Our Very Special Lifestyle

I wrote this one back before the most recent hacking kerfuffle. . . .

So, a reader asked me “can you share a little about your cable-free lifestyle?”

The truth is, I’ve had conversations with other folks who are shocked that we don’t have cable, so even though it feels like it isn’t a big deal to me, I’ll go ahead and talk tv.

When Cute W and I were first married, we were mostly either poor or students or both, so cable just didn’t make sense. Whenever I’m at a hotel and there’s cable, I feel like I just flip through all the channels and nothing’s worth watching, anyway, except for the items on premium channels that require extra money, and I’m cheap. Incidentally, we briefly considered Frozen on the pay-per-view at Great Wolf Lodge the other weekend, and then we saw that it cost $17. Even all the kids said, “No way! That’s ridiculous!”

So, in our grown-up life, we’ve actually only had cable once, and that was after September 11th. We were living in Brooklyn, and we’d only had the main networks that we watched with a rabbit-ear antenna. And did you know that all the networks sent their signals out from the top of the World Trade Center Towers? Our TV service went out completely. It’s funny, because so many people experienced September 11th so much via the TV footage of the planes flying into the buildings over and over, and all the journalists freaking out, and Bush’s speech, and we missed all of that (although of course we have other memories). Shortly after, we joined tons of New Yorkers craving distraction who called the cable companies, and the cable companies responded with special offers of football upgrades that were too good to refuse. By the following spring we were in Upstate New York and back to the bunny ears.

When M was teensy we’d watch tv with her in the room, but she found it so entrancing that it freaked us out, so we cut down. We’d watch tv a bit, but she was a really crappy sleeper, so we also just didn’t watch tv too much. I wrote before about how I pretty much missed pop culture for a while, and that included tv. Meanwhile, I’d read somewhere-or-other that the disembodied voices from radio or tv would confuse and distract little ones who were learning language, so it was just quiet in my house during the day. As little ones, M and J were allowed to watch PBS Kids and movies. Every once in a while–maybe for Sunday afternoon football or a kids’ special–they’d see regular tv. On one of their first times, I think it was M who explained to me, “Mom, they take little breaks in the middle of the show to tell us about things we might like to have.” Yes, honey. Yes they do.

Now we have a Roku box, and usually Cute W and I watch shows or movies streaming on Netflix. We still have the DVD membership, too, although we’ve been streaming more lately. We’re also Amazon Prime members, so sometimes we’ll do streaming via Amazon, if it’s something free. Generally speaking, even if we do watch something from network tv, I’ll watch it online on the computer. When I’m on my own, say, doing brainless work around the house, I might stream “The Daily Show” or a show that I think is too chick-flicky for Cute W (like “Parenthood,” “The Mindy Project,” or “The Fosters”). At night, Cute W and I are usually too tired for the commitment of a movie, so we tend to watch tv series in a big much, a year or even years after everyone else did. We just finished “Dexter,” for example. For the record, we’re big fans of “The Wire,” “The Closer,” “Deadwood,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Walking Dead,” “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Homeland.” The problem with all of these shows is that they’re pretty much all completely inappropriate for kid viewing, so we can only watch them when the kids are tucked away.

The kids, meanwhile, gradually started watching tv shows available on Netflix. A couple of favorites are “iCarly” and “H20.” They’ve also watched plenty of shows that are insipid and irritating, like “Jessie” or that horrible twin-boys-in-a-hotel show, which part of me thinks I should ban, but then I’m just lazy. Most recently M has really moved past all of these kid-oriented shows and she wants more grown-up stuff. We’ve found a couple of fun-for-the-family things via Netflix or online, like “Cake Boss,” “Chopped,” “Downton Abbey,” and “The Voice,” which we can all watch together. But the truth is we really don’t watch tv together that much, or at least not during the week. Usually they’ll watch some tv in the late afternoons, after homework is done but before dinner, and these days that’s only if they’re home, which might be a couple of times a week. More recently M’s allowed to stay up later than J, so she might watch shows that are a bit older with mildly inappropriate stuff: lately that’s “30 Rock” and “Parks & Recreation,” and for a little while she watched “Switched at Birth.” She’s in 6th grade, and she has friends who watch shows that I think are still inappropriate for her age group, like “Glee” and “Walking Dead,” or that are, in my opinion just plain distasteful, like “Dance Moms.” And the friends talk about how awesome these shows are. So that’s a bit of a bummer. I definitely think that she suffers here from being a first child. Many of M’s friends have older siblings, so their parents let them get away with more, and we’re more permissive for J, too.

Whoa, so clearly we watch plenty of TV like skipping out on cable just makes us a little intentional about what we choose to watch: we don’t flip around and get sucked into anything (except Cute W will get sucked into “Charlie Rose,” because he’ll often “just check” when we finish a show). Usually we’ll watch a show only after everyone else has been telling us about how we must watch it, or after we’ve seen great reviews. And I have no patience for commercials or news programs, except for the “Newshour” on PBS. And now I’m so used to watching what I want, when I want it, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d “go back” to cable.

Talking TV has reminded me that I always make kids do stuff before they turn on the TV. When they were little, they couldn’t watch in the morning unless they were dressed/breakfasted/tooth-brushed already, and even now, they have to ask before they turn it on, and I’ll often make them do some task first, because I know that they’ll do it quickly and efficiently that way. Yes, I happen to know that M snuck the first episode of “Glee” (thanks for telling me, Netflix) and that J occasionally sneaks up to her room with the Kindle. But they’re doing pretty well.

So, that’s our “cable-free lifestyle!”


  1. Claire

    I seriously think your daughter is a prodigy.

    Thanks for writing about this topic! A couple of questions: when you stream shows from Netflix, are there commercials? And if so, can you fast forward through the commercials? I am thinking about cutting the cable cord to save time and money, but the thing I would miss the most is the DVR, so I want to make sure that there are comparable alternatives. My 6-year old has never really watched TV, and I don’t watch it much when he’s awake. At Christmas time I might turn on the Grinch or Frosty for him, but that’s about it.

  2. @Claire, no commercials on Netflix! There ARE commercials when we watch things just regular online (ie: Downton Abbey–the girls keep saying, “I don’t care about that stupid Ralph Lauren guy! Who likes those awful dresses?!”). Prodigy? Was that the commercial analysis? I had to go back to try to figure out where that came from. The truth is, they’re both freakishly smart, but mothers talking about their children’s cleverness is tiresome, so I try to downplay it 😉

  3. Claire

    Yes, it was her commercial analysis that prompted that, along with things I’ve read about her in the past (such as her early verbal skills).

  4. Erin T

    We have a similar set-up – Roku, Amazon Prime, Netflix. We also subscribe to Hulu, which acts DVR-like to me. I rarely remember to turn on the tv when a show is actually airing (we have a digital antenna), so Hulu lets me watch them the following day. Plus Daily Show, etc. I know (think) we could watch them on the computer or ipad, but I try for a computer-free evening and find the ipad too distracting.

    Wanted to include the bit about Hulu for Claire, who commented about missing the DVR function.

  5. Claire

    Erin, you probably won’t see this, but thank you for the tip about Hulu. A year later, I still haven’t cut the cable cord, but I’m reviewing my options because I will probably be quitting my job in a couple of months, so it is time to bite the bullet and reduce any expenses that I can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *