On Independence Day weekend we made our first trip of the summer to the . It’s become a staple of every summer since we first moved here a dozen years ago. Back then we were child-free so we actually stayed awake through the wee hours for the double feature. Years later when our son was a baby, we made a bed in the back of our CRV where he’d fall asleep before the first movie even started. It sure beat paying for a baby sitter. We were able to get away with that until he was four, when we spotted him peeking from behind the seat during the first 45 minutes of Indiana Jones. Since then, it’s been kid-friendly movies only.
When I went to the Drive-in as a child in New York, they charged by the carload and since there were six kids in our family, this was a good deal for my parents. We’d get in our pajamas and bring our pillows and blankets, and pack the car with paper grocery bags full of junk food. We hooked the crackling speaker to the driver’s side window and I vividly remember watching movies like "Escape to Witch Mountain" or Walt Disney’s animated version of "Robin Hood."
It’s not often you can replicate for your kid an experience from your own childhood. My friends lament how things are so different for their children than when we were kids. They contend things were better, more simple and carefree 35 years ago. I would argue that we thought things were better back then because we weren’t the grown-ups. I never noticed all the work my mother put into our 4th of July picnics at the lake until I planned our own last year. What’s simple for children involves a lot of behind the scenes work by mom and dad. I realize now the car has to be packed two days in advance for those ‘carefree’ beach vacations, prepping and lugging the bottomless beach bags of sunscreens, towels, blankets, snacks, drinks, and sand toys. Is it because today’s kids are so spoiled that their parents spend $300 on their birthday party at one of those bounce places? No, it’s because they realize that an at-home party that looks simple is anything but. Figure in the planning, prep, and shopping for it, plus the cost of whatever household item(s) will be getting broken, scratched, or ripped, and then having to clean up afterwards with a throbbing headache. Spending a few hundred bucks to let someone else do it all seems a fair trade-off, especially when you don’t have to also plan a spa day to recover.
Our moms pretty much followed what everyone else was doing, just as we do now. The difference now is, everyone else isn’t just the other moms in the neighborhood. Our parents weren’t bombarded with advice from every media outlet that for the most part only makes us feel like we’re not keeping up. Nowadays we’re saturated with information about what we should be doing to make our children more successful, competitive, smart, and confident. Better, stronger, faster – wasn’t that the motto for "The Six Million Dollar Man"? We’re not building a better robot. Those studies are meant to fill three hours of morning television, 150 pages of a monthly parenting magazine, and limitless Internet articles. Trying to adhere to all that sound bite research is dangerous; if I were to follow all the ones on health, I’d be living on nothing but red wine and coffee. If we think our childhood was more carefree than our children’s, it might be because our parents weren’t trying to enrich us every minute of every day. Sometimes it’s enough just to let children be.
I enjoy the Drive-in now mostly due to nostalgia. There is an element of fun, but truth be told, a movie theater has superior quality sound and picture. Plus you don’t need to count on the weather or the bug spray. But our son loves the uniqueness and taboo of the Drive In – being up way past bedtime outside in the dark. From the excited squeals when we pack the car, I can tell he gets the same rush from it that I did as a kid. So for a couple of weekends this summer, I’m going to let him stay up way past his bedtime, eat a bag full of junk food, and watch a Drive-in movie. None of this will serve to improve him in any way, but it may just end up being one of his favorite childhood memories.