Over the holiday weekend, we engaged in a “first” as parents and took Henry to his very first movie – The Polar Express in IMAX at The Science Center of Iowa.

Every year The Science Center shows The Polar Express on their gigantic IMAX screen as a holiday tradition. I’ve seen the movie on TV, but never really enjoyed it (Those dead-eyed children… So creepy!). After seeing it in IMAX through Henry’s eyes… Well, I feel a little different about the movie.

We’ve been wanting to take Henry to a movie for a long time, but we wanted his first movie-going experience to be a good one. A lot of the children’s movies that were out this summer didn’t inspire confidence and, actually, we were going to wait for Disney’s The Princess and The Frog until we realized the movie was coming out the Friday after Cami’s scheduled C-section.

But when Cami suggested The Polar Express, it seemed like the perfect solution. Because right now, Henry is really into trains and just last week he saw Santa Claus at the mall. Perfect!

More importantly, we wanted to do something special for Henry before the baby is born because his world is totally going to turn upside down once that happens.

We showed up a little late to the movie because Henry’s napped a little longer than we expected. So when we arrived, it was already dark in the theater. As I scaled up the steep incline with Henry in my arms, he whispered in my ear, “I wanna go home, Daddy.”

“It’s going to be fine, Henry. We’re going to see a movie!” I assured him.

“I wanna go home.”

We plopped Henry into the seat between myself and Cami as the movie fired up. We were worried that the IMAX experience would be too intimidating for Henry. At the very least, we fretted that the sound would be too loud and might scare him.

Let me tell you, Henry did great during the movie. He didn’t fidget in his seat, he didn’t wander around, he didn’t scream or cry. The movie kept his attention throughout its 99 minute running time. He smiled, he laughed and he squealed with nervous anticipation during some of the film’s more harrowing sequences.

If you’ve seen The Polar Express, you know it’s a little bit of a roller coaster ride. During these action scenes, Henry would clench his fists and tense up his arms. So Cami and I made sure to lean in close and remind him it was just a movie. Putting my hand on his chest to reassure him, I could feel his heart pounding through his chest.

After the movie, Henry told us totally unprovoked “That was a good movie!” When we asked him what his favorite part of the movie was, he said “the Elf center” – presumably the scenes involving the three children running around on conveyor belts as they try to get back in time to meet Santa.

As parents, I think we (collectively) put a lot of pressure on ourselves to provide a “perfect” experience for our children. Sometimes we lose sight of the experience they’re having versus the experience we WANT them to have. It’s a definite tight rope walk between living vicariously through your children and (if you’ll pardon the pun) railroading their own experience with your own expectations.

These thoughts aside, I feel our experience watching The Polar Express was absolutely perfect. It couldn’t have gone any better. I’m not just talking about Henry’s behavior in the movie (because, really, who can predict what a two year-old is going to do at any given minute). Instead, I’m talking about what he seemed to take from the experience. Looking over at him as he watched the movie, he really seemed to be enjoying himself.

That’s all I could have asked for.