Preventing A Depression Spiral By Taking My Daughter To The Movies

I hate and fear my birthday. Yes it’s just a day like any other, but it’s one that so clearly marks the passage of time, one that depression sufferers such as myself tend to use to focus more than ever on the “failures” of the past and of time “running out” than on the now. Normally I feel sad on my birthday, distraught that I don’t have the money, the elite job title, the house, and I obsess over my life’s crossroads. What if I accepted the cool girl’s party invitation in junior high school instead of chickening out? What if I’d taken that film publicity job I’d been offered following my junior year internship instead of imagining my parents’ wrath at not completing college (I learned years later that the secretary during my time there became a vice president)? A few blogs ago I wrote about how I especially dreaded my birthday this year because it would be my 40th and how since Elaine would be at work late into the night, I felt intensely apprehensive that I’d spiral into such narcissistic despair that I wouldn’t be able to be there for Sienna, but I never wrote about the day itself and how I met that challenge.

On the morning of my 40th birthday I decided to take my 22-month-old daughter, Sienna, to the movies. I wasn’t sure if 22 months was too young for a child to go to movie theater, but I didn’t care because I knew if I didn’t get out of the apartment, I’d dwell until misery swallowed me. There was, of course, only one movie for us to see (cue Miss Idina Menzel):


Elaine’s not a big Disney fan, so I saw Frozen alone when it first opened, but since that day Sienna and I have probably watched the ”Let It Go” clip on YouTube about a quadrillion times, so I thought seeing it on the big screen would blow her mind; plus it was the sing-a-long version so I knew if my daughter yelled at the screen or ran around I’d at least be surrounded by similarly frazzled parents with their rambunctious children. In hindsight this was also a massive undertaking since I’m anxious any time I take Sienna outside, always imagining people talking about and judging me for being a stay-at-home dad, but on my birthday, a clear, crisp February morning, I bundled her up, strapped her into her car seat and told her it was adventure time.

As we entered the multiplex Sienna looked around and took in everything, particularly the luminosity of the theater lobby, big white bulbs overhead, red blinking lights announcing theater times. “Lights!” she repeated on a loop. “Lights!”

LEGO Movie?” a fiftyish man with a bushy red mustache asked when we reached the counter.

“Nope. Frozen,” I said. “Taking my daughter to her first movie.”

“Good choice.” He smiled and gestured towards Sienna who wore her most serious expression. “And in that case we have something special in store for this little cutie. Just head over to the concession stand and let me know she’s a first-timer.”

I did so and after many congratulations, we received a free children’s popcorn. We walked down the hallway and passed a huge cardboard advertisement for Muppets Most Wanted and Sienna quickly ran up and touched Animal’s face. She LOVES Animal, especially his solo during the Muppets’ rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I had to sneak in a quick shot.


The theater was packed and by “packed” I mean crammed with empty seats. Seems 10:25 AM on a Monday is a perfect time to take your kids to the movies, especially if a film’s been out seemingly forever. I chose an aisle seat behind a wheelchair area giving us plenty of legroom in case Sienna needed to run around. I had no idea what to expect from her. Would the movie’s volume scare her? Would she sit for more than 10 minutes? As I said: adventure time.

I placed her in a seat and made sure I could access everything: popcorn, water, Cheerios, diaper bag, Elmo doll (wish she’d lose that thing! Not an Elmo fan!). Then I had to snap a pic because she looked so darn small and cute and befuddled!


The lights dimmed and we sat through ads and previews (“GREEN!” Sienna yelled happily whenever a preview card appeared) and then it was magic time.

First a clever, Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short in which Mickey, Minnie and the gang break through the screen and into a CGI, 3D world. “MICKEY MOUSE! MICKEY MOUSE!” Sienna announced, pointing at the screen. I told her it was indeed Mickey and ran my fingers through her hair. Then it was time for the main feature.

I don’t know how she did it, but Sienna sat through nearly the entire movie as if she were a film critic (or maybe she’s just like her mom who gets distracted and sucked in by any type of moving image, including commercials—she could be talking to you while walking into a room, but upon noticing the flickering TV, she’s an instant zombie and you actually have to snap your fingers to get her attention. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…you don’t always have to snap your fingers). Getting back to Sienna, she stood up once and nearly fell through the space between the seat back and cushion, but then she resettled on my lap. She got a little antsy near the end of the film and ran around for maybe 15 minutes, but most of the time she looked like this:


We sang along to “Want To Build A Snowman?” and she pointed out all sorts of things like “SNOW!” and “HORSE!” and “WOLF!” to which she gave an accompanying, ”A-wooooooo! Wooooo-woooo–wooo!”

And when those opening, almost hypnotic notes of “Let It Go” began she jumped up and squealed, singing along as best as she could and mimicking Queen Elsa’s movements, arms thrust in the air in triumph. I sat there not thinking about my birthday, turning 40 or the past or future, but concentrating only on my daughter, on our special time together.

When the film ended we stayed through the second rendition of “Let It Go” and headed back into the lobby. I thanked everyone for being so kind and then decided I needed to get Sienna a plush Olaf to mark the occasion of her first movie. We drove to 4 stores, but no one had anything Frozen-related leaving me highly disappointed, but Sienna none the wiser. I think I wanted that Olaf doll more for me than for her. I think I wanted it to salute my taking action against my anxiety and depression on a day where they’re often incapacitating. At least I have the pictures and memories.

While seeing the movie with my daughter was incredible, I’d like to say that I was able to completely avoid my usual birthday doldrums, but I can’t. By the time my mother took Sienna and I out to dinner, I felt deflated and downcast. When Elaine came home after I’d put Sienna down for the night, my chest was tight and I felt sad and alone and near tears. She asked me if I’d seen all the hundred+ birthday wishes from people on Facebook, but I hadn’t checked because I knew I’d concentrate more on who DIDN’T wish me a happy birthday than on who DID; just another evil aspect of depression.

But then I recounted the morning: the empty theater; Sienna checking out the ad for the new Muppet flick; our daughter getting that first taste of movie popcorn and, like a pro, grabbing fistfuls without taking her eyes of the screen; Sienna standing on my lap, our arms raised, our voices nearly drowning out Queen Elsa’s. I broke into a grin thinking of how proud I was of Sienna and how happy I am to be a dad and how although I couldn’t completely shut out my demons, I stunted them by taking my daughter to her first movie, and how for a good portion of my 40th birthday I was able to just let it go.

8 thoughts on “Preventing A Depression Spiral By Taking My Daughter To The Movies

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    March 6, 2014 at 2:03pm

    Loved this adventure. And glad you’re out there sharing.

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    March 6, 2014 at 6:59pm

    sniff…very sweet and beautiful blog.
    I think that was a perfect birthday present from Sienna AND from you to yourself.
    Btw, I cannot get that song out of my head!;)

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    March 6, 2014 at 11:38pm

    SOunds like a great first movie experience for Sienna. Cool that the experience helped you.
    Happy birthday.
    P.S.Cute pics of her.

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    So This is Fatherhood

    March 11, 2014 at 12:02am

    I’m so glad that you had a wonderful birthday! You and Sienna should start a Monday Movie Club and go to all the 10:25 shows on Mondays. It could be your special daddy-daughter treat!

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      March 14, 2014 at 2:11pm

      Thanks so much, Matt! That’s not a bad idea at all, though I’m not sure Sienna’d be into The Grand Budapest Hotel 😉

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