER. I’m not joking. They just let the commercials PLAY. It drove me nuts. “What is wrong with these people?” I thought, “have I raised them to watch ads like SHEEP?”
I would remind my family incessantly to fast forward, but not one of them cared to do so. They would get up and stretch, or go to restroom (biological need to eliminate, remember?), or get a snack from the kitchen, or goddess forbid, TALK TO EACH OTHER WHEN WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GLUED TO THE TUBE.
It was maddening.
A couple of weeks ago, before I left on my monster-sized work trip (9 days, 2 cities, 3 planes, 1 light rail, 7 talks, 2 videos, 6 interviews, 1 art museum, countless ubers, conference food), I knew I needed to spend some quality time with the kids. I suggested that we - you guessed it - watch some TV. AGT was cued up, and as soon as I hit play, we were mesmerized. When the first commercial break arrived, I dutifully picked up the remote to fast forward, but my youngest got in my face with his adorable dimples and Studio Ghibli eyes and said, “Let’s play mom train!”
I was about to be gone for 9 days. How could I resist?
In case you don’t know, mom train is a variation of a popular game at our house called dad train, where children of all sizes launch themselves onto dad’s back and cling like baby monkeys….ALL AT THE SAME TIME. The object of the game is to let them ride you like a horse, or more accurately a mom possum. It looks like this:
I had never played it before because mom train would have to take place during GOD FORBID commercial breaks. But tonight was different - I already missed them, and I wanted to connect, not just consume. I hit mute on the commercials, let them play on the TV, and for the next two hours, I let the kids play a version of living room Parkour with me during every commercial break. We laughed. We got sweaty and breathless. We jumped on the couches. We toppled pillow towers. We piled bean bags on top of each other and play Hot Lava. Then we would take a break, watch something amazing, and do it all over again.
I felt like I was 8 years old.
My kids clung to me like the primates we all are underneath the glossy exterior. Deep within us is a creature that craves physical and emotional connection and longs to PLAY. It is lodged deep in our primal brain, the part that drives our most basic human urges and needs. When you play, it releases all sorts of feel good hormones and pent up stress that really wants to live in your muscles. Don't believe me?
Let a 70 pound kid sit on your shoulders and just TRY to keep any muscle tension up in there.
As my kids jumped on and grappled with me, I felt things tearing lose, negative thoughts and feelings that had all been bound up inside of me. I kid you not - it was borderline therapeutic. I found myself wondering, can you sell this feeling??
For me, letting my kids, (including my 15 year old daughter who wanted in the action - she's a 100 pounds people!!) play silly games with me and on me was not only good for my body, it was healing for my soul.
The older I get, the more I realize that play is a missing component from many adult lives. I don’t mean go to BlackHawk and gamble, or get drunk and PARTAY, or golf (snore...I mean FOUR!) - I mean actual play like we did when we were kids; like pretending you are a pirate, or jumping on a trampoline, or building castles in the sand. The kind of play where you use your imagination, and laugh until your sides hurt, run like a bat out of hell, and whoop and shout and let go and FEEL the thrill and genuine pleasure of play. If more people played, I suspect that our collective consciousness would be a lot more positive.
For me, play had been reduced to melting in the couch, exhausted, in a heap with a glass of wine, or two or three, not MOVING for 45 minutes, staring passively at the TV screen, and then stumbling off to bed like a white walker. I really had NO IDEA what I was missing.
Letting the commercials play reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid, something that I have since realized has been dormant in me all along. It never went away, it just got buried in life - in vet school, in work, in failures and lost dreams, in financial concerns, in unexpected death, in arguments with my spouse, in dirty diapers, in unpaid bills, in anxiety, stress, and fear. Playing with my kids like I did that night gave me a feeling that I never, ever thought I could have again.
For that, I say bring back commercial breaks.
Bring back that moment when we can bring our focus to each other and really savor the joy that human connection brings.
Bring back the time to play, and tend to personal needs, and to actually TALK about what we are seeing on the TV together (OMG - Merrick Hanna? You fill my heart with joy. KEEP DANCING!).
Bring back a chance to move and stretch and reflect and connect and get kicked in the face and fall off the couch laughing and be a bucking bronco, or a knight’s steed, or a super spy, or a super hero.
Bring back the commercial break, and bring back life.