When I became pregnant with Big, I realised how I saw the world, and reacted with it, would never be the same again. I hadn’t somehow allowed for that. I would cry at everything, even if it had no relation to parenthood; news stories, films, adverts… suddenly these things that I had previously interacted with on something of a purely transactional basis – somehow were now affecting my core. A seismic shift if you like. Parenting pulls us out of that wonderful self-centred bubble and propels us towards connections…
And so it is with being the parent of a disabled child. Only in ways I hadn’t anticipated either.
In hindsight, going to watch ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the night-time’ probably wasn’t the best choice of a night out for OH and I. Our local theatre has linked up with all things NT Live, so off we went, excited at a night out. No children. Wonderful babysitter.
If you’ve not read the book it’s essentially the story of a boy who is on the spectrum – though this is never talked about explicitly – investigating the murder of his next door neighbour’s dog.
We had both read this book in those carefree hedonistic days of pre-children that I mentioned earlier. And we’d both enjoyed it, found it a fascinating read. I remember finding Christopher, the protagonist, interesting, enjoyed being allowed in to his headspace to see how he thought and reacted with the world. I smiled, indulgently, at the way in which he coped with the day to day.
But seeing this on stage, hearing the words lifted from the page… Watching him curl up in a ball to hum in order to block out the policeman talking to him… counting up prime numbers in order to stay calm… the way in which he Would Not let anyone touch him. This pulled on every single maternal strand I had. I empathised with his parents not knowing quite what to do, their frustrations with life turning out the way it had, their overwhelming love and need to protect their child… and I saw my own fear at Small getting bigger and how our life could change too.
Some of this world is my world now. And it turns out that I can’t watch it played out in front of me.
What broke me, made me suggest we didn’t come back for the second half was this…
Christopher is describing another child at school. This child, he says, isn’t even as clever as the dog who has died. This child he says, has to be fed with a spoon. He would never be able to fetch a stick even.
The audience laughed. Not horribly, but they laughed.
In a previous life I probably would have too.
But this child he was describing? He could have been my son. My son in whose achievement of being able to eat off a spoon I am immeasurably proud.
And so there was this divide between me… and the rest of the audience.
Who did not know this world.
This is not a critiscism of the play, or the audience. This gives us an insight into Christopher, how he thinks, where he ranks himself in the world – against other people – as we all do. But it made me sad. I didn’t find it socially unacceptable, just personally unpalatable. There is a difference, I think.
At the interval we departed. We were That Couple. We went to the pub, drank wine, and deconstructed the awfulness of not knowing if we should ask the other ‘Can we leave?’ but so pleased that we had. In a mark of how far we as a couple have come… we did not cry… it did not ruin the evening… no-one berated the other for a shocking choice made… we just recognised that: when we go out, all things disability are off the menu.