When I imagined taking my daughter to her first movie, I pictured excitement, maybe some fanfare, and a carefully selected film. She would be full of anticipation, and my heart would be warm at the thought of making her happy. I don’t know why I imagined this, as I don’t remember my own first movie, rarely indulge in fanfare, and I am terrible at planning child-centered events, generally.
As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, it did not live up to my imagined scenario. In fact, I was desperate for an indoor activity on a very cold weekend, and I recalled that an old theater I frequented as a teenager (due to its low ticket prices) was still in operation (and still had low ticket prices). It was also conveniently halfway between where my friend and her daughter live and where we live. So it was that we headed over to University Mall one Saturday afternoon to meet up for a showing of Sing which happened to be playing at the time most convenient for us.
As an aside, I will mention that I recently moved back to the area where I grew up—but live 20 miles from the town I knew well. This was the first time I had been to that old theater in more than 10 years, and it was completely disorienting. The shabby, mostly empty parking lot that made the theater feel like a well-kept secret was newly paved and full of cars, and there were shiny new businesses where previously there had been potholes. In some shock, I found a parking spot and went inside (through a different door than I remembered).
The theater was crowded (also disorienting, as the theater was rarely crowded when I went there as a kid), so we seated ourselves at the very front as the movie began. While the movie played, I watched my daughter for her reactions. They were few. As it turns out, my kid is the kind who will watch with rapt attention, only breaking her gaze to ask me (in a rather loud voice) questions about the plot.
This, as you likely know, is not the most common among children under 10. Around the theater, kids were squirming, laughing, talking loudly to each other and to their parents—basically doing what you’d expect. And that was one great thing about taking a kid to the movies. In a theater showing a kids’ movie, the atmosphere is one of tolerance. It’s not like on an airplane, where you frantically shush your child for any noise above a certain decibel. You shush them, of course, but in a gentler, more instructive way. This is a place to learn to be a polite theater-goer and practice being a conscientious citizen.
As I reflected on the contrast between my daughter’s viewing style and that of the kid to my right (getting up, asking questions, looking around, etc.), it occurred to me that maybe our viewing styles never change. After all, my mother notes (politely, bless her) that she likes to sit and watch a film from start to finish and talk about it afterward, while my dad and I will comment, speculate, and snark all the way through. Even when I watch alone, I have to text or tweet about my experience, or pause the movie to go find my husband and subject him to my opinion. Already, it’s clear that my daughter doesn’t take after me. I can sit quietly in a theater now, but I’ve simply learned to suppress this impulse so as not to tarnish others’ viewing experience.
After the movie, I asked my daughter whether she liked it. She nodded mutely. I probed her with further questions, which she answered evasively. On the way home, she fell asleep. And that was it: her first movie.
I think, even if I had chosen the movie more carefully, planned far in advance, and built up her excitement, her reaction would have been equally impassive. In that, she is just like me—difficult to read sometimes, and often difficult to please. But maybe it was better this way. She went in unbiased by any effort on my part to build up her expectations over a weeks-long campaign, and she enjoyed herself while getting a lesson in theater etiquette and being a generally thoughtful person.
When she’s older, maybe she’ll see a preview and get excited about a movie and beg to go see it—or maybe a friend will invite her to the theater, and she’ll have a magical and memorable experience. As for this time, when I ask her what she thought of the theater and of the movie, she thinks for a while, bites her lip, and finally says, “Umm . . . I liked the end of it.”
Featured Image: Universal Pictures