Disturbing Operatic Puppetry

Friday evening Adrian and I went to see Madame Butterfly at the Met Opera. In this particular production, the role of Butterfly’s two-and-a-half-year-old son was performed by a puppet.

Yeah, a puppet. A faceless three-foot figure operated by three puppeteers in black. To my conservative artistic range, kind of an unsettling choice.

Five minutes after the puppet’s stage debut, Adrian whispered, “That puppet is weirding me out.”

I whispered back, “I effing hate that puppet.”

I know—totally gauche, right? Adrian and I are not opera-talkers. (Not even movie-talkers, I promise.) At least not usually. But slogging through autism makes parents do strange things.

During the second intermission we hustled to the Met bar to parse our feelings.

Adrian asked, “Why do you hate the puppet?”

I wanted a sanity check before answering, so I responded, “Why was the puppet weirding you out?”

Adrian said, “Tell me why you hate the puppet.”

An impasse. I took a chance and admitted, “I hate the puppet because the puppet is neurotypical.”

Now, wait. Don’t roll your eyes.

I’m not delusional. The puppet’s handlers had manipulated its eerie non-face in an impossibly neurotypical manner. The puppet checked its mother’s expression eight million times. Before walking across stage. Before approaching any actor. Before sitting down. Before gazing upon the harbor for Pinkerton’s arrival. And though its mannerisms were child-like—even too conscientiously so—the puppet shared adult emotions to a flaw. The puppet comprehended anticipation, resignation, desperation.

To an audience member who doesn’t spend her days striving to achieve “emotion-sharing” and “face reading,” or pondering the organization of movement, the puppet’s actions might not have stood out. I, on the other hand, thought, “What toddler does that? They’ve made that puppet the opposite of autism. Why would they do that?”

Okay. Maybe I’m a little delusional. At least let me point out, however, that although Adrian declined to elaborate on his own feelings, he did not disagree that the puppet was affrontingly neurotypical.

It’s possible that, on occasions like this, my emotions would be more manageable if I accepted that Martin has, and always will have, autism. Then I could tell myself, That’s the way some kids are. Martin is different.

But I don’t accept that Martin always will have autism. I accept my son. I do not accept anything holding him back. And so I tell myself, That’s the way some kids are already. That’s the way Martin will be.

I want it to happen now.

I long.

I get angry at puppets.

One thought on “Disturbing Operatic Puppetry

  1. Pingback: The Club | Finding My Kid

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