Doing something for the first time with my son can require a lot of preparation and planning; this is particularly true for something I plan to do with him in a couple of weeks: Take him to his first movie.
Attending a movie in a movie theatre requires conforming to a lot of social expectations, that run directly counter to my son’s natural behaviours. When my son is happy, he flaps his hands up and down, hums loudly, wriggles in his chair, and sometimes full-out bounces in his seat or stands up and runs back and forth if the moment really takes him. Not exactly good movie-going behaviour. In fact, exactly bad movie-going behaviour. I can’t reasonably expect others to adjust to his behaviour in that situation either, since it directly causes significant upset to what they paid good money to come there to do. The simple fact is that if my son cannot or will not control himself – conform to the social expectations of a movie-goer – we will have to leave, even if it means me physically dragging my six year old out while he cries and screams.
So I’m doing what I can to explain and prepare him for what he needs to do, and what will happen if he can’t do it. I’ve told him that if he hums and flaps and bounces, we will have to leave. I’ve tried to soften this potential blow by saying we can try again though another day if that happens. I’ve asked him to show me how he sits nice and still and makes no noise; he practices it beautifully. I’ve told him if he needs to ask me a question or has a problem, that he can get my attention and whisper in my ear, so he practices that too.
And then he thinks of something that hadn’t crossed my mind. He says to me “Can I laugh like this…?” And does a practice laugh. Then he says “or like this?” and does a different louder one. He wants to know how loud he should laugh and what it should sound like, in advance. I try to answer as best I can, that he can laugh when something is funny, but he shouldn’t just laugh when something isn’t funny. The conversation gets progressively more awkward as we discuss back and forwards how loud and how long he can laugh, and I’m still not convinced that he understands my point about only laughing either way when something makes him want to laugh. Still, it shows me he is thinking about what is acceptable and wants to do what is right. He’s even practiced how he will whisper to me to ask whether he is allowed to laugh during the movie.
I’m not convinced he’s ready for the whole movie experience, but he’s been obsessing about the new movie Hugo – with its trains and clocks featuring so prominently in the ads almost every time he watches TV – so maybe his love of the movie subject matter will be enough to motivate him to control his natural urges. That’s the hope anyway. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I’ve already given a lot of thought to best seating position; near aisles and far from other people, and am choosing a day and time that I’m hoping attendance will be low (I’ve even chosen the 2D version of the movie, to limit the new experiences and in the hope more people will choose the 3D version).
No matter how it goes down on the day, I’ll be proud of him for trying, because I know he will try, and it won’t be easy. I’m hoping that his occasional hum and flap will be forgiven by the audience, and not be met with the same hostility that is otherwise deserved by those who answer their cellphones in a theatre or shine a lazer at the screen; he wouldn’t be the first to break social expectations at the movies.
And I’m hoping that he’ll enjoy it so much that he won’t remember to ask me if it’s OK to laugh.