Sleeping in. Last-minute plans with friends. Interruption-free bathroom trips. Sacrificing some of the things you love all in the name of raising great kids is part of the parenthood game. But when you finally get a chance to do the things you used to love again? Pure bliss.

A few weeks ago, after my parents randomly decided to have our son spend the night with them, my husband and I realized we didn’t have to plan our evening around bedtime—and that meant a rare, glorious date night. For the past 18+ months, our decisions revolved around the health of our family during the pandemic, so we traded in some of our favorite activities for safer ones. But now, two months past our second vaccinations, we had options… including going to the movies.

My husband and I have always loved the movies. We could tell you which theaters had the best deals, the best popcorn, and knew exactly how long it would take to get to the theater in time for previews from all of our favorite hang-out spots.

But when you have a baby, the movie theater is one of the first things to go. Add a pandemic, and our movie-going stopped entirely. Hollywood halted production, theaters dimmed their marquees, and we got used to subbing stove-popped snacks and scrolling through HBO.

For our first trip back to the movies together in 2.5 years, we did it up big. We reserved our favorite seats. We splurged for the large popcorn, the sodas, and the chocolate-covered ice cream bites. When the previews started, we both wordlessly nudged each other and nodded exuberantly when the preview featured a movie we wanted to see, one of our favorite movie-going traditions. And look, I can’t even tell you if Cruella was even that good of a movie—maybe it just happened to be showing in the right place and right time to reignite that spark of movie magic we hadn’t gotten to experience in so long—but we had a fantastic night out.

We left the theater feeling more like ourselves than we had in a while. And a few days later, when our son Finn was sitting quietly and paying attention to a movie on our TV, I lit up at the idea of introducing him to quiet, cool auditoriums on hot summer days, sharing deep tubs of buttery popcorn, and teaching him to nod his head during previews of movies he really wanted to see, just like Mom and Dad.

So, yes, there are plenty of things you put on pause to raise a kid. But when you finally get to press play again, it’s nice to know all the things you love are still exactly where you safely stored them to make room for the new, tiny person you love the most.

A firm believer that the Midwest is all that and a tator tot casserole, Valerie moved to KC after graduating from Mizzou in 2013. She’s been married to her husband Josh since 2015, and together they’re raising an adorable, tiny human firework named Finnian (1). Valerie spends her workdays making funny greeting cards while Josh wins at the stay-at-home-dad game by teaching Finn words like “yee-haw” and helping him style his Snapchat filters. When she isn’t tracking down a new place to drag her family to, you can find her blasting showtunes, sharing (very poorly) wine with friends, reading, listening to true crime podcasts, or near cheese. You can’t find her playing kickball, so don’t even try. Valerie, Josh, and Finn shoot for put-together, but settle for put-on-pants—and they love every second of their reasonably-chaotic life.