A theater lover, though not a recent patron, I cooked dinner for my partner and toddler and scurried off to Kanata for the 8 o’clock curtain call of “Having Hope at Home”. Being so firmly entrenched in family life and so embarrassingly out of touch with cultural events of late, all I knew of the play was that Dayna, the assistant manager of our Bank St. location, played a leading role. I had never heard of the play, had no idea what I was about to see nor that my gentle and quiet colleague has the stage presence of Pavarotti.
As the lights went down and cheesy sitcom music came up I felt the familiar giddy anticipation of the performance to come that reminded me of why I love theater. Lights up. A hand grasps the back of a couch. A woman describes a contraction to whomever is on the other end of the line. Carolyn (Dayna) emerges very pregnant, very frazzled and completely in denial regarding her labour. My goodness this sounds familiar. Enter her francophone partner, Michel, and her elderly Grandpa. Michel is sweet, quiet, and seems slightly out of his element all the time. Yup, that’s my hubby too. Grandpa is old and knotted, coping with a bad heart and a restless nature yearning for the usefulness of his youth. Carolyn is desperately trying to prepare to host a dinner party for her parents, a sort of peace offering, a way of reestablishing a relationship with them before her child is born. Been there. Ironically, neither of her parents know how soon she is due and Carolyn is determined to hide her labour and host a successful dinner. The crescendo of frustration and nervous anticipation grows as Michel and Grandpa deftly outmaneuver each of Carolyn’s pleas for help while her labour comes on stronger and stronger. As the dinner party begins we meet Carolyn’s parents. Her mother is loving in that overbearing sort of way like a thick wool sweater on a summer night. Her father, a well-respected doctor cringes at the word “midwife” never mind his reaction when Carolyn’s midwife shows up mid-dinner to deliver the baby at… gasp…home.
A flood of self-reflective thoughts washed over me during the show, the emotions wafting back as clear as when I first experienced them. The ambiguous awkwardness and self-consciousness I felt as a uni-lingual anglophone carrying the first grandchild in my partner’s very supportive and very francophone family. The cancerous sense of guilt that ate away at me as I prepared to welcome a baby so far removed from my (and her) family and our traditions. The stressful phone conversations with my own highly medicalized parents who were incensed at our consideration of giving birth in Canada let alone in our home. And the uncomfortable yet familiar encounters with my mother where she unintentionally suffocated me with her intentions and advice about our family.
Every family is so unique. Each with their own particular quirks and their own specific composition of personalities and relationships. Yet everyone in the audience that night seemed to connect so easily with the issues raised on the stage. The simultaneous snickering from the women when Carolyn exasperatedly cries “What is it about the male personality that allows you both to stand in the middle of a million things to do and say with total innocence ‘Is there anything I can do?’” and the understanding chuckles at the redundant but true language divide jokes. Everyone could relate, in their own way, to how new life mends the fissures in our family relationships. Fills the gaps and promotes love, understanding and mutual respect.
We did not have our daughter at home. I was in complete denial that I was in labour three and a half weeks early and my parents were (thankfully) not present. But like in the play, having our daughter did bring our families closer together. It’s this magical thing; the baby comes and suddenly the tension, the clashing personalities, the disagreements that surrounded the coming of this little person dissipate and everyone pulls together. My parents came to respect and befriend our midwife as she lovingly checked in and cared for our tiny daughter in the days after her birth. I began to learn French right alongside my baby. And my mother has found her place as the doting Oma who my daughter absolutely adores. We may not have had our “Hope” at home, but she inspired that hope, that promise to love and respect in our home. And she reminds us of it each and every day.