Aside from my kids, my wife, and of course fishing, another love I have in my life is watching movies. I’ve always been a huge fan of the smell of buttery popcorn, sticky theater floors that make your shoes screech with each step, and the flickering light spilling over the large, silver screen telling its intricate tale. Throw in the fact that these days movie theaters have leather reclining chairs and what you have is a match made in heaven for me. I can distinctly remember being a kid anticipating the dimming lights and the loud boom of speakers signifying the start of previews. Previews, in my opinion, are the best part of the experience despite the fact that some people think they’re not all that important and can be missed. What sort of blasphemy they are spewing out I will never understand. My brother, on the other hand, gets it. For this reason, he is often my first call when I’m looking to catch that new Marvel flick or whatever other movie we think deserves our attention, money, and time.
Movies have always played a huge role in my family, and my grandmother, God rest her soul, was definitely the reason I developed a passion for cinema at such a young age. As I mentioned in other posts, I grew up in the 90s when things were, uhhhh, a little bit more relaxed as far as parenting goes. Movies like Rocky, The Godfather, and Jaws, while not entirely age appropriate, were often playing on the tube when my grandmother had control of the television. She loved movies and had great taste in them; she no doubt passed down that passion to her grandchildren. While most kids and even adults have never been exposed to the likes of movies such as Gone With the Wind and The West Side Story, I can assure you I am well versed in such stories. As kids, we were always at the movie theater with my grandmother, and I have incredibly vivid memories of the movies I once saw as a young boy.
I remember perfectly the opening scene of Aladdin. The enchanting music, the vibrant colors, and all the excitement of magic forced me to the edge of my seat. Forgetting that I had popcorn tucked in between my legs, I dropped it all over the ground below me. I also remember the time we saw one of the greatest sports classics of our time, The Sandlot, and how I brought a baseball into the theater, turning it over and over again in my hand as the story unfolded before me. I distinctly recall tracing the stitches of that ball with my finger when the final credits scrolled- disappointed that the experience was over, yet excited at the prospect of playing baseball with my brother and sister when we got home. Movies have always been a passion of mine, and for that reason, I take my kids as often as I can to the theater. That being said, the experiences aren’t always as magical as I’ve wanted them to be, and I have learned, just like other aspects of my parenting life, to adjust and appreciate the chaos.
Those experiences, as well as this past weekend’s viewing of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, have all helped me create these four valuable tips to consider when watching movies with your kids or taking them to the theater:
1. Everybody go to the potty! RIGHT NOW!
I don’t care what they tell you. They have to go to the bathroom, and they most certainly will need to go within the first fifteen minutes of the movie or at the worst part if you don’t force them to try beforehand.This is a shout out to my sister and her experiences with my kids at the movies. Disney movies were also a staple of our family during our formative years. My grandmother took us to every single one of those movies when we were younger, and as embarrassing as this might be for a 34-year-old male to admit, I can belt out some really great renditions of Disney songs. My sister, like me, is an avid Disney fan, so you can imagine how crestfallen she was when she missed not one, but two of the most iconic Disney movie moments ever produced. When the two of us found out about the live action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King, we both started reminiscing about two scenes in particular- the magic carpet ride and the heartbreaking moment Mufasa dies.
Let’s be honest, when my family decided to take the kids to these movies, it was more about the millennials’ nostalgic trip back to childhood. Of course, as if though Destiny had been eavesdropping on the conversation about our excitement for these movies, my sister would unfortunately miss both of those scenes in their respective movies. I tried to take the boys myself, I really did, but when my kids asked to go on a potty break, the only person they wanted to walk them to the restroom was their most favorite aunt in the whole wide world. As she got up each time, she looked at me with an anxious look of despair, and we both knew what she was about to miss. As I mouthed, “I’m sorry,” I secretly thought, Sucks to be you! These are the sacrifices we make for kids at the movies. Even if we’re trying to relive our own childhood through Disney remakes, the duty of parenthood, or in my sister’s case, aunthood, takes precedence and the call must be answered unless you’re ready to clean up an accident.
2. Read some parent reviews and prep the kids!
Michelle and I learned this one the hard way. Listen, like I said, we were tough as kids in the 90s, and we didn’t let a little monster flick scare us. My brother and I watched the original It when we were way too young, and yes, it gave us both irrational fears of clowns even till this day. After we watched that movie, while the villainous smile of Pennywise was still fresh in our heads, we immediately ran to our room and hid the obscene amount of menacing porcelain clown figurines my mom had put on our dressers a few years prior. We were certain they would come to life and eat our heads clean off our bodies if they weren’t dealt with appropriately. She still has no idea what we did with those demonic little statues. But, whatever, we were tough. We survived. We didn’t let some movie get us down. We were children of the 90s, damn it, and we handled it! I can tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t scream bloody murder while watching that movie and cry. We had each other as a support system! Kids are different though today, and let’s be honest, we have only ourselves to blame for this. My boys don’t handle scary all that well, and we’re working on teaching them the idea of movie magic and that most things simply aren’t real.
“Tommy, it’s not real. It’s a green screen and computer programs. No, no, no. Dinosaurs are not alive now. However, give it time. The way our society’s going, who knows. Daddy’s kidding. But not really.”
You’re probably thinking I’m a terrible parent and that I show my kids horror movies, but I promise I don’t. I’m in no way advocating that we “toughen” this generation up by showing them terrifying tales of flesh eating monsters. While I joke about us being young kids watching wildly inappropriate movies, I don’t really condone it. I did, however, do this once on accident.
