My friend, Pearl, who has her own wonderful blog, linked to an interview with playwright Sarah Ruhl at The Interval. Because of its relevance to the theme of this blog and my documentary project, this statement of Sarah’s caught my eye:
It’s a privilege to have kids and not live your life in solitude. But we live in a child-hating culture. No one likes kids. We say we do and we take pictures of pregnant women for People Magazine, but really they’re commodities—we hate them around, we hate them on airplanes, we consider them a grand imposition and almost a style choice. So no wonder women artists are offended about having to talk about them because they’re not considered important [by society]. So, for me, I think it’s about pushing them to the center for both men and women instead of pretending that my mind is an ivory tower that’s above something so mundane as the influence of children. They’re not mundane.
Having recently seen a moving production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice by the TCS Acting Society at The Clearwater School, I wanted to know more about her philosophy and borrowed her book of very short essays from my local library. Titled 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write on Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater, the essays about storytelling, theater, audiences and children are honest, thoughtful and lovely to read. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in any of these topics.
In an essay titled, “What do you want what do you want what do you want”, Sarah tells a story of taking her three-year-old twins to the shoe store to buy new shoes. She notes that they probably didn’t have enough breakfast, but she rushed them out the door anyway. As they left the shoe store, both children started crying, her daughter threw her new shoes in the street, and then so did her son.
Sarah asked them what was wrong and wheeled them into a nearby convenience store to get them some food. She asked them if they wanted cheese, chocolate milk, or other foods. They continued to cry, throw things out of the stroller, kick and say “No, no no!” Sarah said more emphatically, “What do you want?” Her son screamed that he wanted M&Ms, and continued screaming it when Sarah didn’t want to buy them. She relented and asked if he would promise to “shut his face” if she got him the M&M’s, a phrase she felt ashamed of saying afterward. He said he would, she bought the candy, and he calmed down.
Her daughter, however, continued to scream, exhausting what little reserve of patience and understanding Sarah still had. Sarah said, “What do you want? What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?” Her daughter then said quietly, “I don’t like you.” Sarah stopped and really listened, finally understanding that her daughter was angry and sad that Sarah had yelled at her and her brother. Sarah’s impatience to get out the door and get through the shopping trip had interrupted her emotional connection with her children. They missed it and loudly expressed the loss.
Sarah apologized and agreed to be her regular self and her daughter stopped crying. When they got home, Sarah’s daughter asked her to play and they played the little girl’s newly invented game in which they took turns, over and over, pretending to be a closed gate that opened when the other turned a plastic key over the gate person’s heart, letting the key holder walked through.
Sarah wrote at the end of the essay:
I had underestimated the heart of my little daughter when she was crying. I thought she wanted chocolate milk. She wanted something more, something that didn’t cost anything.
She wanted to open my heart; she wanted to walk in.