So, a few nights ago, Mr. Mostafa and I decided that we were ready to leave Lavender with my mom for a few hours and go out for a movie date. In our pre-parenthood days, when we were just naïve kids living in the States without a care in the world, movies were our thing. We rarely went more than a week without going to the movies. We even had a snack routine. Every time we got to the concession counter, we would agree on sharing a large Diet Dr. Pepper, and then this conversation would ensue:
Mr. Mostafa: Let’s just get a large popcorn and share it.
Me: No, it’s probably better if we just get two mediums. You know how I like to put a ton of salt on my popcorn.
Mr. Mostafa: No, it’s okay. A large will work. I can share with you.
Me (shrugging): Okay, whatever.
Two minutes later, as I find myself pouring half the salt shaker onto our bucket o’ popcorn:
Mr. Mostafa: Sweetie, enough salt, for God’s sake!
Five minutes later, as we settle into our seats and start digging into our popcorn as we wait for the lights to go down and the previews to start:
Mr. Mostafa (gagging, after taking a bite of popcorn): Oh my God, how much salt did you put on this? I can’t eat this!
Me: Just shake the bucket. It will settle to the bottom.
Mr. Mostafa (dramatically pushing the bucket away after obligingly shaking the bucket and trying another piece of popcorn): No, no, no. I can’t eat this.
Midway through the movie, after sulking for awhile about not having any popcorn to eat:
Mr. Mostafa (whispering): Can I have some popcorn?
Me (handing over the bucket): Sure.
Mr. Mostafa: What? This is all that’s left??
Yep. Every. Single. Time. This may sound pretty sad for Mr. Mostafa, but believe it or not, he missed this routine when we didn’t have it anymore. Check out number 19 on his letter to Santa Claus in 2011, when I was living in the States and he was back in Saudi Arabia. And of course, since there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, we have been very much missing this routine since we’ve been living in Riyadh.
Anyway, we decided to go see Last Vegas, which was the only movie playing at our little local theater (and by local, I mean it was 30 miles away) that we conceded might be interesting (what can I say, I adore Robert DeNiro). We got dressed up. For Mr. Mostafa, this meant wearing new jeans and his new leather jacket. For me, it meant my favorite post-pregnancy jeans (i.e., the only pair I own that don’t make me feel like a sausage in a casing), a basic tee underneath a new cardigan, my Marc by Marc Jacobs ballet flats (the one thing out of the whole ensemble that made me feel somewhat stylish—sorry, new cardigan, you just aren’t enough anymore), and my full makeup routine.
Feeling cute and kind of young again, we went to my mom’s house to pick her up, because we had decided that we would drop off my mom and Lavender at my brother’s house, which is about a two-minute drive from the theater, just in case there was an emergency that required that we get to Lavender quickly. We went inside and visited with my parents briefly, and then we all piled into the car and got on our way.
Halfway to the movie theater—which is about 20 miles from my parents’ house—Mr. Mostafa said meekly, “Um, honey? I forgot my wallet on your mom’s kitchen counter.”
We turned around and went back to retrieve the wallet. Naturally, this put us significantly behind schedule. By the time we got back on the highway and on our way to the theater, Mr. Mostafa and I were in the middle of a heated debate as to whether we could still make it to the movie on time.
In the backseat with Lavender, my mom piped up, “Now, don’t panic, everything’s okay, don’t panic…but you guys just need to hurry.”
We made it to my brother’s house with five minutes left until the movie began. It seemed that if we hurried, as my mom had instructed, we might actually make it. We unloaded Lavender, and my mom shooed us out the door, assuring us that everything would be fine.
We believed her. I guess if there’s a bright side to that, it’s that we haven’t totally lost our naïveté.
We bought our tickets and got in line to go through our traditional movie concession routine. It went just like always…except I don’t drink diet sodas anymore because of the artificial sweeteners (I haven’t had a diet soda since I found out I was pregnant with Lavender), so we got a regular Dr. Pepper instead.
Oh, how times change. And yet, this also made me feel young again, as I hadn’t had a regular Dr. Pepper since high school, back when I used to drink at least a can a day of the stuff.
We entered the theater to find that not only had we missed the previews, but also the first few minutes of so of the movie itself. The theater was packed. We squinted to find two empty seats together. We found them in the very last row, against the wall….meaning we had to crawl over everyone else in the row to get to them.
“Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry,” we said as we inched by irritated moviegoers seated in the row, who obligingly attempted to fold their knees sideways in order to let us by.
