My Sizzler watched the TV show about hoarders with studied focus. She stared frozen as the show shared the lives of people who collect things to such an extent that they can no longer move through their homes. Stacks of newspapers, unopened packages, garage sales finds, dirty dishes, and mountains of clothes are piled often to the ceiling, creating tunnel-like paths through their homes.
My daughter watched, unblinking at the screen, while the camera painstakingly worked its way through a woman’s home. Apparently, years ago this mom had suffered the loss of two children, only six months apart, and her inability to cope had sent her into a hoarding downward spiral. Suddenly, my eleven year old turned to me in utter seriousness, put her hand on mine and said, “Don’t ever do that. Just don’t. If, heaven forbid, I were to die. . .<insert big pause> . . .take up knitting.”
I laughed out loud. Her concern was so heartfelt. Her face so serious. Yet, the idea of me as a hoarder. . .
would bemuse most of my family. I was raised in the military. And that means every few years you throw away everything you don’t feel like packing. This usually leaves me with several books and a coffee pot. I feel practically giddy when throwing things away. I look at a horizontal piece of table or shelf that was once covered with stuff, and find that once it’s cleared, I have a reaction that must be something like smoking crack. Who needs drugs. . .when a polished cleared table produces such an effect? <feel the swoon>
A few members of my family however, hover dangerously near the hoarding disorder line (and they’re ALL Sizzlers, now that I think of it.) They have a very difficult time throwing things away. My youngest Sizzler believes that almost everything “would be perfect in my room!” My father has long collected obscure and odd-shaped things “that we just might need one day.” And my husband believes that anything that our children have ever breathed around is now precious, and must be preserved with sacred solemnity. The beginnings of tell-tale piles easily form around them.
I pick my battles carefully. My father and husband are on their own. But my Sizzler is still under my influence, and I decided that perhaps we should watch LOTS more of this show, Hoarders. Why? Because I remember so well how watching another TV show impacted my son (the older Sizzler) to change how he views reckless and rash behaviors.
Previously, I had spent vast amounts of breath telling him not to climb on the roof, not to walk with scissors point-up, not to open the car door before the driver had stopped, etc. He constantly thought I was just over-reactive mom. Hyper-worry mom. Dismissible and amusing over-careful mom. Then one day we accidentally stumbled upon a TV show, 911 Emergency, that showcased actual ambulance calls. Each show started with a recreation of the accident, then followed up with the emergency action taken to rescue the victims. My son was hooked. Suddenly he saw, in vivid detail, just what happened when kids run through a glass window, ride a bike without a helmet, or venture out on thin ice. The show fascinated him; it also validated me. In time, he became the voice of caution, the resident crossing guard, the home monitor and safety patrol. It should come as no surprise that he also eventually became an EMT and firefighter.
So the question then becomes, why did this show work where the words of a wise and experienced mother did not? I think it has something to do with repetition and visual imagery. This TV show brought its message with sight, sound, color, and drama. And not just drama, but drama that was safe, while still “experienceable”. All the wise words in the world can’t compete with that.
But I also believe that Sizzlers need more. More of everything. More intensity. More voices. And most of all. . .more repetition, to get some concepts.
So I find myself in an odd position of advocating television use. Carefully. Moderately. And with a noble purpose. It may seem counter to traditional educational thought, but there it is. I’m putting the TV show “Hoarders” on our schedule. I’m hoping that my daughter will eventually develop a fear of becoming what she sees on the screen. And that she might, one day, view her room with a different eye.
One more thing to try. . .