Saturday, December 11, 2004


If you have never taken children to a Saturday matinee, I strongly recommend you never do so. It can be a grueling experience, and your psyche may never recover from the trauma. I know mine hasn't. You must realize that the reason my husband and I stayed together for forty-five years was because neither of us wanted custody of the kids!

I went to see Shrek with four children, and a tour of duty in a war zone could not have been much more adventurous, even though our journey started out with a sense of excitement and exhilaration, with the children chattering happily beneath the confines of their seat belts.

This trip took a huge bite out of a hundred dollar bill, not because of the price of the tickets, but because we paused at the candy counter. If you do have to take children to a movie, it might be a good idea to blindfold them as you pass the candy counter! There, I found that a box of popcorn costs darned near as much as a dinner out on the town, and when you add a drink and a candy bar, you are dangling over a financial precipice.

Since then, I have learned that many people take their kids to the show with candy stuffed in every pocket and purse. One woman I know has a purse that carries a six-pack of pop, a bag of potato chips and dip. This practice is frowned upon by the management, however, who somehow feel they deserve to earn a living.

It took a long while for each of the four children with me to decide just which candy they wanted. The poor clerk sighed and was patient, as though she expected to collect her Social Security checks before this bunch made up their minds. The candy came in enormous boxes, but sharing was out of the question, because what one child wanted, the other could not abide. Nothing would do but for each one to have his or her huge box, along with the small popcorn and the drink. The only consolation was that the popcorn box could be refilled for only a quarter.

Good thing, too, because we had no more than selected just which seats to command, balancing our drinks, when the little one, aged four, spilled his popcorn. I sent the older one for a refill while I tried to adjust myself to sitting just three rows from the screen. At this angle, my neck was bent backward so that my head hit my backbone, but despite my complaints, the children wanted these front row seats. From this view, the characters on screen look like enormous blobs of color. You could see up nostrils, and the neck ache was severe.

The theater was filled with an assortment of jabbering, laughing and screaming children, a jarring sound that penetrated even my nearly deaf ears like a high, screeching vibration, a roar like a jet plane taking off or the high pitched cries of colicky babies. And as the movie started, the hum continued and never abated throughout the show. Even more disconcerting was the constant movement, almost a dance, one child up, another down, up and down, sideways. No one sat still. It was like being in hell with a troop of rap artists leaping around, a hundred Ushers swaying and bouncing.

One drink was spilled, adding to the goop on the floor that glued your feet downward and gave out a sucking sensation when you tried to walk. Besides being pulled into this morass, you were constantly crunching spilled popcorn, so walking was an adventure in motion. We managed to get a refill on the drink, too, dried the tears of the spiller, and tried to wipe the orange liquid off his rolling, high-backed, rocking-chair seat. He literally sank into that chair, then sent it into a violent rocking motion, while stuffing popcorn in his mouth with one hand and manipulating a handful of melting chocolate in the other.

There was never a moment's peace. First one needed to use the bathroom, then the other. If one had emptied out enough, he felt compelled to fill up again at the water fountain. We spilled popcorn three times, and slopped enough orange liquid to cause us to glue together at any single touch.

Children never seem to find the right position in their seats. One of them even tried to watch the show standing up. And the young toddler in front of me decided that I was more interesting than the show. As I watched the antics of that cute little donkey in Shrek, this tiny person fixed his huge eyes on me in silent observation, his expression stoic, his gaze merciless.

The child behind me was evidently a drummer. Throughout the show, he thumped and pounded on the back of my seat with his feet. It was a relief when it came time for another bathroom visit, since I could escape the constant punch of those feet. Then I would crunch the popcorn on the floor, pull my feet from the sticky grip of the orange pop, and finally reach the carpeting and the aisle.

Noone ever had to use the bathroom at the same time. These four children had intermittent bladders and the biggest problem was in admonishing the remainder to stay put long enough to accompany another to the rest rooms. Once, I returned to my seat to find one of my charges missing. With a thumping heart, I careened up the aisle and searched, only to find him standing with his nose pressed to the glass of the candy counter.

When Shrek ended, a marvelous movie, even though I had seen it in fits and starts, I told my tribe to find their jackets, hats, gloves and whatever else they had carried with them. Thus came a few harried moments while children dangled under, over and on their seats trying to sort out their belongings. Then I herded them down the aisle and out of the theater. Walking outdoors, it was as if a two hundred pound rock had lifted off my shoulders. I felt as though I had survived the sinking of the Titanic! All that was left was cinching them into their seatbelts and getting them safely home.

So, I warn you, think twice before you attend a Saturday matinee. It's not only dangerous to your mental health, it is a strain on the pocketbook, and it is a memory that will linger with you throughout your lifetime. Ten years afterward, you will pause a moment and thank God you are not trapped in that theater again.

The trouble is, if you are watching that many children, the damage they can do to your home, your furnishings and your nerves is just as bad. You have a choice. Either wash your walls, scrub your floors, toss the broken knickknacks and rehang the drapery...or entertain them with a trip to the movies. I don't know which is worse.