Why I snuck out alone to a movie matinee (and why I’ll probably do it again)

mockingjayOn Martin Luther King Day, my office was closed, but I didn’t have the day off.

Nonetheless, after putting in my hours at home, I had a couple of hours to spare before I needed to pick up the girls. (It’s amazing what hacking off two 30 minute commutes from your typical day can do.) I bundled up and walked a few blocks, feeling vaguely giddy and guilty at the same time.

Why? Because I was heading to the second-run theater near our house for a holiday matinee screening of “Mockingjay” – something that Joe would probably be interested in seeing, too. But since the last non-animated movie we’d watched together was “The Hundred Foot Journey,” at the same theater sometime last fall, I knew that the chances of our making it to “Mockingjay” before it left were slim to none.

So I grabbed at my opportunity, glad to have it, yet sad to feel like I was committing some kind of betrayal. Continue reading

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Critics, Hitler, and other “bad guys”

This is a pretty close approximation of my appearance while finishing up a late night theater review, actually.

Last weekend, we had a couple of tough conversations with Lily.

Just weeks shy of turning four, she has fully arrived at the endearing, but exhausting, stage wherein she has a million questions about everything, all the time.

And the questions cut a little too close to home, in a comical way, as she watched portions of what she calls “the movie about the rat who likes to cook”: Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

You may remember that in the film, a tall, menacingly angular and humorless food critic named Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole, poses a threat to Remy (the rat) and his human collaborator, Linguini. In one scene, Linguini has inherited a restaurant and is holding court at a press conference that’s disrupted when Ego makes a Darth Vader-like entrance.

“Is he a bad guy?” Lily asked.

“Well, yes and no,” I said, knowing that as a working theater critic, I might want to tread lightly here. “He seems kind of mean, and a lot of people are scared of him.”

“Why?”

“Because he goes to different restaurants, eats the food, and then writes about what he thinks of the food so other people can decide if it’s a restaurant they might want to go to or not.” Pause. Gulp. Here goes. “It’s the same thing that Mommy does when I go to see shows at night. I write about what I think about the play, and other people read it.”

“But why are people scared of him?”

“Because his opinions, what he thinks, can at least partly affect whether a restaurant succeeds or not. For better or worse, people listen to him. And he’s intimidating because he has very high standards, and he’s honest, no matter what. So if he thinks someone’s food isn’t that great, he’s going to say so, even if people don’t like him for saying so.”

(Wait – who were we talking about? Oh, that’s right. Anton Ego. Right.)

In this moment, I had the sensation of being on a therapist’s couch while simultaneously talking to my 3 year old. Or at the very least, talking to Lucy Van Pelt as she sat in a booth behind a sign that reads, “The doctor is IN.” Continue reading

My Year in Culture: a brutally honest list by a parent of 2 kids under 4

Some movies I desperately wanted to see, but didn’t get to:
“The Descendants”
“Hugo”
“Young Adult”
“The Artist”
“War Horse”
“Moneyball”
“Super 8”

Movies I actually got to watch in a movie theater for work assignments (thank goodness this is actually part of my job sometimes):
“Scream 4”
“Win Win”
“Cedar Rapids”
“Ides of March”
“Answer This!”
“Clash of the Wolves” (a 1927 silent Rin Tin Tin film, which was screened as part of a book promotion event with Susan Orlean)

Movies I watched in a movie theater when NOT on the job:
“Rio”
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”
“The Muppets” (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
“Crazy Stupid Love” (anniversary date night)
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2” (a weekday matinee watched during one of my and Joe’s patented “date days”)

Movies half-watched when rented On Demand, due to a child waking up or one or both of us falling asleep:
“Sex and the City 2”
“Bridesmaids”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1” (we finished watching the following night)
“The Hangover” (watched solo, in pieces, during my maternity leave)

Movies I can nearly quote by heart now:
“Tangled”
“Toy Story 2”
“The Sound of Music” (admittedly, this was true before Lily was around)

The Tony Awards made me anxious to see:
“The Book of Mormon,” of course
“The Normal Heart”
Norbert Leo Butz in ANYTHING (Sutton Foster, too, though I previously got to see her in “The Drowsy Chaperone”)
New York City again, in general