We settled into our seats and, in hushed whispers, completed our beginning-of-movie popcorn routine, despite having missed the pre-movie time during which it normally takes place. Then, of course, my cell phone, which I had in my lap for easy access, rang—or rather, buzzed, because I actually am considerate enough to have my phone on silent during a movie, but I had to have it out, because I mean, it was my first time away from my kid ever. And as it buzzed, its screen flashed brightly, causing the rest of the patrons in my row to stare at me, irritated, as my lap lit up like a Christmas tree.
It was my mom.
Well, of course, there was no way I could ignore the call, but I had to make a snap decision. Should I answer the phone in the theater, knowing full well that such a move was the height of movie theater impropriety? Or should I crawl back over the row of moviegoers, who already wanted to kill me, in order to leave the theater and take the call? I decided on the first option.
“Yes?” I whispered into the phone.
My mom said, “Now, don’t panic, everything’s okay, don’t panic…but we forgot the lunchbox with Lavender’s milk in the car.”
Seriously? How could we have forgotten the baby’s milk? I said, “We’ll go open the car so you can get it.”
She replied, “I’m on my way.”
I hung up. Mr. Mostafa whispered, “What’s going on?” I whispered the explanation back to him. He grabbed the keys.
“Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry,” he said as he crawled over the other people in the row as quickly as he could.
A few minutes later, he was back. “Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry,” he said again to the unfortunate people who happened to be seated in our row.
He settled back into his seat and whispered to me, “I put the lunchbox in the trunk and left the trunk unlatched, so she can just open the trunk, get the milk, and then close it. That way we don’t have to leave the car unlocked for the whole movie.”
Trying to shield my phone as best I could to keep the light from annoying other moviegoers, I texted this information to my mom.
Two minutes later, the phone rang again. Like last time, I answered with a whispered, “Yes?”
My mom said, “Now, don’t panic, everything’s okay, don’t panic…but the car door is locked.”
I whispered, “Did you not get my text? The milk is in the trunk.”
She said, “What? Honey, the car door is locked.”
I continued to whisper, “The milk is in the trunk.”
Mom said, “What? Honey, I can’t hear you.”
In a normal voice, I said, “The trunk!”
People turned to look at me, irritated (I didn’t blame them). I felt my face flush with embarrassment as Mr. Mostafa buried his head in his hands. Mom said, “Oh, the trunk! I found it! Bye!”
We all returned our focus to the movie. As I watched it, I formulated a few opinions about it.
1. Robert DeNiro’s late wife, who actually ends up being kind of a main character, even though she never actually shows up onscreen, was named Sophie. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that name. It’s a beautiful name. But it’s also ridiculously trendy nowadays. Babies are being named Sophie left and right. And again, nothing wrong with that. But it bugs me when movie (or book) characters of a certain age have names that are obviously intended to appeal to an audience that is currently in the season of life that may include baby-naming (or proudly overseeing grandbaby-naming). Chances are, “Sophie” would have actually been named Brenda. Or Linda. Or Karen. Or another name that when you hear it, currently makes you think of a woman in her fifties or sixties.
I realize that this is somewhat of a stupid bone to pick with this movie. But this is a phenomenon in books and movies that just drives me up the wall. It happens all over the place. No woman in her late twenties who lives in New York and can’t be bothered to find love with the brash, manly (yet chest-hairless) man who lives in the apartment next door and is determined to take her down a peg because she is too addicted to her dream job at a fashion magazine is going to be named Harper. She’s going to be named Megan, or Ashley, or Brittany, or Amanda. I mean, unless she has a ridiculously cool literary mom. And let’s face it, we ridiculously cool literary moms are few and far between. To be honest, I’d rather watch a movie about the ridiculously cool literary mom rather than Harper, whose only accomplishment was growing up into a rom-com cliché. I’m sure her mom had higher hopes for her.
2. One of the running gags of the film is the age of Michael Douglas’s fiancée. She’s 32, which made me feel good, especially since lately I’ve been wallowing in my awareness of my perceived old age (as I’m sure you can tell by the multiple references to “feeling young” that I’ve already made in this blog post) and fixating on the list of things I still want to do with my life (despite being 30, I feel like the phrase, “When I grow up…” still has application to my life).
