If you are not Irish, you might not be familiar with Brian Friel’s play, Philadelphia, Here I Come. If you are Irish, you might be all too familiar with it, having studied it in depth for your Leaving Cert exam. I didn’t study it, but I saw a production twenty (argh) years ago, when the local boys’ school put it on and borrowed three girls from my class for the female roles. (Adding, so a friend who was in it told me, a certain frisson to the whole proceedings. As you might imagine.)
Anyway. The protagonist, Gar, is a young man from the West of Ireland who is about to leave on the boat to America – but his part is divided in two: “Gar Public” and “Gar Private.” We see Gar Public interact with his family and the various locals who come to wish him well, and we see Gar Private, in between times, soliloquizing about all the things he feels but will never say.
To be honest, that’s all I remember – and considering how long ago it was, that’s not bad. But the public/private thing came back to me yesterday as I thought about my son’s coming school year.
He’s six. He was jumping on the sofa and singing a song of his own devising; I forget the lyrics now but it was probably something about how “Star Wars is the best, yeah-yeah-yeah / and I’m gonna get a red lightsaber for Christmas, oh yeahhhhh…” And I was thinking how I would love his new teacher to see this side of his personality, because that would mean he was really comfortable at school.
And even as I thought it, I understood why that was a ridiculous idea. We all have our public and private personas, and neither is more “really us” than the other. We might sing and dance along to the radio in our sweatpants at home, and walk briskly into a meeting and give a PowerPoint presentation at work; and both of those personas are equally valid representations of who we are. Developing a public and a private persona is part of what children learn when they go out of the home and interact with people they’re not related to.
So when my son – my first grader – enters his new classroom tomorrow, he’ll walk quietly and be a little reserved, because that’s who he is in school. As the weeks go by, he’ll get more comfortable and be quicker to laugh uproariously, to chat to his neighbor when perhaps he shouldn’t, to volunteer Star-Wars-related non-sequiturs in the middle of a lesson. And then when he comes home every day, he’ll shed the Public and come back to the Private, and that’s hard too. Six hours of rigorous buttoning-up takes some decompression, usually in the form of too-crazy bouncing on sofas or sparring with his sister, leading inevitably to someone getting hurt, something getting broken, yelling from me, or at the very least general disatisfaction all round.
I think I need to remember Philadelphia, cut him some slack, and help us all find ways for the daily transition from Public to Private to go more smoothly.
Christine blogs as (Not) Maud at Awfully Chipper, where she avoids housework to discuss naps, muffins, boobs, and superheroes; and shakes her head sorrowfully to tell you how things were different back in Th’Auld Country. Photo is her own.