This is the Greatest Show

Every year since our girls were big enough to take to the movies without being a total distraction to everyone in the theater, we have bundled up all 5 girls and gone to a movie on (or around) Christmas. This was a special event that only happened once a year. And no, not because Christmas time is only once a year (smarty pants) but because we were on a pretty tight budget and treating 7 people to a movie and popcorn..well, basically it took us all year to save up for this special treat.

But special treat it was.  I wish I could step back in time and retrace and better document this Christmas tradition, but even without that, some years are planted in my mind for always.

One of those being 1996 when 101 Dalmatians was re-released.  That year was special partly because McDonalds was giving out the Dalmatians in their Happy Meals. It was our girls’ mission to get all of them-all 101 of them. They couldn’t wait to dig into that box-partly due to hot crispy who-can-resist fries, but also the big reveal of which puppy was hiding in there. It was genius marketing (as our girls begged to go every day) and it was fun to watch them discover and trade with each other.  With new puppys in their coat pockets, off we treked to the theater.

Other highlights have been the year we went to Aladdin in an old magnificent theater in our home town that has since been boarded up. The year we saw The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the gentlemen who sat beside my husband couldn’t contain his excitement and made noises and talked throughout the ENTIRE movie. Sherlock Holmes delighted about half of my family, who were big readers.  More recently, Daddy’s Home.

They dynamics of our family has of course changed over the years. 

We are no longer stuffing 5 precious girls into the back of a mini-van and settling arguments over who gets to sit where.  In fact, this year we only stuffed 3 girls, as one lives in the Midwest and one back East and neither could make it home.  And now that I think about it, I am pretty sure we were in 4 different vehicles-so actually I didn’t stuff anyone. But we did have an added (most amazing) son-in-law and a possible soon to be other son-in-law. It’s fun to have boys in the row for a change.

This year, once we got seated with buckets of popcorn and diet 7-up, and I looked down the row at my beautiful family, I realized I am no longer worried one will spill their root beer or the other will start “shout-whispering” that she has to go potty.  But I am, and always will be, their mom. I now worry about new and different things.  Are they happy?  Did I notice a fleeting sadness cross her face?  How has her A1C’s been? Is her new job too stressful?

This year’s Christmas movie will be etched in my memory for always. And not only because our movie choice was ridiculously amazing-which it was.  The only thing that stopped me from standing up and clapping at the end was that I didn’t want to embarrass our youngest daughter who had flown across the country with her boyfriend, so he could meet our crazy family. But I applauded on the inside, my heart was smiling as I left the theater and I couldn’t resist singing “This is the greatest show” just a few times on the drive home.

But this year is forever etched also due to this new chapter. This new era. The faces that line the row of our Christmas movie, that are new to our family but just as loved. The empty seats of those that live too far to come home. The shadows of faces that aren’t even sitting there yet-more son-in-laws? Grandkids? Will there be a time when the only one being stuffed in the car for our annual trip is just my husband and I? Or perhaps, a Christmas ticket for 1 and just a small popcorn, please.

There was a time when I couldn’t even shower without interruptions-or worse, all the sudden realizing they haven’t interrupted and it’s awfully quiet out there! Sometimes I wondered if they would ever grow up. And now, this year looking down that theater row of my changing and evolving family, my heart smiles a somewhat sad but peaceful smile and I realize that actually, THIS is (and has been) the greatest show.