But that’s about the only way the movie made me feel good. Granted, I know that this is not a movie that is intended to make the Michael Douglas fiancées of the world feel confident about themselves (and yes, I realize what a reach it is to be comparing myself to someone who could conceivably land the exceedingly creepy yet rather famous Michael Douglas—I mean, in real life, that’s Catherine Zeta-Jones. In case you weren’t aware, I’m no Catherine Zeta-Jones). Still, one of the Vegas scenes (that I saw) had our four old heroes judging a bikini contest where all of the “young women” were, of course, super thin and huge-breasted, with not a stitch of cellulite anywhere to be seen. And I found myself feeling angry, because no one looks like that. Regardless of how lecherous old men see young women, that is not being a young woman. Young womanhood is not emerging bikini-clad in slow motion from one Las Vegas swimming pool after another, nor grasping one umbrella drink after another as you do so. It’s mostly feeling bad about yourself, whether or not you are willing to admit it, because you don’t match up to the ideal that Hollywood, fashion magazines, and professional photography retouchers have conspired to set for you. If it had been me in that slow motion pool emerging shot, I would have been wearing a burqini (there are cute ones!) or maybe one of those retro-inspired swimsuits that covers down to mid-thigh and is designed to look like what the neighborhood hussy would wear to the beach in the 1920s, something that is intended to say, “I’m a feminist but not, you know, a total square” but actually says, “I’m embarrassed to be seen in a bikini because my thighs and arms require hardcore Photoshop to mask their gelatinous cellulite jiggle and I’m trying to pass off my coverage as intellectualism.” And if by some chance there actually was a guy standing next to the pool offering me an umbrella drink as I stepped out of the pool, my hands would be wet and slippery and I would drop the drink in the pool and they would have to close the pool while it was being cleaned and word would spread around the hotel: “Yeah, the pool’s closed because some chubby girl couldn’t handle her piña colada.”
Yes, Hollywood, that is young womanhood. Take note.
So as I watched those scenes of four old men leering at young women in Las Vegas, I found myself feeling not amused, but ashamed, because I’ve never looked like that, and I never will.
And then, as a gag, a fat, old woman pranced out on the bikini contest stage, in full movie screen glory. The chunky, gray-haired old men judged her an 11 as the male members of the audience roared with laughter and the female members of the audience laughed obligingly but nervously because that joke walking across the stage looked…well, a lot more like us than the other bikini contest participants did. And I found myself thinking, “You really deserve that 11, old fat woman! I bet you have given birth to children. I bet you are strong. I bet you have moved furniture and carried luggage. Your body is not merely ornamental, old fat woman! Your body does not exist to hold aesthetic value to lecherous old men, but to serve yourself, your own goals, and your own dreams. My body kinda looks like yours, and that’s okay! Let’s go shop for Spanx and eat cheeseburgers together, old fat woman. Solidarity, sister!”
That’s as far as I got before the phone rang again. Again, my crotch lit up like a Las Vegas casino in the 80s. Again, the other patrons in my row turned to give me the death stare. Again, I answered with a whispered, “Yes?”
My mom said, “Now, don’t panic, everything’s okay, don’t panic…but Lavender won’t stop crying. I think she needs her mommy.”
Well, that did it. I was out of the theater like a shot. “Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry,” I said as I plowed my way out of the row, not bothering to wait for anyone to move their knees aside.
Of course, Mr. Mostafa followed. Behind me, I heard his, “Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry.”
When we were safely out of the theater, I explained what was going on.
“Okay, so let’s go,” he said.
“No, no, no,” I replied. “This is our first movie in like, forever. You go back in there and finish watching it. I want you to do that, because I want to know how it ends. I’ll go and take care of the baby. Just call me when it’s over, and I will come pick you up.”
He said, “Are you sure?”
I promised him that I was totally sure. I could have made a meme out of the look on his face.
I kissed his cheek and headed toward the exit as he went back into the theater and crawled back into his seat against the wall: “Sorry, excuse me, sorry, excuse me, so sorry.”
I ran out to the car and leaped in. I drove my mom’s Buick like a Formula One racer. I peeled out of the parking lot. I blew past stop signs. When I finally banged through the door at my brother’s house after about two minutes that felt like an hour, I found Lavender, red-faced, in the arms of my mom, hiccupping after having cried all the tears she had.
I picked her up and held her close. My mom explained, “I gave her the milk. I rocked her, I sang to her. I did everything I knew to do. She just wanted her mommy.”
“I know, Mom,” I said. “I understand.”
An hour later, Mr. Mostafa called. Lavender was asleep in my arms by then, and I didn’t want to wake her. My mom took the keys and went to retrieve my husband from the movie theater.
When they got back, I asked Mr. Mostafa how everything went after I left. “Oh, fine,” he said. “Except your mom and I couldn’t find each other for awhile, so I was just hanging out outside the theater. I didn’t see her and she didn’t see me. I felt like a teenager…you know, dressed all cool and waiting for my mom to pick me up at the movies. But a really lame teenager, because my date ran out on me halfway through the movie.”
I guess I wasn’t the only one made to feel young but inadequate by the Last Vegas experience.
And to the other people in the theater that evening, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. So very sorry. We may be expert moviegoers, but we’re far from getting this parenthood thing down. I’m sure you can relate. And if you can’t because you haven’t had any kids yet…oh, just you wait, you young whippersnappers. Just you wait.