Choice Paralysis

In the midst of one of her “I’m going to fix everything right now!” moments, my wife taped a hand-written list to the wall displaying the five television channels Silas can watch in the morning.

photoYou can see it was made in frustration. Any patiently considered, modern channel guide would have been created on a computer and printed-out, not scrawled by an angry fist. She was so fed up that the bottom isn’t even adhered to the wall, causing the paper to flap-about when struck by a gust from the air conditioner. It’s my wife’s not-so-subtle way of expressing her frustrations with the complexities of technology. If given the opportunity, I’m sure she’d appreciate blasting a Bluray player with a musket.

I could have simply added these channels to “my favorites”, maybe “installed a smart-widget”, “configured a Fios profile”, or some other ridiculous solution that I would have to fix twice a week. Instead, we did it pioneer style, and now have a yellowing scroll on our wall similar to the one my grandmother used to remind her when Oprah was on.

We were driven to this place by the nearly infinite number of choices provided by Netflix. In the morning, I would come downstairs with Silas (who’s 4.5 yrs old)  and engage in a ridiculous decision tree to determine which of the 5,000 available kids’ shows he wanted to watch. Months ago, he always had a firm desire for a specific one, but lately, his answer to “So, what do you want to watch?” has become, “Ummmm, something I’ve never seen before.” Great, now I have to be a pediatric cultural anthropologist first thing in the morning. He didn’t mean “anything new”, he meant, “There’s one specific show somewhere in the Netflix ether that I’m willing to watch, but I won’t know what it is until I see it. Please find it.”

The more he refused my pitches of new shows, the more I started to feel like he was doing it because he didn’t appreciate feeling rushed by my overly persuasive tone of voice (I really wanted coffee.) When we finally agreed on a program, they only last 22 minutes, so as soon as the first one ended, he’d yell “It’s over!” and we’d go through the whole process again. It’s clear now that he was subconsciously making it difficult so we’d be forced to change things.

When Lindsay witnessed this ritual first hand, she acted briskly. She took the remote from my innocent hand, and pressed “guide.” With the patience of a NASCAR pit crew, she scrolled through the channels looking for appropriate programming. Silas and I both sat there, staring at her, slightly nervous, but unable to look away. She was about to smack down some serious rules, and it was our job to embrace them.

“We are picking five channels, and there is no more Netflix in the morning! Is that understood?” We nodded, and quietly helped her choose the best stations. It’s advisable to acquiesce during these times; they’re when she does some of her best work.

She disappeared for a moment. From the kitchen we could hear her ripping off a piece of paper. “Read the channels and their numbers to me!” she bellowed. I obliged, and the screeching of the marker echoed throughout the house. She stomped back into the living room with the paper, and a roll of scotch tape. Silas and I sat motionless, too afraid to move. “Now, when you come down in the morning, you pick between these channels and you just watch that channel the whole time. Do you understand?” Silas and I both answered, even though it was clear that only he was required to provide a response.

These freak-outs are necessary for our family to function. The morning question is now a much easier, “You want Pound Puppies and  Strawberry Shortcake or two Jake and the Neverland Pirates?” It’s a relief to all of us.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

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