Family movies: Just snuggle up and push 'play'

Sometimes my daughter is like one of those old ladies who just returned from a bus tour through Europe, so fervent is her zeal for sharing life experiences.

"Let's watch family movies!" she'll tell an unsuspecting playmate as they're packing up Monopoly pieces.

"You've gotta see this one of Jack unwrapping a Christmas present. It's so HILARIOUS!"

Since they were barely old enough to wriggle up onto the couch and push the play button, my kids have loved to watch "family movies." The phrase doesn't refer to Pixar animated films, though we enjoy those as well.

For us, "family movies" means snippets of home video recorded through the years and transferred onto a collection of DVDs by my tech-savvy friend Alice. The discs live in a family room cabinet and are labeled simply: "April-Dec. '99" or "Jan.-July '02."

We've often thought of giving them more accurate titles. But "The One Where Jack Laughs Uncontrollably During Dinner, Gets Hiccups and Then Sprays Spaghetti Noodles All Over the Place" doesn't fit onto a DVD label. Nor does "Hannah Impersonates the Guy Ordering a Hot Dog in South Carolina," or "Uncle Dave and the Cousins Rock Out With the Fisher-Price Band."

The kids have their top picks, and so do I. One of my favorite scenes is of Jack, barely 3 years old, opening a present Christmas morning. He grasps one edge of the paper carefully, almost nervously, and looks up at me.

"What must be this?" he says, eyes wide. "What must be this?!"

"Open it, Jack!" Hannah urges, crouching beside him. "Open it and see!"

"What must be THIS?!" Jack says again, shaking, paralyzed by sheer giddiness. It's so sweet, it makes my heart hurt.

The movies are one of the first things I'd fetch if we had to escape a fire or flood, assuming my children didn't grab them first. (Also assuming, of course, that I had fetched the children.)

Last weekend we watched one that featured Hannah's friend Elleana, probably about 4 or 5, singing a song from "The Little Mermaid":

Look at this stuff

Isn't it neat?

Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?...

Hannah sits beside her, quietly nibbling a piece of bologna. Or maybe it's turkey. That's the thing about this amateur footage, I think: It's as sketchy as my memory.

I often wish we had more moments recorded. I'll remember a trip to the pumpkin patch or the zoo — like the time Jack squinched his tiny nose and declared, "It smells like GIRAFFE in here!" —and wish I could rewind and listen again.

But there aren't enough cameras or discs in the world to preserve everything. And sometimes you miss stuff while trying to focus. So I just treasure and enjoy the family movies we have.

We make popcorn, snuggle up on the couch and hit "play."