Moock and Roper turned to their respective crafts to help them process and cope. Within 48 hours of Clio’s diagnosis, Roper was beginning to chronicle their medical journey on the blog at her site, janeroper.com. Within a week, Moock was bringing his guitar into Clio’s hospital room to sing to her.
“Alastair’s constantly playing and singing at home, so I think when he started singing and playing in Clio’s hospital room, it made it feel more like home to her,” says Roper. “You could see the immediate effect of that on her mood and her sense of well-being and comfort. I think it helped Alastair feel better, too, because he was back in the frame of mind of ‘this is what I do.’ ”
Father and daughter began making up songs together to pass the time and have some badly needed laughs. Together, they wrote “I’m a Little Monkey,” which, with its “I feel fine” refrain, Moock thinks of as Clio’s protest song, a subconscious way they were refusing to let her condition define the two of them. “I think songwriters reflect what’s going on with them, and whether they’re 6 or they’re 40, stuff comes through,” he says. “It can’t not get into the songs, even if you’re writing about a monkey. We were getting outside through words because we couldn’t do it in person.” Clio has two writer’s credits on Singing Our Way Through.
After canceling a few shows in the early weeks after Clio’s diagnosis, Moock stepped back onstage for a performance at the library in Medford. It was hard to look out into the audience of healthy, happy kids and play funny, sweet songs for them at a time when his own family felt so fragile. He felt nervous, distracted, and as if he were hiding something.
After a few songs, he stopped. “It’s tricky. I’m not up there to do therapy for myself, and I’m cognizant of that,” he recalls. “But the only way I can function in front of an audience is if I’m honest with them.” He told the audience the basic details of what was going on — that his daughter was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with cancer.
Not only did the people in the audience not “run screaming from the room,” but Moock immediately felt their warmth and compassion. “I think I realized at that point that I can talk about this from stage, and I can include kids in it,” he says. “Kids are capable of understanding what it means to be sick, to be in the hospital. They don’t need to know all the details about cancer, but they understand that that’s not fun and that it can be hard and scary for both the kid and the parents.”
In Singing Our Way Through and his performances onstage, Moock tries to strike a balance between having fun and teaching, between comforting others and coping with his emotions. Sometimes he has struggled to find that equilibrium.
At a show in March in Philadelphia, Moock decided to play “When I Get Bald,” about a chemotherapy side effect, despite the fact that there were two birthday parties going on and the song requires an introduction explaining that sometimes medicines that make kids get better also make strange things — like losing their hair — happen to them. The room got quieter. “As soon as I started, I thought, ‘Shoot, we shouldn’t have done it,’ ” he says. “I feel like I’m still charting territory with this stuff.” Almost six months later, he now plays “B-R-A-V-E” at every show and saves “When I Get Bald” for those shows where Clio, a born performer, can proudly sing the empowering song alongside her dad onstage.
Though Singing Our Way Through is never morose, neither does it hide from poignancy and emotion. The album’s first track, a spoken poem, gets right to the point: “C is for cancer that’s growing in me” is its first line. It joins more upbeat tracks on the album, including a rollicking Guthrie cover, “Hard Travelin’,” which Moock sings with The Okee Dokee Brothers, 2013’s Grammy winner for children’s music.
Moock wrote “Have You Ever Been Jealous?” for Elsa, Clio’s twin, trying to capture the feelings a healthy young girl has when her ill sister is suddenly inundated with attention and gifts. The song is one of many on the album that Moock hopes will connect with healthy kids, too. “We’re dealing with [jealousy] in an unusually specific way,” he says, “but it’s something that every sibling deals with.”
“Take Care of Your Grownups,” written by Moock and the album’s co-producer Anand Nayak, is an eminently singable salve for weary parents who are walking any difficult family road. “I think in some ways the benefit of an album like Alastair’s might even be more for the parents,” says Rani Arbo, a 45-year-old woman who survived cancer and also sings on the album. “But for the kids, here’s a record that’s fun and funny and talks about their issues, keeps their parents laughing and crying, and it kind of keeps everything going on normally. I almost feel like that’s what kids need in those moments; they need their parents not to buckle, to be able to keep the joy and the fun in the family.”Continued...