We were in the bowels of a multiplex in downtown Brooklyn, my husband, son, and I, padding along the soft polyurethane carpeting toward the door to the theater.
It was 9:25 a.m. and in just 10 minutes, the lights would dim, roughly 300 trailers would be projected onto a screen whose square footage matched that of our apartment until, at last, the Disney fireworks thing would appear, signaling the reason why we were here:
So that our son could revel in the magic that is movie-going in the 21st century.
Through the doorway we strode, into the dazzling semi-darkness, and within seconds my son was in an audible panic.
So were we.
Somehow, in the three years since I gave birth, I’ve aged enough to have slipped, like an old button, into the drawer of delicate things, breakable things not fit for the everyday traumas inflicted by the big bad world – traumas such as the VOLUME OF THE GODDAMN PRE-SHOW PHONE COMMERCIALS.
As we flung our coats on seats, I gaped at the millions of fast moving pixels in front of me, my son fastened to my chest like Sigourney Weaver holding onto the ship in Alien.
“It’s so loud!” I shouted across the armrest at my husband. He mouthed something back, but I have no idea what. Things got quiet for a moment, a movie trivia question popped onto the screen, commanding my husband’s rapt attention, and my son’s, who’d poked his head out to consider it.
I watched his large, naïve eyes scan from left to right, gauging the breadth of the oceanic beast that was the sheet of vinyl seven rows in front of us. But before he could resume breathing normally, on came another commercial, probably for a phone, I DON’T KNOW, I WAS PANICKING.
From that moment – approximately 9:30 a.m. – until the final trailer, for Monster Trucks, commenced, my husband and I engaged in a low-key relay race where the baton was our child and the various legs involved jogging into and out of the theater at random intervals.
In retrospect, I think we were subconsciously trying to haze our child into loving movie theaters, but at the time, we were just trying to get by.
The first recovery leg involved several rounds of a hopeless crane game out in the vacant hallway. Nobody won a Minion (because, of course, it was we who were the minions).
After that, it was my turn, when, 20 seconds into a live-action adaptation of an old fairytale, a bearded man was flung into the snow by a shadowy creature, prompting my son to attempt to claw his way back into the womb.
As we exchanged our progeny, my husband rubbed his chin anxiously and called out, “I think we can get our money back.” I nodded uncertainly, son in arms, and galloped out to a metal bench just outside the movie theater. The smell of popcorn was stronger out here and a comfort to me, though I feared it might forever haunt the person in my arms.
In minutes, he seemed to have fallen asleep. I listened to the hellish symphony of sound effects through the walls. I rubbed his back and pressed my cheek against his. How quickly the world could feel awful and, yet, how quickly one could escape it, hovering just outside of it, filled with relief and dread.
How stupidly lucky were we, parents whose worst nightmare was an oversized made-up world of pictures and sounds that were only as real as our children’s imaginations might allow them to be. How easy for us to not actually wonder whether we’d survive this particular parenting nightmare.
A man who worked at theater walked by and, smiling in an effort to make myself less terrifying, I yelled, “Is there any way you can lower the volume?”
He poked his head into the theater. “The trailers are over, ma’am. They’re much louder than the movie. Don’t worry.”
“Okay,” I said, and a moment later, a profoundly loud fart emanated a few yards from us. It could only have come from one place: those Dolby speakers. The creature in my arms looked up at me. I smiled, this time because I meant it (and because farts are the greatest comfort, greater even than the smell of heavily buttered popcorn). We tiptoed cautiously back into our stadium seats.
It was the goofy short that won him over, inured, as he’d become, to the size of the screen and to its thunder. We did not get our money back. We watched Moana, or, more accurately, we watched our son watch Moana.
It was great and overwhelming, and the next time we go to the movies will probably be in 2018.