I’ll Finish it Off Today


Empty Wagon. A summer photo 

I grew up mostly without a television. I say “mostly” because there was a period of time (a year? Maybe two?) when we had a TV; it was very small, and black & white, and it didn’t last too long. I don’t remember what happened to it; I just remember that it stopped working and that despite my cajoling we never got another one. Like most parents, mine did things that were wrong and things that were right. I think one of the most right things they did was to not have a television.

At some point in my childhood, I got in the habit of waking up real early to read before school. I’d get up at 4:30 or so, and read in bed for two hours before I had to rouse myself for breakfast. I was not a popular child – too fat, too bumbling, and wanting too much to not be these things – and reading was a cheap and easy way to escape these circumstances. Or maybe I just liked good stories. Who doesn’t?

In high school I quit reading so much, though never gave it up in full. I smoked a fair bit of pot and maybe a bit more, got into my fair share of trouble and maybe a bit more. Lost all that extra weight, as chronicled in the space a while back. I wasn’t a bad kid, but for various reasons, I sometimes behaved like one. I guess all kids do this at some point or another, though maybe not the same extent.

I’m pretty sure that growing up without a television saved my life. That’s maybe a touch dramatic, but it’s also maybe not. Certainly, it improved the quality of my life – both then and now – immeasurably. It was a huge, huge gift, and I’m tremendously grateful for it, and if I had just one piece of advice to offer new parents, it’d be to ditch the TV. Yeah, sure, there can be some good stuff on there, but in balance, it’s just not worth it. Not for your kids. Not for you. If it makes it any easier, consider it an act of civil disobedience. Or patriotism. And aren’t they really one and the same?

I still like waking up early, though now it’s generally to write, not read. I usually get up around 5:00 or maybe 5:30. I don’t use an alarm. On the rare occasion I sleep past 6:00, I have the sense of the day passing me by, and I sort of mourn this quiet hour to myself, sitting by the wood stove like I am right now, drinking coffee. The cats milling about. Everyone else asleep.

Yesterday, in the newly-lengthening afternoon, I started cutting next year’s firewood. I had only time to run one tank through the saw, and I ran out of gas in the midst of making a notch cut in a nice-size red maple. I left the wounded tree and carried the dry saw back to the barn, walking slow through the snow. I’ll finish it off today.








33 thoughts on “I’ll Finish it Off Today”

  1. We had very limited TV growing up, 1 – 2 hrs/day tops. Mostly we were shooed outside.

    I ditched the TV in 1978. But I did eventually have a monitor and VCR player. But again it was rationed at 1 – 2 hr/day tops. But days would go by without using it.

    I grew up 1 block from the town library and was a voracious reader. I am still. When my husband met me, he had read 3 books for enjoyment. He now reads more than I do.

    He grew up in a home where the TV was turned on by the first one up, and off by the last one up.

    We have thousands of books in our house and weeks can go by without turning the monitor on.

    Ditching the TV was one of the best things I ever did.

  2. Oh the hours upon hours I spent watching “the price is right” after school in the 70s as a lazy latch-key kid. Not my best days, but I had a fine hold on the value of the Datsun B210. It was about $3,738, and I was shocked when it crossed 4 grand. Happy solstice. Xo

    1. Ha! I owned a B210 for awhile. I think I paid $900 for it. It got me to Laramie, Wyoming and back, though not without incident.

    2. The Price is Right! When we visiting grandparents, I LOVED watching that show. Bob Barker was such a… damn, I’m not even sure what he was. But it was captivating.


  3. Thanks for this early morning piece. My coffee is cooking down here in Texas and it was a great way to start my day.

  4. “I’ll finish it off today” . . . quite reminiscent of your prescient comment to your dad when, as a toddler encountering a broken egg in the hen coop, you are chronicled as saying: “this egg’s for you Dad, they’ll lay mine tomorrow!” Thanks SO much for sharing these marvelous stories, philosophies, and feelings penned in the hours when most of us are still zombies, snoring away the best part of the day.

  5. My husband was just discussing with an Amish friend about our decision to get rid of our television several years ago. Our friend asked if we did it for our daughter and while that was part of it, I also did it for myself. And I have never regretted it.

