Last night, one of my coworkers was in a play, so I had to go see it. Generally speaking, I'm not a big playgoer, which is sort of funny given that I wanted to be an actress when I was in high school. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure what is was that so attracted me to the stage - the charm of public expression, perhaps, or the potential for public admiration? Whatever it was, it is surely gone now: I generally stay as far away from the stage as possible, either as a participant or an observer. It's just that, unless it is very, very professional indeed, theater can't help but REEK of amateurism; as my husband puts it, "It's just a bunch of people yelling." On top of that incontrovertible fact is the problem that the vast majority of plays truly suck. Even the very best plays, the ones that belong to the lucky tiny fraction that actually gets produced by anyone anywhere, are often just so bad. Characters are in situations that cause them to emote, and there's some sort of gesture towards commentary on modern life, and then there's a heartwarming ending where characters change and discover things, sometimes about themselves and sometimes about modern life and sometimes about both. Really. Go to that theater-person bookstore in Hell's Kitchen and pick any play aside from the obvious, English major fodder, and you will see what I mean. So I was not especially excited to be going to this play, but I went, and it was fine. It was totally not horrible, and I was happy to see my coworker do her thing and be good at it.
None of that, though, is what I meant to talk about here. What I wanted to tell you about was what happened before the play. The theater was in the East Village, so I arranged to meet my husband on St. Mark's Place to hand off the kid. The kid was not enthusiastic about being handed off, but I was in a hurry, so I wrestled him out of the ringsling, and my husband wrestled him into the stroller, and I was off. There are times when a moment like this - getting to walk away from the baby - feels wonderful, as though I have suddenly shed a layer of old, crusty skin. There are other times, though, when it feels awful, and this was one of those times. Walking east on St. Mark's, I could hear my baby sobbing. His cries had gone beyond the normal tantrum range and slid into true desperation. A quarter of a block away, I looked back, and he was still looking at me through the crowd, holding his arms out in supplication. Looking at his little face, creased and red, I imagined what he was seeing - his mother, with whom he had been cuddling happily only a moment ago, suddenly disappearing into a throng of strangers - and it felt like an unbearable heartbreak. My stomach lurched, and without stopping to think, I ran back up the block and snatched the baby into my arms.
It took a moment for us both to regain our equilibrium, but when we did, I realized that I was standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk with toddler, husband, and stroller, and only five minutes to get to the theater. "Well," sighed my husband, who at this point barely even bothers to get annoyed by my child-related histrionics, "I guess let's go to Pinkberry." Inside Pinkberry, the baby continued to clutch at my arms, snuffling tragically into my shoulder. Until, that is, he caught a glimpse of the candies and berries piled on the toppings counter where my husband was standing. Suddenly, he leaned away from me and reached his arms out: "Papa! PaPAA!" My husband took him from me, and the two of them were immediately engrossed in discussing what they would have on their frozen yogurt. The baby didn't even notice when I slipped away; I ran all the way to the theater and made it just in time for curtain.