The evening after work was a scramble.
I left the office at five and walked through town to fetch my daughter from school. From there we walked to our house to meet my wife and son for dinner.
As we walked I kept thinking, “I have things to do tonight. This is stressful. This is difficult.”
At the house I thawed some meat for the barbecue. My daughter and son crashed in and out of the kitchen, screaming, moving things from where they should be, and generally assailing my senses. My breathing quickened. My heart picked up its pace.
I kept thinking, “This is stressful. This is difficult.”
At the dinner table the madness mounted. My children held me hostage on the brink of a meltdown. I ate wordlessly and cleared my plate.
“That was stressful, and difficult,” I thought. I put on my coat and left for the theatre.
Change of venue
It was opening night of Crow Theatre’s production of Emil Sher’s The Boy in the Moon, a stage adaptation of Ian Brown’s 2009 memoir of the same name. I’d had a chance to review the story outline quickly- something to do with a Canadian journalist and his wife struggling to adapt to life caring for their severely disabled young son- but hadn’t given things much thought.
Sitting down in my chair at the McManus Stage I reflected on my impatience at home: my sharp comments in the kitchen; my silence at the table. I felt shame at my feelings of resentment toward my children, and for the stress and the difficulty I judged them to have caused me.
Then the house lights dimmed, and this play, The Boy in the Moon, which I was rather dreading attending, stopped me in my tracks with its beaming light of perspective.
The story is simple: Ian Brown, writer for the Globe and Mail, and his wife, Johanna Schneller, also a writer, give birth to Walker, their second child, a boy born with a rare genetic disability. Walker’s presence profoundly alters the family. Incontinent, unable to feed himself and prone to bouts of violent self harm, Walker becomes the family’s absolute focus. Unable to speak he, remains its most distant member.
Life for this family is truly difficult and stressful. Ian and Johanna are angry. They try to fit Walker into the rhythm of their lives as working professionals, but they fail. They argue. They hide things from each other. They make excuses and they compromise, often at the expense of their relationship. Their older daughter, Hayley, learns to insulate herself from the persistent anxiety of a home where something is always about to explode.
It is Hayley who acts as the foil – the bridge between her parents and their son. She knows when to pull them together and when to keep them separate, because she understands that they cannot do this for themselves. Where Ian and Johanna are often found at opposite ends of the stage, bereft of feeling for each other, Hayley is centre stage, the fulcrum of a relationship harshly unhinged by the strain of a family tragedy.
Walker, the story’s protagonist in a sense, is the only character not represented by a living actor. He is built by feelings, questions, and emotions, and by the audience, who are asked to collectively define him, his actions, and his significance.
Resolution arrives when Ian and Johana secure a place for Walker at a group home when he is 10 or 11 years old. With this event the sense is only one of failure. Everyone has let Walker down, though he himself is not able to understand what that means. He cannot speak, as he has no words, so how then, can he think? Or know? Or love?
Getting the message
Waves of perspective came flooding to me again as the play ended. I understood that my issues with my own children are built entirely by me, my vanity and my selfishness. I reflected on my misgivings at being a parent – it’s inconvenient; there’s no time for me – and I became angry with myself because by most standards the situation with my family is enviable at its worst.
Yes life is stressful, and yes, it is difficult, but talking, speaking, seeing and knowing your problems, however inconvenient they may be, is so much more preferable to not knowing if, for example, your child is even capable of speaking its name. Each of us spends our lives assembling and disassembling the mess of us, as humans, partners, colleagues and so on. Every decision, big or small, right or wrong, feels like a monument. It is occasionally with the perspective afforded by stories like that of Walker and his family that we can find relief from our internal nonsense and understand that all of this might be a little easier if taken less seriously.
The Boy in the Moon plays at the McManus Stage, November 20 to December 1, 2018
For tickets visit grandtheatre.com