I traveled around a great deal…I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something…Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music…I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! -Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
At 12 pm the line starts forming outside the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, New Jersey. Hundreds of children wearing bright costumes and clutching their parents’ hands stare at the posters in the window announcing the arrival of the Australian children’s band, The Wiggles: a quartet consisting of one ballet dancer, one opera singer, one classical pianist and one guitar-playing musical encyclopedia.
I hold my little girl on my hip as we wait to have our ticket scanned. We squint in the late September sun. Fall has not arrived; we’re sweating in our dress-up clothes. She has qualms. She says she might prefer to see them only on DVD. Will they be too big? Will they look directly at her? Will she be asked to join them in dancing? Alas, I assure her, we must stay in our seats. She smiles brightly and crookedly and I feel a shiver pass through her. She’s excited to see Emma Watkins up close even though she doesn’t know what up close is, really. We enter the cavernous theater and she sees the sets that are so familiar from youtube uploads of other Wiggles concerts.
You always get butterflies in a theatre. Every neuron in the brain tingles: something big is going to happen.
Today also marks my mother’s 75th birthday. She was supposed to go to the theater as well. Her boyfriend has tickets to see Cabaret. Instead, she is in the Close Observation unit of a hospital. She’s been delirious all week; her thyroid is riding a roller coaster.
Later I will wrap my mother’s legs in a heating pad, sing a surreal happy birthday with the hospital nursing staff—they have birthday cakes in case—coax her to eat half a sandwich and beg the on-call doctor for more pain medication.
When I tell my mother I have to leave to put my baby girl to sleep, she will grip my arm wildly. Please don’t leave, she’ll say. I’ll kiss her goodbye until tomorrow. She reminds me of my daughter, who clutched me so tightly today as the concert began that she cut off my airway.
My mother follows me. At the concert I watch my daughter dance with toddler-abandon and try to scale the stage to join the cast. And there is my mother, at my shoulder. My mother was a dancer. My mother was on the Broadway stage. My mother is having a birthday in a hospital today and I am a state away.
And she is right there, at my shoulder. I’m watching my child in the thrall of her first theater experience. She is so much like my mother when my mother was a young girl. I am so much like my mother, too. My daughter’s fresh-from-the-bath curls that I’ve combed for the show are the same curls that my mother combed on my head. When I look at my daughter, I now see what my mother sees–feel what my mother feels—when she looks at me. Continue Reading…