Live shows that led us downtown to the Fox Theatre
An awesome live taping of “A Prairie Home Companion”
Barney’s Birthday Bash

Books half-read – usually because I needed to start reading a different book for work:
“The Imperfectionists,” by Tom Rachman
“Here Comes Trouble,” by Michael Moore
“Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend,” by Susan Orlean
“Lastingness: The Art of Old Age,” by Nicholas Delbanco
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Of the books I managed to finish, my favorites were:
“Bossypants,” by Tina Fey
“Poser,” by Clair Dederer
“This is Where I Leave You,” by Jonathan Tropper

Favorite shows during maternity leave:
Lots and lots of “West Wing” episodes on DVD
“Up All Night” – Duh. It’s like watching our life, but with sharper dialogue.
“Modern Family”
“Parks and Recreation”
“30 Rock”
“Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”
Occasional forays into “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” while eating lunch. The actor that plays Ridge on “Bold” is so painfully bad that I started to wonder if it was some kind of ironic performance art thing, a la James Franco on “General Hospital.”

Things I love about watching “Sesame Street” with Lily:
The opening sketch; dance-oriented bits; and songs like will.i.am’s “What I Am,” Hunter Foster’s “Lever Lover,” and one of my comedy faves, Ricky Gervais, singing Elmo a lullaby.

Things about “Sesame Street” that make me want to run into traffic:
Abby’s Flying Fairy School – the theme song alone nearly sets off my gag reflex these days. Twinkle think about that.
Elmo’s World – the segment that never, ever seems to end.

Hosts of my favorite “Muppet Show” episodes from the first 3 seasons, which Lily has been watching on DVD:
Harry Belafonte
Gilda Radnor
Roger Miller
Chloris Leachman

Things that keep stacking up on the DVR, but I never, ever seem to watch:
“The Office” – after Jim and Pam got married, it just felt over.
87 episodes of “House,” from various seasons, all slammed together.

Purchased CD by a band I love, yet I have yet to listen to:
Foo Fighters, “Wasting Light”

CD that, four months after I bought it, I listened to for the first time:
Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now”

Song I’ve heard a million times, and that continues to be played as if on a loop, because Lily likes to dance and sing to it, though it now makes Joe want to pierce his eardrum with an ice pick:
Michael Buble and the Puppini Sisters’ “Jingle Bells”

How the last moments of 2011 were spent:
For the first time this past year, we watched an On Demand movie in its entirety in one sitting – Woody Allen’s wonderful “Midnight in Paris” – while drinking champagne, and then we watched the ball drop, and finished up the night with the last scene from “When Harry Met Sally” (my request). About as nice of an evening as we could hope for, really.

Field notes and follow-ups

* Joe and I took Lily to see “Tangled” this past weekend at the nearby, second-run theater, and the basic premise, of course, involves a witch stealing Rapunzel as a baby from her parents (who are the land’s king and queen). In the movie version, the beloved king and queen, as well as their subjects, release glowing lanterns that float up into the sky each year on the girl’s birthday, in hopes that she will return. By Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, after being shut up in a high tower her whole life, she ventures out to see this ceremony in person; and simultaneously, we see the king and queen briefly behind-the-scenes, just before they step outside to release a lantern once again.

It’s probably about 30 seconds of film, and involves the father looking inconsolably sad, while the mother touches his cheek in comfort. And at this point, I completely fell apart, quietly crying while Lily sat attentively on my lap.

This throwaway little scene that would have passed me right by a few years ago. But the difference, I’m sure, is that while I would have empathy for these characters before, and would have vaguely imagined what the loss of a child might feel like, Lily makes these kind of scenes powerfully concrete rather than merely abstract. There’s not a blank, faceless child in my mind; it’s Lily’s face, and cry, and laugh, and smile, and voice. The thought of her, and the very specifics that make her who she is, being suddenly taken away is too devastating to even imagine. 

Hence my turning into a weepy mom during a Disney movie – despite the fact that in the past, I established a reputation for being pretty stony while watching movies and plays. (The phrase “dead inside” has surfaced more than once.) But apparently, my falling head over heels in love with this little girl has endowed me with a new Achille’s heel. Continue reading

I’m dreaming of a “White Christmas” sing-along screening

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?” Continue reading