Early this past fall, I took Lily to the nearby second-run movie theater to see if she might sit through “Toy Story 3” (we’d previously had a failed attempt when taking her to “How to Train Your Dragon”). I thought it might be a good option for the post-nap, pre-dinner portion of the day because, A, Joe had to work and prepare for his upcoming trial; B, the weather was expected to cloud over; C, it seemed more her speed than “Dragon” was going to be; and D, I really wanted to see the movie. (Yes, I’m that selfish.)
Amazingly, though the theater was already dark when we entered, and I had to feel my way carefully to a couple of empty seats, Lily sat in my lap and watched the movie in its entirety.
Now, she didn’t respond to things in the movie; she didn’t laugh at things, or even smile, from what I could tell. But at the same time, she didn’t get scared at times when I worried that she might (when the toys are headed toward an incinerator, for instance) because she didn’t understand enough to BE scared.
And generally, because Lily wasn’t reacting to the movie, I ended up feeling really guilty for taking her before she was probably capable of enjoying it. Had this been about me and my intense desire to watch a movie in a theater again – an event that’s become a rare treat? Did I let that yearning cloud my judgment as a parent?
I grasped at straws later, to make myself feel a little better. When Lily saw her Mr. Potato Head and said, “He was in the movie,” I thought, “YES!!” and asked, like a desperate, smitten teenager, “Did you like the movie?” “Yeah,” she said. But keep in mind, that might be her answer, too, if I were to ask her, “Do you think we should stay in Afghanistan?” or, “How about a toddler enema?”
A few months passed, and Joe got increasingly buried in work as he prepared for his big trial. He’d warned me that on the last weekend before it got underway, he’d have to spend all of Sunday afternoon at his office, and as it happened, the Michigan Theater (one of my favorite places in the world) was offering the sing-along version of “White Christmas” (one of my favorite holiday movies) at 4 p.m. that day. So I hatched a plan to take Lily to the screening when she awoke from her nap that afternoon.
You might think it odd that I was trying to get Lily to jump from the likes of “Toy Story” to a 1950s musical. But not only had she already sat through a live stage musical (see my entry on taking her to “Damn Yankees”), but she’d also watched “The Sound of Music,” in chunks, in its entirety on our VCR (yes, we have one we still use sometimes), and she’d happily watched several scenes from “Mary Poppins.” So I didn’t think it was TOO much of a stretch.
And let’s be completely honest here. This was an event I would totally go to in a heartbeat, even if no one could or would go with me, if I was still responsibility-free on weekends. So I think a part of me was seeing if Lily had become old enough for me to occasionally sneak in such guilty pleasures, and thus take a short, mini-trips back to my pre-parental life, and enjoy the things I used to again.
So when she awoke from her nap that day, I lured her with the promise of seeing a movie with Mommy, which excited her. We got her packed up and strapped into her car seat, and soon after we got on the highway, she grew visibly bored. The half hour drive to Ann Arbor instead felt like half a day as I desperately tried to entertain her with songs and inane questions. (Lily’s never in the car all that much, and when she is, it’s usually with the three of us, so I can usually sit in back and play with her, or at the very least keep her company.) I tried to remind myself that it’s good for kids to be bored at times, and that it’s one of the few opportunities they have to really just focus on their own thoughts. (Sounded like a good rationalization at the time.) I really, really wanted this plan of mine to work.
And indeed, things were just getting underway when we got to the theater, though we’d been a bit late. We found seats in one of the back sections, quickly settled in, and I pulled out some snacks from her diaper bag. “Now, if you want to go during the movie, sweetie, just tell me, OK?” I told her.
Lily polished off apple chips and said, “Another snack.” She crunched on some goldfish while watching the movie’s famous “Sisters” number and said, “Another snack.” I dug out some raisins, which she ate during “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “Snow.” But soon after the on-screen crew arrived in snow-less Vermont, Lily said, in full voice, “I want to go home and see Daddy.”
I hastily shoved everything back into the diaper bag, grabbed our coats, hats, and scarves, and carried everything, plus Lily herself, out to the lobby. Once there, I said, “Daddy probably won’t be home yet, sweetie, but we can go to a big bookstore (Borders) across the street. Do you want to do that?”
She did, so we went, read several books from the children’s section Christmas/Hanukkah display, and shared a strawberry smoothie at the cafe. On the way out, she spotted Christmas items that were half off. She got stuck on a box of ornaments that looked like ping pong balls coated in silver glitter, and because they were only a couple of dollars, and because she’d indulged ME in spending an hour watching one of my favorite movies, I told her we could take them to the counter and pay for them together. (As a bonus, she played with them during most of the drive home – which was lovely, until one or two fell from her car seat, and she flipped out while demanding that I reach back and retrieve them. Tough to do at 70 mph.)
Joe was back from the office when we returned home, and I once again had that mixed feeling of guilt and pleasure about my excursion. I loved even getting to see an hour of this sappy movie that I adore on the big screen, surrounded by folks who were singing along. (I tried singing along, but Lily said, “No sing, Mommy.” Ouch, little Simon Cowell.) But as with “Toy Story 3,” I felt like maybe I’d dragged her along to satisfy my own self-absorbed desires.
But now that I’ve had some distance from the screening, I find myself feeling less guilty. We left as soon as she asked to leave; I got at least some of what I wanted to experience by going (I even started crying, inexplicably, while Bing sang “White Christmas” near the beginning of the film; just sharing it with Lily, as young as she is, felt weirdly moving in the moment); and while we think that kids are generally always overruled by the adults around them, a great deal of what we do when we’re all together as a family is for Lily, not for me or Joe.
So in the grand scheme of things, when considering all the trips I/we take with Lily to the park and to the zoo and the like, I think it’s more than fair to inject a few things that I want to do, too. I just have to fight that infernal, natural parental urge to feel guilty about doing anything at all for myself.