Saturday Nights With Children

SATURDAY NIGHTS WITH CHILDREN.jpg

Six months ago our family began having “Movie Night” once a week.

We started doing this to try to feel more connected as a family by having our own special traditions. On “Movie Night” we eat popcorn and ice cream for dinner and watch a kid-friendly movie. We do it on either on Friday or Saturday night and it has become the highlight of our weekend. We usually pick out the movie several days in advance and hype it by talking about it all week and sometimes watching previews on YouTube. Then we go to the grocery store and let our four-year-old son, Wolfy choose the ice cream. I’ve eaten more strawberry ice cream this year than I care to admit.

“Movie Night” had a pretty rocky beginning.

My husband and I are not Disney people. We aren’t Pixar people either. In fact, we don’t really like watching movies that don’t have swearwords and grown up humor. Until movie night, neither of us had really watched a kid’s movie since we were…well…kids.

The first few “Movie Nights” involved a lot of adult eye rolling and exchanged glances while our then-three-year-old son, Wolfy covered his eyes and screamed during every even remotely scary part. He hadn’t seen many kids’ movies either. Up until “Movie Night” the only things he had watched were on PBS Kids; and he thought the episode where Thomas the Tank Engine derails was a little too intense. But you would be surprised how quickly a young child becomes desensitized and how quickly two adults adapt their preferences and quit acting snobby. Now all of us look forward to “Movie Night” each week.

Last weekend my young, unmarried, childless cousin, Jeremy joined our family for “Movie Night”. He is still in the stage in life when 10pm on a Saturday would most likely find him just heading out to meet up with some friends. On 10pm on a Saturday, you are most likely to find me already asleep, or if I’m feeling really crazy, I might still be awake reading a book. But my cousin was willing to sacrifice his Saturday night so that he could spend time with our family before leaving town to head back to his PhD program in a different state.

I don’t think he knew what he had agreed to when he said he would join us for movie night.

“Did you tell Jeremy what time the movie starts?” I asked my husband.

“Oops, I forgot,” he answered, “I better let him know.” Unless you live with little kids, your Saturday night plans probably don’t start at 5:30pm.

A few minutes later, my cousin wrote back and said that the insanely early time would work just fine; somehow we hadn’t scared him away yet.

When my cousin arrived at our house, the kids were fighting over toys while I was frantically running around trying to fold the fourth load of laundry and my husband was bringing in a load of firewood for the wood stove. It was a typical scene in our house: total chaos. At least everyone was wearing pants.

We chatted with my cousin for a few minutes, constantly interrupting ourselves in order to mediate fights between the kids. At this point, Wolfy, our four-year-old had handed Jeremy the one end of my husband’s stretchy band from physical therapy (the favorite toy) and was pulling him through the house pretending they were a train. My cousin was still trying to talk with us and drink a beer while being pulled from room to room. Maybe this is why we don’t have many friends without children anymore.

My husband began to make the popcorn. Making popcorn isn’t a big deal in most households. But as “Movie Night” has evolved, our rituals have become more complex. Our popcorn is no longer just flavored with butter and salt. It also has three or four other ingredients in it that make it delicious – if you like eating hippie food. Yes, popcorn can be made into hippie food – simply add tamari, nutritional yeast, and a few other strange things. Making popcorn in our house is now more like performing a chemistry experiment.

“What is this?” My cousin asked, holding up the jar of yellow flakes. 

“That’s nutritional yeast. It’s not really a yeast. It’s…healthy…and tasty. You’ll like it. I promise!” I said, not even convincing myself. 

Everyone eats their popcorn out of their own special bowl and they use the same one every week. Apparently in other families everyone can just reach their hand into one big bowl but when popcorn is the main course, people want to make sure they get their fair share.

Obsession with popcorn runs strong in our family.

Even our eleven-month-old has caught the bug. For most of the movie she carefully maneuvers around the living room grabbing fistfuls of popcorn from each person’s bowl and shoving it in her mouth. We know that popcorn is a major choking hazard for babies but it is impossible to keep it away from her. Trust me. When we denied her, the baby started battling with the dog for any piece that dropped to the floor. It was not pretty.

My cousin grabbed one of the bowls of popcorn and began to head to the couch. “No,” said Wolfy, “That’s mine!!!” My cousin looked confused. Couldn’t he just pick any bowl? Had he just committed some kind of party foul? I handed my cousin his appointed popcorn portion, and he shrugged his shoulders. He was being such a good sport.

It was 5:45pm. “Movie Night” was running fifteen minutes late. Now bedtime would have to be pushed back too.

We started the previews but had to pause because Wolfy forgot to use the bathroom and he never wants to miss anything, even previews.

When Wolfy got back, we started up the previews again. But my husband and Jeremy had started talking while Wolfy was in the bathroom and were now talking through the previews. I guess this is normal behavior, but Wolfy wasn’t about to let that happen. He made everyone stop talking so we could see the preview for Kung Fu Whatever number 653 and see if it might be a good pick for a future movie night.

Then about five minutes into our animated featured presentation, the first scene of the movie came to a close and Wolfy asked, “Is the movie over?” He does this every week. My husband and I think it’s so cute.

Throughout the movie, my cousin would occasionally take out his phone and use it for minute. We don’t usually allow devices during our super special family time but I decided to make an exception because well, for one thing he is a grown up and a guest so of course he can use his phone whenever he wants. And also I figured that if I was him, I would be desperately trying to make other Saturday night plans or just connect with the outside world to make sure it still exists. Joining us for “Movie Night” may have not quite been the experience he had expected. He probably felt like he had fallen into some perverse vortex.

I’ve heard people without kids say that their lives won’t change much once they have a family. Some people even think that once they become parents, they won’t let their children take over their lives. I knew that when I became a mother, my life would change. I wouldn’t be able to do everything I once did. I would have to make sacrifices. But I never could have guessed the ways that I would actually change. I had no idea that I would end up becoming a completely new person. Yes, now I am totally lame and scatterbrained. And yes, my life is almost completely revolving around my children. But I love it. I love it more than I ever would have imagined.

As the movie ended, I looked over at my cousin. My four-year-old son was snuggled against his arm and our baby girl was nestled in his lap. He was literally covered in children. They love their young, hip “Uncle Jeremy”. They feel so comfortable with him and he feels comfortable and happy with them. Someday, he is going to make an involved and loving father.

In the meantime though, I hope he makes the most of every Saturday night.

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