Three years ago I took August, Déla and Ciárán to see Winnie The Pooh in theaters. At 3 years old, he was a little scared but excited. It was a big, dark, loud place. While we don’t typically think of it, for younger children a movie theater can be a little daunting. When the Spy Kids 4 trailer came on it was too much. That trailer, so big, so scary, so loud, in a dark room, it was enough for him to never want to go to a movie theater again.
Over the subsequent years other movies would come out and Ciárán would want to see them but he would refuse to do so in a movie theater. He would wait to see them on video or not at all. This has been frustrating for August and Déla, but we have learned to work around it.
Then The LEGO Movie came out.
To say the four of us (August 10, Déla 8, Ciárán 6, and myself) were looking forward to this film would be an understatement. Ever since the first trailer came out last summer the excitement has been palpable. And building. Ha.
Ciárán didn’t want to go, of course.
But he did.
He was the very definition of ambivalent.
A relatively small window of opportunity presented itself for us to see the film this weekend. Opening weekend. A big deal. We rarely see movies in the theater, let alone opening weekend. We still haven’t seen Frozen (and really want to) but The LEGO Movie had such a strong pull and that was where we were going. That pull was strong enough that Ciárán relented and decided to go.
He was cautious, but willing to give it a try. We made concessions such as sitting in the back so as to not be overwhelmed by the size of the screen and hopefully it would be less loud. August and Déla are old enough that if I needed to take Ciárán out to the lobby for a moment they would be alright. And I said if it got to be too much we could leave. I warned the other two of this.
My paramount concern was making this a positive experience for Ciárán so that eventually he would come to see more movies in the theater with us. I love going to the movies, and I love sharing that experience with my kids. It saddens me a bit that I am unable to share in this with Ciárán.
I was hopeful as we drove the the theater. Ciárán said he needed to go to the bathroom. I said to hold on, because we would have to get to the theater, get in line, get tickets, then we would be able to go to the restroom so he could pee. He kept mentioning his need to release his waste bodily fluids all the way there. I thought to myself it was good for him to focus on that rather than the fear and trepidation of the movie theater.
We got in line and got our tickets. We went in.
Then he said “No.”
We barely got to the concession stand when he wanted to turn around and go home. We reminded him he needed to pee. He didn’t want to go. I made a deal with him. Let’s go pee, which he needed to do, take a moment, and check back in to see where his fear level was. Walking toward the restroom brought us closer to the actual theater, and he became visibly more wary. I almost didn’t get him in there. After that we tried to get him to go in and just see the inside of the theater, to help pick out seats in the back. He wouldn’t go in.
I couldn’t argue with his logic. “You said if it got too scary we could leave. It’s too scary. I’m too freaked out. I’m not going in.”
Time to get a refund.
Thankfully the staff were understanding and we were able to get a refund easily.
As we left the theater August began to cry. His love of all things LEGO is in direct proportion to Ciárán’s fear of movie theaters. The way our schedule was it would be a good while before we had another opportunity to go to the movie. While the three of us were upset, we understood that Ciárán’s fear was real and needed to come first. August, while understanding, was more upset about this.
I could have forced the issue, but I do want Ciárán to eventually be comfortable going to a movie theater. On the way home I gave Ciárán a lot of praise for simply trying. He made if much further than he had previously. It was a big step for him, and I wanted him to know that I understood that and was proud of him.
Sometimes you have to take a step backwards. It wasn’t about just seeing the movie but a much bigger thing. In the long run if he is able to come to a movie theater on his own terms it will be much more gratifying and will “stick” better. Besides that, this is his fear. I don’t want to force my kids into a situation where they are uncomfortable with regards to being and feeling safe. It’s not nice, and not right. Especially when it is regarding something that ultimately isn’t essential to our lives. It is also about respecting boundaries, and Ciárán expressed his very clearly.
That afternoon while back home August was playing on the 3DS and becoming frustrated. Ciárán walks by and says “First you cry about the movie theater and now you’re going to cry about this?” August actually wasn’t about to cry, but I want to point out how comfortable Ciárán was with himself to tease August despite being the reason August was in tears earlier.