Illustration: Polly Crossman

DESPATCHES FROM THE SCHOOL GATE

I have no problem using the TV as a babysitter

Liz Dashwood wishes that the mothers who were horrified that her son watches telly would give her a break. After all, that's all she's trying to achieve for herself

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I’ve been screen-shamed.

I would like to tell you that this means a visitor found pictures on my iPad of me and my husband having hot monkey sex and posted them on Facebook, but it does not (one, we can’t work the iPad and, two, the last time we had hot monkey sex the iPad hadn’t been invented). It means that I accidentally found myself having coffee with the crunchy mums – the ones who let their sons’ artfully tangled hair grow to their shoulders, only eat organic, go for healthful walks, make their own houmous and are forever toasting trayfuls of seeds in the oven, though to what end I am never entirely sure. They look like gravel and cannot be edible. Sprinkle them over your drive, not your salads, FFS – and outed myself as a TV user.

We were in their queen bee’s house, sipping crap coffee from Waitrose’s Joyless Vegan range, and chatting. I was gamely exclaiming with delight over some homemade gluten- and egg-free cake (“Wow! This doesn’t taste like the weeping void that lives inside us at all!”) and not reacting when they talked about disposing of the mini packets of Haribo recently brought home in party bags as if they were a set of diseased syringes from the local shooting gallery – but they are not my people and I was not aware of all the rules. So, I made a joke about PAW Patrol.

Six heads turn slowly towards me. One wears an expression of careful confusion. “What,” she says sweetly, “is PAW Patrol?”

Ah. Nicely played.

“It’s a cartoon,” I say. “On television.”

“Did you let Thomas watch it as a Christmas treat?”

Ha ha. Hahahahahahahahaha.

“No, he watches it every day.”

It’s as if I’ve just said I tie him to a post in the garden every night so I can go clubbing. There is a collective intake of breath. One moves her handbag slightly away from me.

A handful of PAW Patrols a day isn’t going to kill him. I will, though, if I don’t get half an hour to cook tea and put a wash on

The floodgates open and the tide of judgement rushes in upon me. How can I do that to my child? Do I not know about the studies showing that television and iPad use blunts skills, inhibits frontal-lobe development and that, for every minute of screentime a child has before the age of seven, the chances of him becoming a cat murderer double?

“Hmm,” I want to say. “Interesting. And as fully bollocks as all your clean-eating, non-dairy, aspirin-eschewing nonsense is. A handful of PAW Patrols a day isn’t going to kill him. I will, though, if I don’t get half an hour to cook tea, put a wash on and shout down the phone at whatever service provider is currently not providing us with service without him getting under my feet.”

It makes me so mad. I do, absolutely, use the television (or the iPad, or my phone) as a babysitter. Do you know why? Because I don’t have a babysitter. Unlike most of the women currently staring at me with the patented mix of pity and glee that is the hallmark of mean girls (of whatever subgenre) everywhere, I do not have an au pair or a nanny or no job or a part-time job or a stay-at-home husband. I have a full-time job – flexible, but full time – and my husband has a violently inflexible one. When Thomas gets home from school, he gets changed, he gets his homework done and then he gets Paw Patrol. Or Tree Fu Tom or – if we’re feeling high brow – Scooby-Doo. We are all knackered at the end of the day. We’re allowed to give ourselves a bit of a break. 

I don’t feel the need to explain all this to them. So I simply say, “Well, we’re clearly never going to agree on this, any more than we’re going to agree that this cake is a valid foodstuff, so I’ll go. Bye!”

Went home and burst into hot tears of humiliation, of course, but then I watched some Scooby-Doo with Thomas and it cheered me right up. Television never lets you down.

@LizDashwood

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Illustration: Polly Crossman
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despatches from the school gate
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