Popcorn, sodas and diaper bags

Theaters offer moms (and a few dads) a chance to catch a flick with babies in tow

Maryland Journal

July 17, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Judging from the number of laughs and cries, the crowd seems to like Adam Sandler's latest flick.

But then, about half of those in the theater are asleep.

That's not a commentary on the movie Click, the mothers filling the White Marsh theater will tell you. It's a chance to watch a movie in its entirety.

Offered a weekly break in otherwise baby-centered days, about 30 mothers have come to the AMC Loews White Marsh theaters on a Tuesday morning, carrying their infants in fabric slings or pushing them in strollers with the requisite dangling bags.

Surrounded by the smell of buttered popcorn, they settle into cushioned seats with diaper bags and bottles, hoping for a chance to see something more current than what's playing on cable during 4 a.m. feedings.

The White Marsh theater started its "Reel Moms" program about three years ago. More than a dozen other AMC theaters offer similar showings for parents, while other movie theaters have variations on family or baby-friendly programs.

In Hunt Valley, the Regal Cinemas offer free G- and PG-rated movies at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Stacy Bailey, a 32-year-old mother of three from the Towson area, sits with her childhood friend, Toya Back, 32. Back has a 4-week-old girl. Bailey has a 3-week-old boy.

Bailey's 4-year-old and 2-year-old sons are at day care. Back's 2-year-old daughter is with her mom. They might try to sneak in lunch after the movie.

Other mothers come in alone, but they spot acquaintances from playgroups and parks and greet each other with knowing smiles.

"When you see a [baby carrier] you're automatically friendlier," Bailey says.

Back started attending the weekly movies when she had her first child. She heard the program advertised at a mother's group at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Both women are nursing as the movie begins, which won't raise eyebrows in this theater.

One mother, with hair still wet from her rushed shower -is there any other kind for a new mother? - comes in about 20 minutes late.

A lone new father is even later.

It's already been quite a day for Walter Johnson, the father of one from Randallstown.

His 3-month-old son was up at 2 a.m., 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. But with a month off from work at a health care company, Johnson says he wants to make the most of his "bonding time."

"Since there aren't any `daddy and me' groups, I've been crashing the `mommy and me' events," says Johnson, laughing. "We joined a mommy and me group at a park in Owings Mill. I pack us picnics - milk for him and a sandwich for me."

One of the nice things about the weekly movies, Johnson says, is that it doesn't matter if it's raining. And the movies give him an excuse to sit and hold his infant son without being distracted by something on the to-do list at home.

The day before, Johnson spent most of the day doing laundry and ironing.

"Since my wife is back at work, I just want that to be the only thing she has to worry about," he says. "I make dinner. I'm playing `Mr. Mom,' I guess."

In White Marsh, the 11 a.m. matinee showings Tuesdays are designed to be more comfortable for parents. The lights are dimmed but the theater is never totally dark - a helpful accommodation for those who might have to get up to change a diaper or pace the aisles.

No one is supposed to worry if the infant squawks or fusses. And, as an added bonus for families on a budget, the little ones are admitted free.

Most of the babies are younger than a year, still not mobile enough to send their mothers chasing after them and still unaware of curse words and sex scenes.

Julie Perzan, a Perry Hall teacher, comes in with her "bag of tricks," complete with snacks and a few toys, to keep her 8 1/2 -month-old daughter occupied. Perzan stands her smiling daughter up on her lap.

"She'll be like this through the entire movie, probably," says Perzan, adding that she has brought a bottle, just in case.

She's not the only one with an antsy little one.

As Sandler rushes to and from meetings with his universal remote on the big screen, three mothers stand in the aisle, swaying their infants back and forth in a ritual maternal dance that some call the "baby bop."

On the opposite side of the theater, Kim McCardle and Chrissy Mitcherling, both 31 and from the Sparks area, are doing the same, trying to soothe their sons into sleeping through Mom's morning out.

McCardle, a former middle school teacher, heard about the screenings at a mom's group in Timonium. "It's something to get out of the house, that is also relaxing," says McCardle, the mother of a 5-month-old.

Other outings can be stressful in some way or another, she says. At playgroups, you often spend the hour chasing after your little one. "At the mall, you're trying to get your stroller through the racks," McCardle says.

Not everyone in the theater has an infant.

A handful of parents and children on summer break are watching the film. Several of the patrons exit the theater, looking puzzled by the number of strollers parked at the entrance.

An older woman who has taken her grandchildren to see the PG-13 rated movie sees all the younger women with babies in their arms and asks one of them: "Is this a mother's day out or something?"

"Yes," McCardle tells her. "Every Tuesday."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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