Before my daughter Zoë was born, a friend said to me, "Go to all the movies you can now since you won't be able to later!" I found this irritating. Not only because it sounded ominous—I love everything about movies, from counting the number of previews to arguing about the film afterward—but because everyone was telling me the same thing: You can't go to movies, you can't go to parties, you can't eat out, you can't take trips. They were all variations on the same sad idea: "Your life as you know it is over." I would nod at these people, seethe inside, and think, "Watch me." And I made plans to do all the things these people said I couldn't do, refusing to entertain the possibility that they were right.
So here we are at the movies. Tonight's film has lots of explosions and car chases. Some people in the audience are screaming, and some are crying, though not in the way you might expect. We're in Oakland, Calif., at the Parkway Theater, which looks like it was cool in the 1930s. It has an old marquee, and some guy climbs a ladder to hang individual letters each week.
Above the marquee, the "PARKWAY" sign flashes in green Art Deco neon. Tickets come ripped from a wheel. It's the type of place where the experience of going to the theater is often better than whatever's showing. Every Monday night, the Parkway opens its doors to parents and their newborns. They call it "Baby Brigade." There's only one rule: The baby can't walk. Parents who come early grab the couches near the screen; latecomers take the lounge chairs in the back. The theater soon fills with baby seats and toys and a low-level babble. Parents walk around with infants on their hips, greeting friends from birthing classes or mothers' groups.
In the red-carpeted lobby, a line forms for pizza and beer and wine. The lights go down; the babbling continues. After a taped announcement from the Parkway's owners, urging us not to leave dirty diapers in the beer pitchers, the movie starts.