  6. You ever hear of old-school Mennonites? Well they don’t do tv. Never ever. And as I grew up old-school Mennonite that means I never saw a tv ever. Never ever. Which means, in turn, that my lust for a tv had no bounds. A tv was a second gravity. You could see a real live tv at Sears next to the washing machines, and I lived for an occasional five minutes in sears. I’d slip away from my family and hide behind the washing machines. Mere feet from a tv. It was amazing. A TV! It didn’t matter if the sound was on or off, it didn’t even matter if it was turned off black. Just to see one. It was like true heaven just to be near one. Tv was God. Tv was greater than god. One time Iater I saw Bonanza, almost the whole show, and it was unbelievable. They shot guns. It was unbelievable to see gun shooting.

    1. A while back, when Fin was 5 or so, Penny took the boys to a kayak store to buy a used kayak. There was a TV showing kayaking videos. Fin came over to where Penny was talking to the salesperson and said “come look at this box, Mama. It’s got pictures AND sound.”

      True story.

      I loved TV when I was a kid, too. I’m just glad no one satisfied my desire for one.

      1. I’ll finish my story off today by saying this: I do not do TV. I abhor a television. There was a tv around in the years after i left home and the Mennonite tradition, but it never stuck. I found it silly. I too read tons as a kid (that was allowed somehow), and tv could never compete with those years of reading. One only need to stay totally off tv for about one year, and then return to it, to realize how foolish and empty it is. Better trump almost than a tv…and god knows my feelings about him

    2. Oh, thank you for the laughs, Will!
      So many good TV stories. What amuses me the most is the difference of all the stories I hear here, vs. my view from across the ocean behind the Iron Curtain. We thought EVERYONE in the USA had a tv, and a dishwasher. I mean, c’mon, even we had one, a black and white box on four skinny legs in the corner of one room that served both as living room, family room, and my sister’s and my bedroom. My best memories of it are from early 80’s, when that little box was quite old, sometimes it would stop working, and we would slam a fist to its head, and it would continue on. The repair man was called regularly, he would come in, take off the back cover and mess around with thousands of little lamps and channels in the back of it. The cover eventually broke off, and nobody bothered to put it back on, and us kids would sneak behind there and play with all the TV guts. That was in many ways way more fun that watching it. 🙂

      We had three or four channels, one Lithuanian and two Russian. Programs would stop promptly at 10 or 11 pm, and when my dad would fall asleep on the couch watching evening news, he’d wake up to the funny fizzy noise and gray pixels. On New Years day, magic happened, and some concert would be on all the way through midnight!
      Parents needed not to worry about any censorship for their kids, because state did it all. There were no commercials as it all was pretty much one big commercial for the state. 🙂 There were no mean people, no greedy people, no drugs, no sex, no ugliness. Well, only later I came to find out that the man who used to come fix our tv was recently released from jail where he spent time for some ugliness. and drugs. and alcohol. So…
      Russians made some great sci-fi films for kids. Many of them probably had multiple meanings behind them, even hidden hints of religion or afterlife, or political undertones, of which then I needed not to worry, because….. there was no ugliness in my world.
      And then, just as I was hitting teenage years, something completely out of this world happened. Gorbachev popped up and handed us all color TV, satellite dishes, and MTV! I watched those MTV videos, drooling, trying to style my hair like Paula Abdul, watching my dad dangle out of the 4th floor apartment balcony trying to adjust that satellite dish. . .

      Something in me thinks, whatever we were offered and whatever we absorbed or rejected, tv, or no tv, guns or no guns, a lot or a little, somehow it all just added up a perfectly stunning puzzle picture of who we already were, and how we carry the world and each other.
      May you all have a beautiful return to Light and Joy. ❤

    3. I didn’t buy a tv as a young adult, never planned to. Now we have one so my kids won’t feel that desire you’ve described. It rarely gets turned on, sometimes I feel bad for the money or resources wasted producing it. On the upside, they have a choice and they choose about a hundred other things nearly every day before thinking of turning it on: when they do, it is just for something specific they want to watch ( no price is right! No bonanza!)

  7. Now where is that acknowledgement of uncertainty that you wrote about a few days ago? Now you’re SURE watching television is bad…even though you admit there’s some good things produced for TV?

    Being born in 1946, I was lucky enough to enjoy TV from the age of 5 or so. Kukla, Fran and Ollie, I Love Lucy, The Howdy Doody Show, Texas Bruce and the Wrangler Club are all cherished memories of my tender years. A couple of these may have been local St. Louis productions so you may never have heard of them. But I will love Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring until my dying day…

    Now much of television is crap, how can you possibly fill hundreds of stations 24 hours a day with something worthwhile. But there’s still reruns of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents if you need a little screen time to coax you into never never land.

