I brought Áine to the St. Louis Center for Head Injury a couple of weeks ago. This is a place that serves the metro area of St. Louis and its collar counties. They are there to help rehabilitate, encourage, and nurture people who have suffered injury to the brain. The reasons for injury are myriad but unique to the individuals there. The clients of the facility are of all walks of life, all colors and creeds, united in a common reality that they are in need of care, the ability to heal and embrace their challenges. The brain injuries are from mild to severe. I was curious to see what Áine as a two and a half year old would do and how the people would react to her being there. Would she be aware that these folks had such injuries? Would it matter?
When I carried Áine through the door, both she and the group lit up. Áine did her “I am so shy” wave routine that she does when she sees unfamiliar people for the first time. One client came over in her wheelchair right away and reached out for her. Áine backed off at first, but then allowed her to shake hands and be hugged by the lady. The staff was equally beautiful, making sure Áine was safe while we played and really winning her over with some Sweet Tarts.
Brian and I started playing our song Swingin’, Rockin’, Rollin’, and Áine began to dance in front of the band. I have loved her spontaneity to music, that fantastic subliminal soul-driving reaction that I believe all of us have. The group at the Center quickly followed suit and soon we had a nice party going on, with dancing, hand clapping, and shouts of laughter and joy. Áine was happy to be in the midst of it all, stopping occasionally to head back to some of the staff for more Sweet Tarts.
Later that day, Áine came along to Friendship Village. This was the second of our outreach programs that day, this time for a group of independent living seniors. It was Áine’s first show of this kind. Again, she took to the stage and waved to the audience. “Hi, I’m Áine,” was what she said. She gestured to me. “That’s my Poppa.” And then she looked at Brian. “That’s my Uncle Brian.” The audience loved that introduction, and they really started clapping when she began step dancing to our Irish music.
I also learned that the old showbiz adage never to have kids or pets on stage can ring true as well. Áine was getting tired. She decided to stop dancing and go through my bass case at one point. Out of the case she pulled a thin screwdriver needed for repairs. Of course, it was in the middle of a song. She started to wave it like the baton she has seen on her favorite cartoon, “Little Einsteins.” However, to Uncle Brian and Poppa, it was she was going to take on one of the Jets in West Side Story. We quickly wrapped up the tune and I took the screwdriver and locked the case. “Good thing that wasn’t a Bowie knife,” I nervously chuckled to the audience.
Uncle Brian came to the rescue with a huge coloring book. Brian raised his daughter Siobhan, now 20, on shows and she was able to quietly work on coloring while he and Maggie entertained. Not Áine. She indifferently whipped (and ripped) through the coloring book. All the crayons were examined and then dropped on a little table we set up for her. And then Áine put her head down on it.
A full day of playing at parks, dancing and hanging out with Poppa and Uncle Brian had taken their toll, but there was still 15 minutes left in the performance. Áine got up and walked over to me. "Poppa, we go home now?"
And soon Brian and I were “two men and a baby.” Áine broke into crying so I put down the bass and picked up my little daughter. We did the rest of the show with her resting on my shoulder.
She punctuated some of the more tender parts of “Danny Boy” with her tired sobs. Fitfully, she fell asleep.
At this point, I thought folks would be fairly put out by a crying kid during a concert. But it was just the opposite. A lot of folks came up and commented on how much they enjoyed having her there and that it made them think of their own families. One lady came back after the show was over and it was just Poppa, Uncle Brian and Aine in the room. “I want you to know how wonderful it was to see how much love you have for your daughter,” she said. "It was amazing to see how you showed so much grace under pressure." I laughed and thanked her.
It was always my hope that my daughter would have the chance to meet people throughout the WayGood World. And it is nice to be reminded that in a child’s eyes, we are all the same. That the world is a great place. Music is meant to be danced to with as much gusto as possible. And that 7:45 p.m. is pushing it for bedtime.