Drizzly weather had imprisoned us all weekend with our 3-year-old son. By that Sunday afternoon, I was ready to escape. I suggested we go to a movie. “I just want to sit in the dark and relax,” I told my husband. “You realize this could go very bad,” he replied, the same tone in his voice one might use while holding a burnt-edged treasure map and shining a flashlight down the entrance to a drainage culvert. A sense of foreboding was valid. This would only be the boy’s second attempt at a movie. But surely, I argued, it couldn’t be worse than another episode of Bubble Guppies.
Thus began our quest to the AMC NorthPark 15.
Well, it almost began. Because before every quest with a human who has a bladder the size of a chicken nugget, we must first try—just try—to go to the bathroom, and for a human who has the brain of a caveman, going to the bathroom can be a quest in itself. At 35 minutes till show time, reason alone was not going to work. I skipped Methods One through Four, mostly mind games and manipulation, and went straight to Method Five, candy bribery. Fortunately, I was not forced to pull the trigger on The Final Method, which is to let the kid take a leak in the yard like our dog. In fact, the boy was so satisfied with his payout, that he refused all other sustenance. “I have my food,” he said, waving off a piece of buttered toast and patting his left pocket, where he had tucked the packet of six M&Ms.
Okay, now I can say: thus began our quest to the AMC NorthPark 15.
We took our theater seats with five minutes to spare and I mentally fist-pumped. We’d made it. Not only made it, but made it with dry pants. And from his dry pants, my son methodically unpacked his treat as the previews played. He’s so adorable when he chews, I thought. Our feat had made my parental heart feel extra fuzzy. I turned to look at his sweet face again as Disney’s Moana came on screen. His face was sweet—even angelic—but at that moment I saw that his sweet, angelic face was also asleep. There we were, two grown-ups who had dropped $65 on tickets and popcorn to watch a cartoon while our kid took a nap. I could not. I would not.
I stalked the hallways and found a showing of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13!) scheduled to start in 20 minutes. After grabbing my husband, our unconscious child, and our various concessions, we made our nest at the top of the IMAX theater and chatted. I even had time to get us a beer, which we passed back and forth through the previews. It was almost like a real date. Until, five minutes after our second feature presentation had begun, I looked over to see our son awake, blinking at the dark witchery ravaging 1926 New York on the screen before him, which was, according to the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system, 10 years too intense for his little-lamb eyes.
Leaving my husband behind, I snuck my child into the IMAX playing Moana next door, seeing as how we had missed nearly an hour of our original showing. Just as we settled into our third theater of the afternoon, I realized the kid had consumed nothing but two cups of milk and six M&Ms all day. I left him in his seat, ran next door, up the stairs to where my husband sat sipping our beer, stole his popcorn, and ran back. The kid refused it. “Hot dog?” I offered. I again left him in his seat, my heart pounding harder the farther I ran from the theater door. He was still there when I returned, which is why you don’t recognize my byline from the nightly news, and I spent the next 20 minutes ripping the hot dog into bite-size pieces and dropping them into his mouth. He finished eating as the movie reached its denouement.
By the time we walked out of the mall, the sun had set. My kid was happy because his belly was full and the movie had taught him the word “buttcheek.” My husband was happy because he’d had a beer and a couple hours to himself. And I was happy because, with both boys content, it was quiet. For 15 sweet minutes riding from the parking lot to our driveway, I sat in the dark and relaxed.