This specific tip dates back to when we took the boys to see the movie Shazam! earlier this year. I was so excited to take them to a superhero movie. My boys love all things superhero related as mentioned in my origin story, so I thought the comedic take on the character Shazam would be a great day at the theater. I hadn’t read any reviews about it assuming the content would be fine. Little kid gets powers and becomes a superhero. Sounds fun! A quarter of the way into the movie, these horrifying demon creatures came crawling on the screen, and to our surprise, bit the head off of one of the characters and then threw another person out of a window. NOT. WHAT. WE. WERE. EXPECTING! Tommy stood up, looked at me, looked at Michelle, and then started bawling. Before we could console him, he was out of that theater quicker than one of Shazam’s cracks of lighting and a trail of popcorn followed behind him. SHAZAM! HE WAS GONE! Teddy was forever scarred too from the scene and ran out after Tommy with Michelle right behind them. The most concerning part of this story- Joey. He didn’t flinch. I immediately tried to cover his eyes, but he pulled them down aggressively. He looked at me and said, I kid you not, “What’s their problem, Daddy? That was cool!” That boy scares me. Should I be concerned?
3. Use pause tickets
I love movies. This you now know about me. While most of the time I am the quintessential, patient father (sarcasm), I have incredibly low patience for disruptions during movies. At home, this seems to happen more than theater outings. Most of the time in public, the boys are actually on their best behavior; however, at home, it’s a crapshoot. Movies at home are intolerable for me. This is not one of my proud papa moments, but when we watch movies, I get frustrated very easily. I mean, it’s brutal! Michelle and I have to field an onslaught of questions every five minutes of the movie, and I simply cannot handle it. It’s unbearable! Over the last few months, the boys have expressed interest in the Star Wars movies, so of course I jumped on that and was ready to share my love of the saga with them. We have watched Episodes 1-6, and getting through those six movies has been the ultimate challenge of my life. No joke.
The following is a transcript of a conversation I had with Joey during our viewing of Episode 3: A New Hope.
Joey: Why is Dark Vader so mean?
Me: It’s Darth (Emphasis on the TH sound). Darth Vader.
Joey: I know. Dark (Emphasis on the K sound) Vader. That’s what I said. Dark Vader.
Me: Okay, sure. Dark Vader.
Joey: So? Why is he mean?
Me: It’s the dark side of the force. It’s evil.
Joey: See, Daddy! Dark side. Dark (Again, K sound emphasis) Vader.
Me: Okay, Joe. Yep. Dark. (Goes to press the play button)
Joey: Who’s forcing him to do something?
Me: (Stops and lowers the remote again) No, the force. It’s a mystical, ancient power that one connects to…Oh, just forget it. I don’t know, Joe. He just is mean and nobody is forcing him.
Joey: Oh, okay.
(Dad presses play)
This happens with nearly every movie we watch. This past weekend was our viewing of Episode 6: Return of the Jedi. Please keep in mind that this movie is on my list of top five greatest movies ever made. It was a rough experience, and it took us nearly the entire weekend to get through it.
Teddy: Dad, how did Luke get a new lightsaber?
Me: (Reluctantly presses pause) He’s nearly completed his training and can now construct a lightsaber. He did it himself.
Teddy: Oh, cool.
Me: Yep. (Presses play)
Teddy: Why is it green?
Me: (Pauses again) Well, there’s a crystal in the hilt of the lightsaber. A kyber crystal. It’s green.
Teddy: Oh, cool.
Me: Yep. Okay, I’m going to hit play now. Let’s try to keep it going, yeah?
Teddy: Got it, Dad. (Thumbs up)
(Two minutes later)
Teddy: Dad, I mean, how did they get the Death Star working again?
Me: (Violently presses the pause button this time) Engineering, son. The Empire invested in some top notch engineers.
Me: Forget it. The force, Teddy. The force put it back together.
Teddy: Oh, cool.
(Ten minutes later)
Me: Who just farted?
Tommy: Hahahaha! Me!
Me: Do you have to use the bathroom?
Tommy: Yes. Please stop it.
Me: Ahhhhhh! Okay. (Pauses movie)
(Tommy returns twenty minutes later)
Me: Can we chill out on the pauses now you maniacs? (Finally resumes the movie)
Shortly after that, I went into the office, cut out nine small pieces of paper and wrote “Movie Pause Ticket” on each of them. I handed three to each kid and instructed them that the movie could only be paused with a ticket from then on. Once the pause ticket is used, it is gone until the next movie. Once you’re out, you can’t ask questions anymore, and if you do, it’s straight to bed you go. Guess what? Each of them kept those tickets until the end and then cashed them in and asked questions at the END OF THE MOVIE. After I gave those tickets out, it was a glorious, uninterrupted showing of one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made!
4. Your own private showing
I’ve had lemonade spilled in my lap, tended to nosebleeds, taken kids on countless bathroom trips, and dealt with crying and screaming all because the Dots box was empty. All this in an attempt to give my boys that magical movie experience I had as a child. I know I’ve succeeded as they really do enjoy going to the theater, but my last tip for you is to check out that movie you really want to see by yourself before you take the kids. When Spider-Man: Far From Home came out, I felt incredibly guilty going without the boys, but it was the best decision I could have made. I went first, enjoyed the movie uninterrupted, and had a great time out with my brother. When I took the boys, I had an abundance of patience for them and tended to their every need without feeling frustrated. I know this seems selfish; however, I’d rather buy a ticket twice than miss out on an experience I really cherish and that harkens me back to the fond memories I have of my grandmother. There’s nothing wrong with doing something for myself as a parent, and if this helps me foster the passion of movies for my kids all while maintaining my sanity, it’s perfectly fine.
What are movies like with your kids? Can they make it through a whole movie without any issues? Let’s hear your stories below and any other tips you’d like to share!