We were about eight minutes into "Toy Story 3" when Jessica, my older daughter, heard me sniff.
"Are you crying?" she whispered.
"No!" I lied indignantly through the lump in my throat.
They knew, my three kids seated in a row alongside me in the dark. It's never a matter of if Mom will cry at the movies, it's simply a matter of when.
Can I help it if I'm softhearted? It's not my fault that the first whiff of sweetness or sorrow in a movie, a TV show - heck, in a commercial - trips the tiny lever in my brain that releases the waterworks.
Childrens' movies get me every time. "The Land Before Time," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" all had me biting my lip, fighting the rising tide of tears, not wanting to upset my kids.
Upset my kids - ha! Mommy's tears quickly became a running family joke.
"Are you crying yet?" Jess, Dan or Melissa would ask with a grin at the beginning of every movie. More often than I wanted to admit, the answer was yes.
Disney's "Tarzan" about did me in with its one-two punch of the orphaned child plot and the music of my favorite singer/songwriter, Phil Collins. My kids didn't bat an eye when I dissolved into a blubbering wreck; they saw that tsunami coming.
Everything about kids' movies tugs at my heartstrings: the plucky, never-say-die characters, the good versus evil storyline wherein good always triumphs, the silly sight gags that elicit shrieks and giggles from the wide-eyed, pint-sized audience.
I also happen to be a big old sap who cries easily, OK?
The end of this latest "Toy Story" saga concludes the history of Andy and his beloved collection of toys. The theater grew quieter, but for the snuffles and sniffles erupting from all corners. I could barely see the screen through my tear-blurred eyes, but darned if I was going to let loose and endure a barrage of teasing from my kids.
Then I heard it: a tiny sob. I glanced to my left and saw that Melissa was crying, Jess was wiping tears from her cheeks, and Dan wore that stoic expression guys assume when they could cry but won't let themselves.
As if given permission, my tears spilled out, dampening the neck of my shirt, splashing into my popcorn. I tried to be quiet, but once I get started I'm helpless. Out rolled gasps, a couple of sobs, and one gentle, squeaky "Ohhh!"
It was embarrassing, but cathartic. By the time the credits rolled I felt lighter, cleansed, almost giddy. We left the theater in good spirits, all in agreement that "Toy Story 3" was equal to its predecessors.
I can envision a day about 10 years from now when the "Toy Story" series is revived for a new generation. I'll be sitting in the dark beside my future grandchild, muffling my sobs with a mouthful of popcorn, melting under the weight of memory and sentiment.
My grandchild will pat my arm tenderly with one hand and reach for the popcorn with the other.
"Aw, don't cry yet, Grandma. It's just the previews!"
EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Pascoe is a Marquette resident, mother of three and full-time editorial assistant in The Mining Journal newsroom. Her bi-weekly columns focus on her observations on life and family. She can be reached by phone at 228-2500, ext. 240, or by e-mail to email@example.com. Read her blog online at www.singlesobermom.blogspot.com.