Ethan is teaching me the art of having a Guy Night. This isn’t something we consciously planned. It came into being earlier this evening at the video store when I caught myself acting like a rather prissy girl.
Ethan generally likes the movies I choose for us — moving, thought-provoking films like Stand by Me and Smoke Signals, or clever comedies like old Woody Allen flicks. But he also loves broad-humored raunchy comedies and violent action blockbusters that make me wish we didn’t own a DVD player. He’d picked out several such movies when I heard myself saying primly, as I had for the last twenty minutes, “No. That’s not my kind of film.”
A moment later, he handed me the DVD Taken starring Liam Neeson. “I guess we can’t get this,” he said in a defeated voice.
I read the cover. While vacationing with a friend in Paris, an American girl is kidnapped by a gang of human traffickers intent on selling her into forced prostitution.
“Human trafficking? I don’t know. . .”
I looked up at Ethan’s disappointed face, then back down at Liam Neeson’s alluring profile.
I thought fondly of the movie Love Actually with Neeson as a widowed stepfather. What made his character Daniel so endearing was the way he related to his stepson on his own level, as a friend.
Give him this one, I imagined the fictitious Daniel saying to me.
“Okay,” I told Ethan. “Go get us some popcorn.”
Ethan gave me a startled look. “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” he said.
When we got home, I filled a pasta pot with water.
“What are you doing?” Ethan asked accusingly.
“We just got a guy movie. You can’t cook. We have to order a pizza.”
Ethan handed me the phone. “And we have to eat it while we watch.”
As Ethan well knew, this was breaking a cardinal rule at our house. Having grown up in a family where I Love Lucy reruns took the place of dinner conversations, I am very protective of dinner time. The radio can be on, but never the television. We begin our meal by holding hands and saying our own version of grace. Then we talk.
Part of what makes this ritual so important to me is that I didn’t have good communication in my marriage, and television had a lot to do with that. When Richard and I first started dating, we spent most of our meals together sharing dreams and plans, but even then, we’d rent an occasional movie and Richard would coax me into watching as we ate. Over time, I discovered that Richard liked to eat dinner in front of the TV whenever possible, a habit I found as depressing and isolating as I had in childhood. I promised myself that if we ever had kids, dinnertime would be set aside for connecting.
Of course the parenting books are with me. I’ve read that family meals do more for a child’s psychological well-being than participating in sports, religious activities, or school. For teens in particular, a routine of regular dinners at home decreases the likelihood of getting into drugs, developing eating disorders, or becoming suicidal.
I pondered all this while we waited for our pizza. Maybe I should veto the eat-it-with-the-movie idea. I’m sure he does plenty of that at his dad’s house, I thought grumpily. But then it hit me. That’s exactly why it was so important to Ethan. Richard’s away on business. He must miss him. No wonder he wanted to bring a little of their ritual to our house.
The pizza arrived and I could almost feel Love Actually‘s Daniel smile approvingly as I carried the box into the living room.
Ethan eyed the small paper bag I placed beside it. “You ordered salad?” He shook his head. “That’s pussy food.”
I considered chastising him. But no, this was Guy Night and he was just being a guy.
So now I’m eating pizza straight from the box along with my “pussy” salad. On the television screen, Liam-as-Bryan is fighting off a dozen armed villains single-handedly, moving like a superhero despite the fact that he’s deep into middle age. This may be Guy Night, but I can’t help watching as a mother. A teenage girl is missing and only her father can track her down and save her from being sold into prostitution. My heart pounds and I cling anxiously to Ethan.
“Jeez, Mom,” he says. But I can see he’s enjoying his role as the brave one. “Don’t worry, Mom. You know he’s gonna save her.”
Sometimes good parenting doesn’t look like the picture we have in our heads. In this case, it looks like the complete opposite of the image I carry around. Yet I can feel that this movie night is as nourishing to my relationship with Ethan as our usual family dinners. I know it’s important to spend time with him on his own turf where he’s in charge. As his able-bodied parent, Richard can do that on the ball field. But I can give him this, a night where the rules fall away and I join him as — more or less — one of the guys.