Confession of a Mother Facing the Juggernaut —
or How I Survived the Elementary School Play
Have you ever observed that sometimes, out of the blue, fate arranges it so you get exactly what you deserve? Not that I took such a benign view at the time…
The Noose Tightens
Clearly he had been talking to me for some time. But somehow I had stopped focusing. One tends to do that while following the highways and byways of adolescent conversation. At a particularly unfortunate time it turned out. Because what I had so casually not objected to [a yes in any 10-year old’s vocabulary], was that we “go to the school play Thursday night.”
Let’s face it folks, the only fate worse than going to the school play your kid is in is going to the school play your kid’s friends are in. And while with a little foresight, you can normally avoid this dreaded expedition, zoning out in the middle of your child’s glowing description of said adventure generally results in a third row seat in the school auditorium at the fashionable hour of 7:00 P.M. on a Thursday night. Which is exactly where I found myself.
The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune
However, it was more like 6:30 than 7:00. Because if you don’t get to the school indecently early, negotiating the distance between the available parking and the school will require jogging shoes and a respirator. Firmly repressing the memory of the one-half hour wait for the doors to open, I do remember the moment we finally arrived at the seats judged worthy of cradling our fannies — after I wearily struggled out of my coat, found a final resting place for my purse and two days’ worth of newspapers at three other locations subsequently deemed unsuitable by my offspring.
And that’s the first problem. The chairs. Not to be confused with Plato’s ideal chairs, these babies are stubbornly resistant to the shape of any human body I’ve observed. Possibly Quasimodo’s anatomical peculiarities would have qualified him as the perfect audience member. For any less eccentrically proportioned individual, an hour spent in these seats rivals hair shirts and braided switches. Only proud parents and grandparents, anesthetized by visions of their offsprings’ sojourn in the spotlight, could rationalize away the back ache resulting from the warped concavity of the back rest and the damage inflicted on the spinal cord from prolonged exposure.
But finally I squirmed into a position where the dangers of permanent crippling injury were much diminished. At 7:10 after several false starts punctuated by innumerable little faces peeking out of the crack in the curtain, the lights dimmed in the middle of an article I was reading on a double ax murder which, strangely enough, seemed the perfect choice to appease my pre-performance angst. Without further ado, at 7:10 what appeared to be the overture signaled the start of the evening’s festivities.
One of the things one quickly learns upon achieving the dubious distinction of veteran spectator at adolescent theatrical extravaganzas is that regardless of the event, some things remain reassuringly familiar. You remember Dumb and Dumber? This is Slow and Slower.
Obviously the teacher who assumes the role of the school play honcho is operating under one [or more] or the following compulsions: 1) Directing the school play is right up there with leading the school orchestra in the hierarchy of desirable “optional” teacher activities, but having been nominated and elected, will make sure you feel their pain — for at least two hours. 2) He (usually the only male teacher in the school gets picked for this singular honor, at least that’s the way it was in my son’s school) has been an elementary school teacher for so long that his faculty for “knowing when to fold them” has atrophied. 3) He is being paid off by the star’s mother to keep her kid on the stage for as long as the outer edges of decency permit [just short of a mass exodus by a rebellious audience]. 4) Some kid stole his watch.
Motherhood’s Finest Hour
The opening salvo has barely been fired when you invariably realize that you have to go to the bathroom. But since you are sitting in Row 4, about 10 seats away from the aisle, your chance of slipping away unnoticed is about as likely as a big pitcher of cold dry martinis finding its way to your seat by the third act. Besides the first obstacle you’d have to overcome in your dash to freedom is Son #1. Try to imagine, if you were in my position, how urgent your need would have to be to risk trying to explain to your 10-year old why you want to leave before “Aaron comes on stage.” The only rational decision, after just an instant’s contemplation of the less-than desirable but probable consequences, is to bear down hard and tough it out. And that, my friends, is the moment it occurs to you that the tome you hold in your hand is not the annotated bible but the program for tonight’s event. And guess which skit they’re on? If your guess is anywhere beyond 1, you, (a) have children younger than 5 or (b) have developed a sixth sense about school play dates and schedule your annual attack of the vapors for that very night.
So you sit and clap, and clap and sit some more. Some of the children are really quite good, but unfortunately the law of averages is not on your side. The amount of talent a kid has is in inverse proportion to the amount of time she [or he] appears on stage. Once again your overheated imagination suspects a conspiracy to hold you prisoner in this overheated prison with a swelling bladder. You imagine the look of horror on your kid’s face if the unthinkable occurs. How quickly he will disown you as the puddle becomes a lake.
Fortunately the play ends before your worst fears are realized. Now, if only the janitors haven’t locked the bathroom in their semi-annual protest against the semi-annual budget threat to freeze their salaries.
Mission accomplished. Now for a quick retreat to the car. (Your kid’s insistence that you arrive one-half hour early to snag a good parking place is clearly a stroke of genius. Undoubtedly it’s in the genes he’s inherited. Score one for Dr. Mendel and his bean plants.)
A Walk on the Wild Side
But, alas, life hardly ever works out the way you deserve. As that tiny patch of air hits your nostrils promising liberation and, in your parched imagination, not dancing sugar plums, but something far most modest—that pitcher of martinis for openers—your forward progress is halted. Not, of course, by the rush for the exits. If there’s one thing you can handle after successfully passing the course on crowd maneuvering taught by a sojourn on the New York City subway system, its your fellow freedom fighters. Spurred on by their own vision of the light at the end of the exit sign, they are making an equally frenzied retreat. No, no, this time it’s the insistent voice of your offspring bearing down on you with the director of the evening’s follies and the mother of the star firmly in tow.
It would be impossible to summarize the dialogue that followed this unexpected and unwelcome meeting. Let me just give you a flavor of the high points, such as they were:
Me (Trying to hide the grinning death mask I was sure had replaced my usual shifty-eyed gaze): “That was certainly an amazing performance. How do you get the children to – uh learn all those lines?” (A nice compromise I congratulated myself between outright perjury and the unvarnished truth.) “All in a day’s work, I suppose.” (With that vain attempt at humor I finally managed to engage my mouth in the shut position.)
Director (Obviously underwhelmed by my congratulatory zeal) “I really had nothing to do with it.” (I tried that once with the IRS after my accountant had gone to jail for not paying his taxes — it didn’t work with them either)
Me (Desperately searching for a diplomatic, suitably insincere exit line) ” Well, I guess the next stop is the Great White Way.” (Glancing nervously at my watch) “You probably have just enough time for one martini!” Having delivered my coup de gras (so to speak), I gratefully passed through the open front door and breathed deeply the carbon monoxide wafting out of the cars of audience members who obviously had the foresight to duck out the back exit.
I was painfully aware that behind my retreating back, puzzled looks were being exchanged at this high-octane finale. Even those long awaited martinis did not assuage the dawning realization that the majority opinion in the school population was firmly committed to the proposition that my son’s mother was a crackpot.
Do you suppose the PTA has an “enemies list?”
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