For April 2018, we are hosting a whole series about Intentionally Cultivating Your Family Culture. Check out Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story with Christie Thomas and members of the Kindred Mom team, and check back to read more essays in the series as the month unfolds. If you missed it, check out our completed March series on Becoming a Resilient Mom!
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My husband crouches low to bring the big stainless steel cooking pot and lid up from the lower cabinet and sets it on the stove with a clank. Our children buzz about his feet in great anticipation while he moves through the kitchen, retrieving supplies. With excitement, the boys hustle to the other room and swipe two dining chairs, dragging them back to the kitchen next to the stove. They perch one kid on each side, ready to watch Dad pop popcorn. My husband pours oil into the pot, and the children then dump in the kernels they carefully measured just moments before. With his thumbs crammed into red oven mitts, my husband shakes the pot back and forth over the hot blue flame, pressing the glass lid closed.
Brown simmering kernels cover the bottom of the pot, pressure building up, slowly popping open into white pillowy explosions caught in time; the first bursts of Movie Night celebration. The boys’ rapt attention focused on the contents of the pot under the glass lid, because it is finally Saturday, the night our family stops everything to be together without distraction.
The rhythm quickens and soon, popcorn fills the pot. The lid is wet with condensation from vapor. Off goes the flame. My husband dumps the popcorn into a large bowl, sprinkles it lightly with salt and heads to the basement, the children skipping along beside, and me behind with smaller bowls and a bag of black licorice I saved for this very night.
I would have never thought a regular family movie night would become a sacred time to me. We just sit together on the couch, watching a screen spew forth entertainment, but this weekly ritual brings us together, in the same room, focused on the same thing, smiling, which is no small task.
Before we had children, watching a movie with my husband was not exactly thrilling. We watched films whenever we wanted to (which was most nights of the week), and the familiarity of such a repetitive act desensitized both of us. Now that time comes at a much higher premium, the novelty of watching a movie is prized time to connect with one another. Sometimes we long for those old days in our tiny apartment eating fancy chocolate, but would not trade the great responsibility and pride that comes with building a family together for our child-free days.
Movie Night is non-negotiable in our family calendar because we’ve come to believe this time together is an essential part of bonding as a family. When we fire up a movie and divvy up popcorn every Saturday night, we provide a space where each member of our family can be known, accepted, and loved for the unique gifts they bring with them. Movie nights represent our commitment to each other by sending the message that each person matters and nothing takes precedence over that. Our shared experience as a family coming together around a bowl of popcorn every week will stick in our minds for years to come. There is power in routine because of what it represents: we will be there for one another through thick and thin.
In the future, the activity we regularly gather around may change, but I hope we always make space for time together. We may trade the popcorn and licorice for guitars and amplifiers and a family jam session. We may still be watching movies, but exchange Pixar for the Criterion Collection with a discussion afterward. I can imagine Arts and Science Night where we make art, take lessons, or hold our own family science fair.
For now, when Saturday rolls around, I anticipate snuggling on the sofa with my children and husband, the bowl empty except for the dregs and crispy husks between us, and I relax into the joy I feel when I hear their squeals of laughter and notice wonder on their faces. Movie night gives me hope that we, as a unit, are cementing our love and commitment to one another. The lights dim, the happy little Pixar lamp hops across our screen, and we settle in for another night together on the couch.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.
Check out the most recent episode of the Kindred Mom podcast, Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story!