The Importance of Shared Experiences
My kids are in our “library” – a fancy name for a room that has a collection of books, a piano, and our beloved television set, which, as we strive to understate its importance we won’t reward by naming a room after, choosing to emphasize our beloved books instead even though library sounds so much more snobbishly aristocratic than a TV room, and even though more time is spent in the library watching TV than reading books, which isn’t to say that we don’t spend a lot of time reading (we do), but rather that the reading itself takes place in other parts of the house – as I was saying, before I went off on a Dickensian side-note that has now turned this opening sentence into a monster paragraph that has very little to do with the subject of this post and should really be its own post, my kids are in our library, watching “Big Hero 6” without me as I first did a load of dishes, then started baking cookies, and am now sitting at my computer, writing about the thoughts that I had as I occupied myself with domestic chores while listening to my children react to the movie that they have now seen 4 or 5 times in the last couple of weeks.
Apparently I have waited too long between writing sessions and all the words need to come out at once. I apologize and will strive to make my sentences shorter.
My kids love that movie, hence the number of times they have watched it now. I also love that movie, even though I have only watched it once – a fact they simply cannot wrap their brains around: how could someone watch such a great movie only one time? It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, believe me! There have been a couple of times when I thought I might sit with them to watch it a second time, but alas, grown-up stuff has gotten in the way. Grown-up stuff like work, buying groceries, and today: cookie making.
But as I listened to them laugh and laugh at the movie while I loaded our dishwasher, I realized how grateful I was that I got to watch it with them the very first time they watched it too.
Have you ever watched a movie with a kid that has already seen it? Try as they might to restrain themselves, my kids simply cannot resist commenting during the movie, telling me that their favorite part is about to happen, explaining the story to me so I won’t worry, talking about what they just laughed at, repeating the dialogue, and generally squirming for a good portion of the movie. Yes, it’s annoying. And yes, it’s completely normal. They’re kids, simply acting like kids. I love their enthusiasm, and their desire to shield me from the scary or the sad parts.
Needless to say, watching a movie with them that they’ve already seen is nothing like watching it when it’s their first time seeing it.
We watched Big Hero 6 all together for the first time and I haven’t laughed so hard with my children in a while. And we cried, and we were scared together, and we rode the movie-induced high together afterward.
Jessica and I work hard to make sure that we are there to watch movies with our kids for the first time. We don’t want to miss out on that bonding experience.
So I wondered, as I prepared the cookie dough a few minutes ago, what other firsts do we protect so that we have that shared experience with our loved ones, be they our kids or other family members, our partners, or our friends?
Baby’s first steps. I’m guessing this is the number 1 thing that parents regret missing out on for the rest of their lives.
Baby’s first bottle.
Baby’s first giggle.
First time reading a favorite book.
How about first impressions? Our first encounter with someone leaves a lasting impression. It’s a little different than the other firsts, and contains them all at the same time, because what else are we discussing here than wanting to be there for our loved ones’ first impression of all kinds of things?
First day at school.
First taste of cake. Or more importantly: chocolate. And most entertaining: frosting. There’s nothing like baby’s first frosting!
First recital, or sports game, or other form of performance. And then the second. And the third. And as many of the rest of them as possible.
First time riding a bike.
First beer or other alcoholic beverage.
First time trying a specific ethnic food.
First time hearing Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto live. Or anything by Rachmaninoff. Ok, maybe that’s just me…
First time on a roller coaster.
First time down a slide. Or a merry-go-round.
First time having sex. Ok, joking. And yet, wouldn’t it be cool if our kids were able to share their feelings with their parents about that too, without judgment or shame, a safe place to share questions, concerns, disappointment, regret, and even happiness? But that’s for a different post.
Also, we knew a guy in his thirties who got tired of waiting for “the right one” and then was thrilled to share all the details of his first time with us after he broke down and found a willing teacher (for a fee). We didn’t need or want to hear any of that. But it did provide a great opportunity for us to discuss with him the concepts of chauvinism, objectification, and the grim reality that escorts are considered to be adult entertainers, and what that all means.
The point is this: shared experiences, be they firsts, or repeats of enjoyable experiences, like going out to the park with our kids or nieces and nephews, or watching the next episode of a show together for the first time, shared experiences are what keep relationships fresh and vibrant, and the bonding stuff that make for great memories.
Our 14 and 16 yr olds have now discovered that it’s a little strange that there are certain movies that we want to save until we can watch them together, to have that shared experience with them the first time they watch it. None of their friends’ parents do that. They found it annoying for a while, but once we relented and allowed them to have that first experience with their friends instead, they understood it. The movies that we choose to have them wait to watch are ones that we know will affect them deeply, if the circumstances allow. We want to create that space for them. A space where they can connect deeply with an art form and let it wash over them and through them, challenge them and move them. We want to be there to discuss it with them afterward. Their friends don’t allow that, because it’s not cool and silence together is awkward. It’s too intimate. Now our older children understand it, and they will choose to skip a movie if Jessica and I have stated that we wish to watch it with them.
With our younger children, the shared experiences aren’t usually so deep. But they are beautiful. They are meaningful. They create memories. Especially firsts. But any enjoyable experience will do. Getting an ice cream together. Going for a walk. Playing with them at the park. Declaring family game night. Reading books together. Visiting the sights in our area. The possibilities are endless.
With friends, it may be playing a new game together. Trying a new cafe. Going bowling. Catching a show or a concert. Or, if it’s been a while (and with us, it usually has), just hanging out at home with them, catching up, and then digging into a tough situation, or a challenging subject for a while.
And of course, Jessica and I are always on the lookout for fresh experiences to share. Firsts that make us curious, excited, nervous, and sometimes a little uncomfortable, but always memorable.
Look for those shared experiences with your loved ones. You could always choose to hear about them later, but it won’t be the same as being there with them, experiencing it together. You could watch that great movie with them the second time they watch it, but it won’t have that special bonding spell that the first time weaves. Or the memory of your presence in it. For them, and for you too.
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