5 Surprising Things My Tweens Learned From Binge-Watching Grey’s Anatomy

My children have been swallowed alive by television

They turn that thing on and half a day passes. Occasionally they wander into the kitchen, or my office, and say with malice: Aren’t you going to feed me?

I do feed them. Honest. Or I scatter some nuts on the kitchen table. Sometimes I place a loaf of bread precariously close to the toaster and suggest they make the last step.

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Photo from Unsplash by Michał Lis

We are all letting this happen, and when I say all, I say that to make myself feel better. It’s you too, right? Or are you that parent who has watched their child get through all seven volumes of Harry Potter, who looks up at the end, and says “It’s over already? What happens next?” Well, if so, lucky you.

That’s not happening here. Despite offers to pay per page. I’m not proud of that fact, but I’ll admit it. Yes, I’ve tried extortion. I’ve attempted racketeering, but since there’s not been enough reading to amount to a dishonest pay out, I’m think I’m safe. Right?

I’ve asked around and many say the same thing, but no one is actually anteing up any numbers, any accounting for actual numbers of hours, seasons consumed, series dusted.

So I’ll start the ball rolling. On a good day, my children, watch approximately three hours of television. However, if it’s raining, if I have a deadline, if their dad is in back-to-back Zooms, if we need to spend half a day provisioning (and cleaning and unboxing groceries) or if they sneak it without me noticing, that number escalates upwards to six, maybe even seven. And I can also admit that these extraneous conditions are likely to exist more than a few days in any given week, lately. Pandemically.

Folks with younger kids, say eight years and under, let’s take the weight off and realize, aloud, that television is the only baby-sitter available anywhere right now. When the work lands, during your online workout, or if you might have found a moment to catch up with a friend by FaceTime, the obvious trade off is the remote, or a pair of headphones to watch with a screen in a quiet corner. But my kids are older. Shouldn’t they be able to self-regulate a little bit better?

Where I live, in a Toronto neighbourhood, based on our neighbourhood geography and our lockdown rules, I could send my children to play outside, within a small radius. This has worked well for my teenage son, who is now working me to buy him his third skateboard deck, because they keep cracking due to an impressive amount of one-block-runs and jumps-over-brick-and-plywood ramps.

But my two younger tween-age girls, this slow cold spring has not been helping. Too old for skip rope, too disinterested in sidewalk chalk, they’re done with art projects…Sometimes I can get them to bump the volleyball back and forth, cough, because the older rep-league-playing-one-is- being-paid-to-train the younger one. But overall, the ephemeral “Go Play Outside Until the Streetlights Come On” doesn’t even work, Covid-or-not. Not an effing chance.

That’s because there is a luscious world of television to sink into. Sink deep. Sink hard. Noodle down. Relax. Repeat. Repeatrepeatrepeat.

Not to say I don’t love TV, don’t get me wrong. I Do. I have watched countless series from start to finish. I don’t feel bad about watching all of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Killing Eve, Fleabag …. so why is this so hard for me to witness?

It might have been the day that my 12-year-old attempted to give a fact-lined argument about how watching TV and reading a book was just the same. No difference, MOM! It’s a story, there are characters. There’s a plot. REALLY MOM. Stop being so boring.

As I began to rebut and describe the important difference between passive and active learning, she walked out of the room mid eye roll before the first comma of the second sentence of my carefully constructed argument.

This is hard for me, so bear with me as I do some thinking aloud here. Is it possible to think positively about this? Truly, this is a last resort. It supersedes cajoling, bribing and a fair bit of screaming.

I’ll start with an admission: My ten and twelve-year-old girls can’t stop binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy. There is basically a lifetime of episodes to work through: 16 seasons in total and 15 streaming on Netflix. Thank you for not judging me.

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A selection of the mid-run cast of Grey’s Anatomy

Here’s what my girls have learned from watching an excessive amount of this soapy scrubbed-in show during this pandemic.

