By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Last night I attended a production of Beauty and the Beast at an elementary school. First of all, I was knocked out by the stage presence, talents, and enthusiam of the young performers (mostly nine and ten-year-olds, I think). Second, it was a hoot being part of the audience. I was there as a supportive aunt, alongside parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and friends of all ages. We cheered every entrance, laughed and applauded mid-scene, gave the cast a thunderous standing ovation, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was riotous, rambunctious, and so much fun.
Considering the context, I found it interesting that the couple seated in front of us shot daggers at our row whenever my young nephew piped up. “That was HILARIOUS!” he’d say, in response to a character’s funny line or expression. “Did you see the salt and pepper?” he asked, during the big “Be Our Guest” musical number. It seemed each time he had something to say, Those People turned abruptly in their seats and shot us The Look.
Come on, people! We were surrounded by cranky babies, chatting adults, and distracted children (tantrum in the side aisle, anyone). It was noisy, it was chaotic, it was fun! This wasn’t a Shakespeare tragedy performed by revered actors. This was kids, doing the unexpected things kids do, surrounded by an audience of kids (young and old) who behaved…well…appropriately.
Shushing my nephew and occasionally covering his mouth didn’t diminish the noise around us, and also didn’t put an end to The Looks. I caught myself thinking, I wonder if they’re childfree? Certainly I’ve been at the receiving end of kicks to the back of my seat and been annoyed beyond reason when a screaming baby drowns out the pivotal speech of an Oscar-worthy performance. (Take the kid outside! Get a sitter!) I’ve given The Look, too. But not here, not now. I don’t want to be one of Those People, who give people-who-happen-to-be-childfree a bad rap, who perpetuate the stereotype that “childfree” is the equivalent of “child-hater.”
I feel sorry for them. Those People missed the point of the evening. While they grimaced and frowned, the rest of us created wonderful memories by getting swept up into the total chaos of a kids’ show, with all the goofs, good humor, and, yes, noisiness that comes with it. I wouldn’t have wanted any less.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s at work on a memoir about her journey to being childfree.