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The Show Never Ends

He’s downstairs on the computer. She’s up in her room checking Instagram. Mom is deep into another book on her iPad. And me? I’m glued to a tiny smartphone, checking my email for the umpteenth time today.

Good gracious, what’s become of us all?

Here we are, one family, under God, indivisible—or so I thought. But at some point in the not-too-distant past, we pledged allegiance to the screens that have slowly taken over our lives. And now the forces of a million pixels dancing across a half-dozen hand-held devices are threatening to melt our eyeballs right out of their sockets.

And let’s not forget TV, that wellspring source of the digital Nile. Now that it’s the dead of summer, whenever our kids aren’t otherwise occupied by some desktop, laptop, phone, touch or pad, they’re sprawled like pashas in our den, bathed in the light of the flat screen.

At least we can use the TV as leverage when they act up. You can send them to their rooms. You can cut off their allowances. You can even ground them for life. But whatever you do, just don’t take away “Dance Moms,” “River Monsters,” “Duck Dynasty,” or “Billy the Exterminator.”

And it turns out TV offers another upside. Just when we thought the cable desert was about to fry us to a crisp, our family discovered an oasis where we could all take respite for 30 minutes every evening.

Yes, we may be living in the wild and woolly twenty-first century. But cue the iconic music anyway:


True, our kids are light years away from family hour when it comes to tolerating vintage TV programs. They can’t sit still, they can’t imagine a world without remote controls, and they’ll laugh you out of the room if you suggest watching an old black-and-white movie.

But the blue hues of the “Jeopardy” set and host Alex Trebek’s soothing voice seem to beguile them. And I like to think the show’s arcane categories and questions might just turn our children into Mensa candidates.

At our house, though, “Jeopardy” mostly gives all of us an equal chance to shout incorrect answers at the television. But it’s not that we’re dumb. We just have highly specialized areas of knowledge.

Mom, a world history teacher, is clearly the sharpest knife in the “Jeopardy” drawer. If she had only to answer questions from a category titled Dictators and Plunderers Down Through The Ages, she’d always sleep soundly at night. Dad’s area of expertise, according to his wife, would be All About Daddy. Our son Will might just run the tables with NFL Quarterbacks. And Lucy could easily rise to “Jeopardy” champ if she only had to identify Famous People Who Appear Regularly On The Disney Channel.

But we’re just getting started. Call it “Family Jeopardy,” if you will, where the true, hidden landscape of our family life is quickly revealed.

The clues are tougher, but let’s start out easy. Mommy, you have the board.

She immediately chooses Plugged In, Tuned Out. Here, the answers are obvious—and always stated in the form of a question, of course. Some samples: Who are children who should be doing their homework? Also: What is a ten-year-old Minecraft addict?

Similar categories immediately spring to mind, and they’ve got our kids written all over them. Ways To Avoid Work and Responsibility. Does This Count For Allowance? And let’s not leave out Creative Excuses Of The Blameless Child.

The board rings with a Daily Double under the category You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me! But Mom hits the buzzer without missing a beat. What is can we go to Jumpology tomorrow with 20 of my friends?

Okay, my turn to choose. My “Jeopardy” winnings might soar well into the thousands if only Ways We Waste Money were on the board. Answers here? What is eating dinner at Moe’s four times each week? Or: What are all these things you bought at Vineyard Vines? And don’t even get me started on Who are these contractors bidding to renovate our kitchen?

Other parental favorites rack up additional cash. I’ll go for Phrases With The Word “NO” In Them for $500, Alex. And Mom zeroes in immediately on Ridiculous Things Children Ask For.

I thought I’d cleaned out the category Family Vacation Meltdowns by spitting out a spring break moment: What is another boring museum with old paintings in Washington, DC?

No, I’m sorry, says Alex. That will cost you. The correct answer is What is blowing your top in front of Rockefeller Center after dragging the kids around New York City for three days straight in August?

Of course, the children come back strong when the game turns to their own pre-teen behavior. How could they not know all the answers to questions that appear under the categories Persistence Pays Off or Whining And Pestering? Especially when those so often lead to Wailing and Complaining and Broke Down In Tears?

Lucky for Mom and me, the children short-circuit when challenged to look inward.  Their buzzers are mute as their mother and I tick off countless answers in the ever-popular Foods I Refuse To Eat column (What are scrambled eggs with anything mixed into them? Vegetables that are good for me? Fruits that have the slightest blemish?).
But maybe we’d better go easy on them. After all, the “Jeopardy” board might blow a fuse if we tried to untangle all the myriad possibilities under He Started It, No, She Did, or Who Hit Whom?

Besides, it’s just a game—and we play it every day around here. And hey, I like to think of it this way: For one blessed half-hour, we’re all here together, shouting and laughing and making memories in the den.

I’ll take Freeze This Moment for $1,000, Alex.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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