Monday, August 25, 2014

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The Day We Took Three Children Under Eight To A Musical


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We were at the local high school's theater production of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Mel and I sat in the back, just below the spotlight, on flimsy plastic chairs that were surrounded by a hand railing. Not because the production was full, but because we brought our three kids, Tristan age 7, Norah age 5, and Aspen 3 months. I really didn’t know how the kids were going to act during a 2 hour and 30 minute play. A play I’d never seen before, but only heard about.

We live in a small rural part of Oregon, which means we knew half the cast and crew. Adam, the main character, was a good friend of ours from church. One of his sons was an extra. We had a good friend playing flute in the orchestra, and her children were extras too. Another friend was working back stage, and so on.

Despite all the pull of knowing so many people, I didn’t really want to go. Not because it was a play. I spent seven weeks in London as an undergrad studying Shakespeare. I love theater and I love stories. But rather I didn’t want to be those people with loud restless children and a crying baby at a live production. Frankly, I hate those people. I really respect what it takes to put together something like a play, and it’s sad how quickly it can be ruined because of a crying baby, or someone’s young child throwing a fit.

I told Mel about my fears when she suggested the idea of us attending a play, and she insisted that we go. “This isn’t London,” she said. “It’s Small Town Oregon. I want the kids to be exposed to theater. I want them to know about the arts. I think it’s important.”

I agreed with her. It was important. But then I said, “What if it makes us look like assholes? This is a small town, and reputations are easily made.”

20 minutes into the play, Tristan was sprawled out across my lap and gazing up at the ceiling, his fingers in his ears. “I want to go home. It’s too loud,” he said. For a kid who has spent most of his life struggling to control the volume of his voice, Tristan has notoriously sensitive ears.

 “It’s too hot,” he said. And indeed, it was very hot in the auditorium. It was early August, and part of the reason they were putting on this production was to raise funds for an air conditioner. Most of the play, balls of sweat rolled down my back and into my butt.

Norah's arms and legs were wrapped around the handrail in front of us. She was hanging like a sloth. Mel was out in the hallway with our baby who, moments earlier, had started bawling and caused several people to scowl at us.
I tried to get Norah to stop hanging from the rail and sit down, like an obedient child. The kind of child I imagined at a play, sitting quietly, arms folded, eyes fixed on the stage.

She screamed loud enough that the people in the rows ahead of us turned around. I got really embarrassed, so I just let her hang there.

Tristan kicked me in this shin. He was crying, his fingers stuck in his ears. “I just want to go home,” he said.

Eventually I placed Tristan on my lap and covered his ears for him.

I thought a lot about my parents during this moment. I can’t recall them ever taking me to a play. But at the same time, I can’t recall them ever going to one either. For a long time I was critical of them for this, but as a we sat there, sweating, my daughter running wild in the aisle, Tristan on my lap, making the room feel even hotter, covering his ears to keep him from bawling, and listening to our three month old cry in the hallway, I wondered if this was why I had a lack of culture in my childhood. 

I was about to leave right about the time Milly starts teaching Adam’s six brothers to be well behaved. It seemed ironic, and I wished Milly could stop by my house and give my kids a few lessons. We’d made it about 45 minutes, and I felt like that was good enough. Mel came back into the auditorium. Aspen was asleep in her arms. She bribed Tristan and Norah with cookies if they’d be quiet (not sure why I didn’t think of that). And suddenly, we were, as a family, enjoying a play.

It was then that I started to get anxious for another reason. Now that I could pay attention to the plot, I started to realize that Seven Brides For Seven Brothers was really sexist. I’ve never studied this play. I know that the movie won a bunch of awards in the fifties. I won’t bore you with a full plot summary, but what I will say is that six brothers wander into a town, kidnap six young women, haul them into the woods, cause an avalanche so they can be snowed in together, and then wait until the girls fall in love with them. It seemed like a lesson in Stockholm syndrome: a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them.


The same thing happened in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and frankly I’ve never felt right about it. At one point I leaned over to Mel and said, “I did this whole courting thing wrong. What I should’ve done was club you in the head, drag you to my cabin in the woods, and trap you there until you fell in love with me.”

I winked.

Mel rolled her eyes. Then she said, "I'd like to remind you that I was the one who gave you my number." 

"Awesome, perhaps you should've clubbed me." 

Then Mel winked, and suddenly I was reminded of the Steven King's Misery. 

Regardless of the play’s questionable undertones, and regardless of how difficult it was at first to get the kids to calm down, there was a moment, during the scene where Milly, Adam’s wife, is holding her new baby, when both Tristan and Norah were completely focused on the play. Both of them were stone quiet. Norah was standing, leaning against the handrail she was hanging from moments earlier. Her face was a mix of concentration and compassion as the cast examined the new baby. Tristan was in my lap, hands not covering his ears, his eyes locked on the stage. Perhaps it’s because we just had a baby, but there was something that really rang true in that scene to Tristan and Norah, and the look I saw in their faces reminded me of the first time I got a little misty during a play. It reminded me of the first time I realized that theater was something important. Something of value. Only I was in my early 20’s when that moment happened, not seven and five.

When I think back on that moment where Tristan and Norah were in love with just one scene in a play, I am so happy that we went. I'm happy that we didn’t leave early. I'm happy that we sat through it. Because maybe, just maybe, a seed was planted in my young children that will grow into a passion for story and empathy for the human condition. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.  
Photo by Lucinda Higley


Michael Spino said...

Great article and something to give me hope for my little guy on the way. My wife always brags that she could go to theaters when she was only five and was very well behaved and focused on the plays. Taking a three month old was a brave move though, surely something only a parent with 2 kids worth of experience under their belt should attempt. haha.