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You ever give a dirty look to the parents of a crying baby at a movie theater?

Yes?

Then you understand why I never brought along my tiny tykes when I wanted to see a film and didn’t have someone to take care of them.

I was afraid of "The Look" -- the murderous gaze directed at parents when a child’s wailing causes extreme consternation. When angry folks glare in your direction, they might as well be asking “What’s wrong with you? Too cheap to hire a sitter? Too bored to stay at home and take care of your child, the way you should? Too irresponsible to realize that you are ruining the movie-going experience for people who paid good money for it?”

That’s why baby-friendly theaters are providing much-need help to beleaguered parents who are deprived of the film-going experience. Reading Cinemas offers Crybaby Matinees, which let you tote your tots to multiplexes guilt-free, without worrying about "The Look." The lighting is dimmed and a changing table is provided. (As an extra incentive, children under age five get in free.)

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Movie-goer Frances Ayalasomayajula and son Tejas.

Reading isn’t the only chain in the baby game. Ultrastar Cinemas, for example, has both Baby’s Night Out and Parent Movie Morning.

Now that my children are long past the diaper stage, I wanted to discover first-hand how the situation has improved. I wanted to attend a movie where babies aren’t just tolerated, they are honored guests.

So here I am on a recent Monday morning, standing in the lobby of Clairemont’s Town Square 14, near a glossy poster promoting Crybaby Matinees. Today’s show is Tower Heist, the action caper that stars Ben Stiller as a Robin Hood of the recession era. His band of not-so-merry men steal from a Bernie Madoff-like villain in order to repay the victims.

Tower Heist is hardly the kind of kiddy flick that draws a reliable audience. Will anyone show up?

Yes indeed. A few minutes before the 11 a.m. starting time, moms and babies arrive along with older folks who are hoping this Crybaby Matinee won’t turn into an ear-piercing scream-fest. Dads are welcome, of course, as are grandparents, sitters, and other care-givers.

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Along with Frances Ayalasomayajula, movie-going moms include Abby Burd (with Liliana) and Zara Jeffrey (with Liam).

On this day, however, the baby carriages are powered by moms. One of them is Frances Ayalasomayajula, 38, a program manager for Hewlett-Packard who lives in University City. She’s on maternity leave, taking care of 11-week-old Tejas. She has arrived prepared with diapers, bottle, emergency change of clothes, and her son’s favorite toy, a rattle in the shape of a hippo.

“It’s the first time we’ve tried this,” Frances says. “I love going to the movies and this is ideal for us. There’s no pressure. If the kids make noise, there’s no problem.”

She and the other moms go into the theater in which Tower Heist will be shown and find seats near a wide aisle, where there’s plenty of room for their carriages. I sit a couple of rows behind them. The theater isn’t nearly as dark as it usually is during a movie. There’s just enough light so that the babies can be easily seen in their carriages or carriers.

But the volume for the movie is loud. It’s so loud that it could probably wake any adult this side of a coma. Surely no baby could sleep through these decibels.

Guess what?

Most of them do. Maybe these babies are unusually mellow. Or maybe I just got lucky.

Whatever the reason, this Crybaby Matinee has little fussing and squalling. When a child cries, mothers don’t feel the need to rush out of the theater. If a child is hungry, soothing sustenance is readily available, whether by bottle or breast. And I’m guessing that because the mothers aren’t stressed, the babies aren’t, either.

The babies are pretty oblivious to what’s happening onscreen. They don’t care when Eddie Murphy yells and Matthew Broderick shrieks. They don’t mind the sound of police sirens or marching bands. And they certainly don’t question the plausibility of a stolen sports car dangling from a Manhattan highrise during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

At the end of the movie comes the coup de grace: A portable changing table is rolled in so that babies can get a fresh diaper right there in the theater. No need to switch nappies at warp speed in the lady’s room, lest the odor offend the delicate noses of others who are using the facility.

Soon the moms are packing up and wheeling their carriages toward the exit. They look happy, having had some movie entertainment and a break from the demands of parenthood.

“It was fantastic -- such a change from sitting at home,” says Frances as she gazes lovingly at her slumbering son, clutching his toy hippo. “I think we’ll do it again.”

Photos by Valerie Scher. Read David Elliott’s review of Tower Heist.

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Comments

Scott Marks Nov. 28, 2011 @ 11:38 a.m.

Thank you for taking this one for the team!

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Valerie Scher Nov. 28, 2011 @ 11:45 a.m.

You're welcome, Scott. It was pretty painless. Not much crying at the "Crybaby Matinee" I attended. And it was great to see moms enjoying a film. Just wish something like "Crybaby Matinees" had existed when my kids were tiny tykes.

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