  8. I have to confess that I often get jealous of people who had such a childhood, where the parents were normal and didn’t abuse or neglect their children. Who didn’t pawn them off on tv and pop entertainment in order to be left alone. To have never felt depression…wow. For me, it’s like some privilege that I could only dream of. It’s good to know that you are thankful for it. Be thankful every day that you never had to spend half your life recovering from your childhood, I’ve wasted years of my life and regret it every single day.

    We don’t turn on the TV very often, but every once in awhile we watching something. My 8 year old is not used to the stimulation, and it’s funny to watch her watch TV. She’s often yelling at the screen, jumping wild all over the couch, hiding her eyes, squealing out loud:} She’s never zombied out, quite the opposite. Twice she’s watched a movie in a public place, it was a little bit embarrassing when she stood up and yelled, ‘Nooooooooooooooooooooo!’ during some bad guy part. But at the same time I’m happy that she’s different, and not going numb at such a young age. She contentedly watches the birds every morning, squealing in excitement when she sees whichever breed that flies up, and it makes me realize that not pawning my kid off on technology is an accomplishment, dare I say a privilege in these extreme times?

  9. No TV here, either. Although we have a DVD player where we can watch movies, we skip all the bullshit of TV, and watching a DVD is considered a treat, not daily habit.
    On the rare occasions we go to a hotel with a TV, we get sucked into the TV rabbit hole, where you are in a stupor after two hours. It makes me feel dirty and like an alien, and I marvel with sick fascination that some people watch TV for hours every day.

  10. My 4 year old saw a few minutes of a football game on television while at a relative’s house on Thanksgiving Day. His response – “Why are those big boys pushing each other down? That’s not kind.” My husband, who started playing football at an age not much beyond 4 and played it until college said, “No, it’s not.”
    No television here, either. It went away about 10 years ago just after we got rid of the land-line telephone (cannot recommend that highly enough, either.) Even though this is not a recent change by any means, I received some criticism from a family member not too long ago. The jist of it was this – “You don’t watch TV. You don’t read the newspaper. It’s one thing for you to drop out of society but, at some point, you’re going to need to teach your boys about the real world.” For once in my life, I was wise and didn’t say anything for a long minute or so. When I did speak, I spread my arms out wide, gesturing to the view of our pasture and the woods beyond and said, “This is the real world. If you think what you see on television and in the newspaper is real, then we will just have to disagree on the definition of that word.” Later, I think I said a few choice expletives under my breath out there in the woods where only the trees could hear me. 🙂
    My husband and I have found some value to the occasional YouTube video when learning a skill. A second best choice to having a real live mentor in our lives, a goal we are still (constantly) pursuing. My boys occasionally watch a woodworking video with Daddy or a homesteading one with me and we find they use the experience like they often do a story or book. They act out portions of what they see in their play and we will reference some skill we saw in our work and projects in an attempt to ground it all in reality. I will always choose in-person mentorship first but am grateful for this tool to fill in a gap in my knowledge. Fortunately, I am one who is easily overwhelmed by too much information so spending too much time on-line is not a problem for me. Wouldn’t have thought that was an asset at one time in my life but I think it may be in this case.
    Wishing the Hewitt family and their family of readers a most joyous transition from this season to the next. Peace and Blessings to all!

  11. I think there are many distractions from what is truly important. T.V. ,video games. Although, there can be some valueabe resources in learning there. But generally a waste of time and money. I do not share a popular belief amongst friends who are parents of other young children when I tell them we are choosing not to allow video games or video game systems. That character, respect and community are not build on in imaginary world on an overpriced screen.

    Merry Christmas, be safe. Take care of each other.

  12. Andy wrote a great essay. Here’s a quote: “Because living with awareness that you are part of Nature will make you happier. It will bring you Home. Modern Man is plagued by depression and a deep sadness. He feels alienated and alone. He is dying of loneliness. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. He wants to escape. Constantly looking for distractions from this unease.”


    I think this might be a reason why so many people lose themselves in The Box. They’ve (inadvertently) divorced themselves from their roots.

    Anyway… Again. Happy Christmas to all! May your hearth be warmth and your candles twinkling today and all of the season!

  13. We had a television but we had so much fun running around outside we never thought to watch it unless we were stuck inside at night or on a rainy day. Even then we were playing with toys mostly. Of course we didn’t have cable, and the only things on worth watching were Saturday morning cartoons, a sitcom or two at night, and after school cartoons. Not that we always got to watch these things, but we did enjoy it when we did.
    Now the cartoons run through the streets in place of children who now aren’t allowed out of the sight of an adult. And who also now have their faces buried in a device of some sort. I do miss the good old days.

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