2017-04-01 / Family Matters

What's in the Box?

David Rockower

Breaks from school and work can be wonderful. A week at home, feet on the coffee table, reading books, watching movies, hanging out together with family. Problem is, after two days, these things become old.

We get restless, argue, and fight. Nathan isn’t a fan of watching movies, Maddie doesn’t want to play board games. I suggest reading, the kids sigh — there is always sighing. Inevitably, we revert to our own little worlds. This drives Michelle nuts; she wants us to be together, no matter the activity. So, during a recent break, Michelle called a family meeting. The kids sighed.

During our conversation, an idea was born: Let’s make a movie. Nathan was taking a film class at school, so this piqued his interest. Maddie cherishes any opportunity to be in front of a camera, while Michelle and I were just happy our children agreed on something. After a short discussion, we planned to film a game show. Nathan decided he would cut two holes in a cardboard box, place a mysterious item inside, and the contestant would need to figure out what he or she was touching. “What’s in the Box” was born.

Each of us created a character: I was Thomas Covington, a long-haired, stamp-collecting nerd; Michelle became Kitterella, a professional mermaid from Hollywood; Nathan was a video-game-obsessed teenager named Saa Du; and Maddie transformed into Rowan Carnival, our rambunctious host. Nathan set up his camera on a tripod, channeled his inner Steven Spielberg, and started barking orders.

During the first scene, while introducing my character, I kept cracking up, and we had to reshoot the scene at least a dozen times. My son, the filmmaker, was not happy. Maddie, on the other hand, laughed along with me, patiently taking me through the scene again and again. Next came Michelle, who made us all howl with her overzealous celebration as the first one to correctly guess What’s in the Box? Nathan followed as a disinterested teenager, more focused on his iPhone than the item hidden in the box. Maddie shouted into the mic, trying to rile him (ratings dipped when Saa Du was on the set). After each contestant’s turn, Maddie decided she’d like her own opportunity to guess what’s in the box. Nathan volunteered to take over as the host for some bonus coverage. Maddie transformed into Maggie, a precocious young lady from England.

Over the last few months, Maddie had been experimenting with a British accent. She’d say a few lines from time to time, but I’d never heard her carry on a conversation. When “Maggie” appeared on the set wearing a pink dress, a wide-brimmed hat and a parasol resting on her shoulder, I stifled a chuckle. But when Nathan began the interview with this new contestant, and her British accent was spot-on, I had to cover my mouth. “Maggie” went on about how, if she won, she’d build a treehouse for the children and take flying lessons. I don’t know how Nathan held it together, but he did. Eventually, Maggie won, as she accurately identified what was in the box: a container of leftovers filled with hummus, carrots and lettuce — a concoction she’d made earlier with a friend.

Once the filming was complete, Nathan dashed to the computer to begin the editing process. The rest of us, exhausted, spent some time cleaning up and laughing about the experience. An hour later, Nathan emerged with the final version. We sat together, covered our eyes when we saw ourselves on screen, howled at the outtakes, and promised not to share the video without everyone’s permission.

We’ve made movies before; when Nathan and Maddie were younger, we’d make annual Mother’s Day videos for Michelle. These were always fun and, to this day, we still quote lines from the movies. But this was our first full-family film, and I’m betting it won’t be our last. Watching movies can be fun, but it’s passive, and people fall asleep (mostly me). We created a ridiculous, silly film that I’m not sure I want anyone to see. But we also created a memory, one that no one in our family will ever forget. And that’s something I’d like to do a whole lot more often. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 12-year-old son, a spirited 10-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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