1.It’s been a running joke in our house for years that our youngest daughter will be a doctor. We call her doctor-scarlooty, which is a joke-not-joke. That’s because when someone cuts themselves she’s the first one in there to examine the cut, and she doesn’t wince at the torn flesh and blood. Even when she was a toddler, if we would pass an accident scene on the highway she would casually ask me “Do you think anyone got dead over there, Mama?” And when I get sick, she comes to my bedside with calm tones and a cool towel. And until recently, her reaction when we would call her doctor-scarlooty is that she would scream, punch the nearest arm, and say yell “NO, I’M NOT!”

Somewhere after Izzy left with mental health issues, and Arizona and Cali decided to have a baby, but before the big plane crash Derek’s clinical trial, my daughter casually said over dinner one day:

“I’m going to be a surgeon.”

2. Especially in the early days of lockdown in March, when the science of What is Coronavirus, and Signs and Symptoms to Be on the Watch For, Here’s What To Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus …. this was at least half of what we spoke about every day as a family. Do You Need to Have a Sore Throat if You Have Covid-19 ; Blood Oxygen Levels Are Keystone Marker; Does Covid-19 Really Take Away Taste and Smell? What is the Mortality Rate and What Does it Mean? Who is Most at Risk?

At some point it hit me:

A medical drama is much nicer than this medical reality we are living in.

3. As the numbers dragged on, China’s numbers declined, Europe began to soar, but before America was really in trouble, all the discussion about ramping up hospital capacity began. Will there be enough ventilators? How does a hospital deal with capacity issues? I sat and told my daughter one day about the provisional plan to turn the Javits Center into a temporary hospital, which got us talking about Hillary Clinton, and the glass ceiling, and then a further discussion the questions started. He’s coding. Charge to 20.

All of these numbers matter. We are each one. As a family we are a unit. Together a neighbourhood, inside a city, within a region, inside a country….What we are doing here at home, our small numbers, matter.

4. What does ICU stand for? There’s a machine that breathes for you — Can you turn it off? What does in-ta-bate mean — Is that like when Meredith sticks a tube down someone’s throat? Does Uncle John do that in his doctor job too? Could a Cardiothoracic Surgeon help solve Coronavirus? Euw, that was a bad subdural hematoma. Is it bad to fall in love with a patient? Carcinoma means cancer, right? We can remember that because of the “c.” How are they testing for Coronavirus? Is there going to be clinical trial for Coronavirus? Do you die after you are intubated? What’s a fistula and does that hurt? So when they say scrub in, they are really scrubbing, right? Is there a difference between their surgical masks the cloth mask Grandma made for me?

Vocabulary is everything, and even television makes it grow. Sit and watch with your kids and make it a conversation.

5.Around here when the steamy sexy scenes play out, most notably in the on-call room (Mama, why are there bunk beds there like we have at camp?) My husband gets a bit awkward. Even for the not-prudish, some of these sexy scenes are a bit much to endure sitting in the same room with your tween daughters. So when it begins, my husband begins a routine. He starts to yell, with piercing annoying tones: Beep! and Skeep! and Beep! and Skeep! This continues for the necessary duration. At which point my 12-year-old invariably yells “Daddy, Stop!” and shifts her couch position to whack him on the arm. Or something. And as uncomfortable as this can get, my girls have picked up this much:

The women control all the sex in the on-call rooms.

So I guess I need to say thank you Shonda Rimes for teaching my girls these life lessons. Beyond the obvious and essential ones that Grey’s Anatomy already teaches: Women can be surgeons, and they are there in equal-if-not-greater numbers; That all doctors are not white and priviledged; That to get to be highly skilled like a surgeon takes a lot of hard work and really long days; That marriage and love does not need to be with someone same-same as you; That miracles are possible and some people come back from the dead (best chance if they are a lead on Grey’s Anatomy); That being a front line health care worker is damn cool.

Audio Producer, Writer | Host of This is Our Time podcast | Insta: @ThisIsOurTimePodcast | ESCAPE Your STORY | Start here ~ bit.ly/15Bworksheet

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