2002.12.18 Home for the holidays

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I’m in the kitchen Monday afternoon, eating a late lunch and contemplating what to make with all the vegetables I’ve dragged out of the fridge.

“You want to help me make dinner?” I yell to Ben.

“I dunno,” he mumbles from the living room.

Sounds like an enthusiastic “no” to me, but I don’t push it. I don’t remind him where his bread is buttered, I don’t admonish him that he needs to earn his keep, I don’t point out that I’m not his personal slave, and if he wants to eat, he’d dang well better start helping out.

Next week, I might say those sort of things. This week, I’m cutting him all the slack I can. I’m just happy he’s home. Twenty-three years after graduating from the same university he attends, I still remember the feeling of being done with classes for a semester. Only it wasn’t a semester back then, It was a shorter term, but it was hell just the same. I know that giant exhale and that overwhelming feeling of relief—Ahh, done...no more responsibility. No more demands on my time. Until it all starts up again.

I walk through the living room to turn up the thermostat and the TV show he’s watching catches my eye—or, more precisely, my ear. It’s the hokey voices that stop me. A mailman is talking to a woman in that slow and repetitive sort of way people use when they’re talking to little kids—like they’re subhuman and can’t understand English yet.

“Mister Rogers?” I ask.

Ben nods sheepishly.

“I think scraping carrots could be a lot more interesting than Mister Rogers,” I tell him.

He smiles, his eyes still on the screen.

“Is this what college does to your brain?”

Maybe I missed the first warning sign last week when David brought home from the Fayette village council meeting a little squishy, blue garbage truck. It was a present from Archbold Refuse Service, the village’s waste hauler. I gave David a hard time for bringing more junk into the house, but Ben seemed to be having a fine time with the vehicle, flipping it in the air as he watched TV.

Maybe it’s not college, though. Maybe it’s the effect of having grown up without a TV in the house—all those years of deprivation, when he only watched TV when he was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house or at the homes of friends. Seventeen years of no TV on a regular basis. Attention, parents: consider what’s happened to this child before deciding to ban the set from your house.

“I’ve seen this show two times already,” he tells me.

It’s a curse on our family. Back before we got the TV a couple of years ago, and only watched occasionally at the homes of friends and relatives, we always ran into the same problem whenever we stayed at a hotel. Invariably, the very few shows we had already seen would be showing in reruns.

But here Ben was, having already seen this particular episode of Mister Rogers twice before on previous zoning out sessions and he wasn’t even budging.

I shook my head and left the room. A few minutes later, he calls out, “It’s in Spanish.” He’s trying to tell me it’s educational. He took four years of Spanish in high school and last year studied Spanish in college. He knows I think he should keep it up.

I sit and watch the segment for a bit, a man dressed as a fortune cookie speaks Spanish as he visits people, while Mister Rogers translates. The whole thing looks pretty inane, especially if you took French in high school and college as I did. But pretty soon, Mister Rogers takes us out into the neighborhood to meet his friend, Eric Carle, the incredible illustrator and author of children’s books, who will show us how he creates his colorful paper collages. It’s riveting, and I watch the entire segment.

You’d think I’d just finished a semester of college.

    – Dec. 18, 2002 
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