IT'S SUNDAY. ARE YOU ready for some football? Well, don't be dropping by our house because, in a role reversal that has heads spinning, the parents are forbidden to watch TV until homework is done.
I'd worry if the same thing were not going on all over America, or at least in the home of our good friends the Smears. (We are always checking with the Smears to make sure what is happening in our house is normal, and they have never disappointed us.)
Anyway, their daughter and our son, students in a high school European history class, have declared the family room off-limits while they type their way through centuries of war and famine at the computer. They have 700 years to cover in 180 days of school, so you can imagine the volume of homework each night and every weekend.
I don't know about you, but the cable and the computer modem are wired into the same room in our house, and in the Smears' house, and because of our kids, those two activities are now mutually exclusive.
(My husband says we should eliminate the dining room table and chairs and make that room a study hall/computer lab. But I am stubbornly holding onto my daydream of serving traditional holiday dinners in that room, though I admit that you have to do these things at least once for them to qualify as traditional.)
Anyway, Joe and Amanda, who seem to be able to do everything else in life with the television on in the background, claim not to be able to even think with anyone in the room watching TV.
This isn't a problem for the mothers. I haven't had time to watch anything on television since "thirtysomething." And Amanda's mother has been driving her kids around day and night since before the introduction of cable, so it is not a hardship for her, either.
But the fathers have been cut off, and they are unhappy.
Here are two men of such strong work ethic that they would empty a dump truck with a teaspoon, suddenly solicitous of their children's demanding academic life.
"Joe," says his father, stroking the boy with his voice. "Take it easy, pal. Take a break. Watch a little TV."
This from the man who has started to use SAT analogies in casual conversation. "Plethora is to plenty as paucity is to scarcity."
He has been reduced to watching TV with the sound off. " 'Monday Night Football' on closed caption for the hearing-impaired doesn't have the same feel," he says, whining.
His friend Steve doesn't dare enter the room when Amanda is working at the computer. The poor man has been cut off from a television screen the size of a garage door, premium cable and a remote that works.
So he went out in the dark of night to purchase a pair of rabbit ears for an old portable television he found in a spare room. It was pathetic.
Meanwhile, my husband sat me down for one of those talks parents sometimes have about the kids. "Honey, do you think he's working too hard?" he asked. "I mean, maybe he can't handle this. Should you see the teacher?"
He is unconvinced by my reassurance. Then we get to the heart of the matter.
"OK. You're not gonna want to hear this, but I don't know if I can make it through the whole school year without TV."
Poor man. He doesn't have to. That's him sitting at the kitchen table, squinting across the room at the tiny, fuzzy portable on the counter that has never been asked to do more than announce school closings.
The remote doesn't even work.
One good thing: I don't mind anymore when he eats in front of the TV.