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Eating meals in front of TV is extremely rare, except . . .


Like many American families, ours has firm rules about watching television during meals.

We believe meals should be a time of communal celebration, an opportunity for family members to break bread and squirt ketchup together. That is why watching television during meals is strictly forbidden at our house.

Except, of course, when it is a "bonding" experience. Like last Sunday morning when the 8-year-old and I made pancakes and watched "The Three Stooges" on the portable TV in the kitchen.

I was not really interested in the outcome of this episode. I knew that, even though Curly was getting clobbered in a boxing match, he would eventually win. Somehow, some way, Larry and Moe would get Curly to hear a recording of "Pop Goes the Weasel," and the tune would transform Curly into a punch-throwing maniac.

I watched to keep my son company. It was early in the morning. It was a time for simple manual labor, like sifting the flour used in the pancake batter; and, for stupid pleasure, like watching the Three Stooges. When the rest of the family, the 12-year-old and his mother, arrived at the kitchen table, I gave them some fresh buttermilk pancakes. But I did not immediately turn off the TV.

Instead, I waited for "closure." That came when Larry drove a music truck into the boxing arena, and Curly heard "Pop Goes the Weasel," and knocked out the champ.

Then I turned off the set and basked in the syrupy afterglow of a pancake breakfast and a shared artistic experience.

Generally, my kids are prohibited from watching television during breakfast. The noise from a blaring television at that hour of the day would, I feel, hurt their delicate digestive tracts.

Except on Saturdays. That is when their mother and I want to sleep past 7 a.m. On Saturdays not only is it "OK" for the kids to watch cartoons and slurp down cereal, it is highly recommended. The kids have learned if they keep the door in the family room shut, and keep the TV volume somewhere below blaring, their parents will wake up in reasonably good moods.

I have heard that some parents go so far as to place the boxes of cereal and spoons and plastic bowls out the night before on the kitchen table. I wouldn't know about that.

But I do know that if on Friday night, you transfer milk from a heavy gallon milk jug into a smaller, lighter pitcher, you are much less likely to be awakened by an early-morning crash. The rare opportunities for us to eat a mid-day meal as a family are cherished. That is why no one watches television during lunch, unless of course there is big game on.

The "big game" comes in a variety of sports -- basketball, baseball, tennis, football or lacrosse. In any of these sports the big game is a culturally significant event; something all members of my family should watch, even during lunch. So I often invite family members to watch the big game, wolf down sandwiches and pound furniture with me. But few avail themselves of this opportunity.

The big game lunches are taken in the family room, which is not to be called "TV room," even though it is the room where the household's largest television set resides. After all, we do not call the kitchen the "refrigerator room," or the laundry the "washing machine room."

Moreover, we do other things in the family room besides watch television. We match socks and throw them into the laundry basket. We even read, but only when the commercials are on and the sound is down.

The family room often fills up with kids and pizza when we rent a movie and our sons invite their friends over to watch the taped movie on the VCR. After such a viewing, the "family room" rug often has the aroma of spilled milk and discarded pizza parts.

Supper is, of course, the most sacred family time. At the end of each day we gather around the table seeking the sustenance and companionship that a family provides.

Unless the parents have had a hard day. Or unless "The Simpsons" is on TV.

In those cases, the kids streak upstairs, where they stretch out in front of the glowing TV and eat plates of food their father has carried to them.

After I have fed the troops, I go back to the kitchen and eat dinner with my wife. During dInner we sometimes discuss the hardships of being a parent in America today. Such as whether anything good will be on TV, once we get the kids to bed.

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