My son is teaching me the art of having a Guys Night. The plan came into being earlier this evening at the video store when I caught myself acting like a rather prissy girl.
Ethan, who’s 13, generally likes the movies I choose—moving, thoughtprovoking films like “Stand by Me” and “Smoke Signals,” or clever comedies like old Woody Allen flicks. But he also loves 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 20 minutes, “No. That’s not my kind of film.”
A moment later, he handed me the DVD “Taken.” “I guess we can’t get this,” he said.
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 at Ethan’s disappointed face, then down at Liam Neeson’s alluring profile.
I thought 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 say.
“Okay. Go get us some popcorn.” “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” Ethan said.
When we got home, I filled a pasta pot with water.
“What are you doing?” Ethan asked.
“We just got a guy movie. We have to order pizza.” He handed me the phone. “And we have to eat it while we watch.”
As Ethan 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’m very protective of dinnertime.
Also, when I was married to Ethan’s father, we had a hard time communicating. Television didn’t help. Early on, we spent most of our meals sharing dreams and plans; but even then, we’d rent an occasional movie and he’d 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 as I had in childhood. I promised myself that, if we ever had kids, dinnertime would be set aside for connecting.
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, 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. Then it hit me. That’s exactly why it was so important to Ethan. Richard was 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. “Salad?” He shook his head. “That’s pussy food.”
I considered chastising him. But this was Guys 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 screen, Liam-as-Bryan is fighting off a dozen armed villains, moving like a superhero though he’s deep into middle age. It’s Guys Night, but I can’t help watching as a mother.
A teenager is missing and only her father can track her down and save her from being sold into prostitution. I cling anxiously to Ethan.
“Jeez, Mom,” he said. But I can see he’s enjoying being the brave one. “Don’t worry, Mom. You know he’ll save her.”
Sometimes good parenting doesn’t look like the picture in our heads. This, for instance, looks like the complete opposite of the image I carry around. Yet I can feel that this movie night is as nourishing to our relationship as our usual family dinners. It’s good to be with Ethan on his own turf where he’s in charge. So I give him this, a night where the rules fall away and I join him as—more or less—one of the guys.
Ona Gritz writes a monthly column about motherhood and disability at Literary Mama. She is also a prize-winning poet and the author of two children’s books. Her essays have been published in numerous anthologies and journals.