Costume chaos and clumsy dads -- but the school play must go on
It is the week of the school Christmas play, and my daughter is emitting spontaneous shrieks of excitement.
"Is the smoke alarm on the blink again?" asks my wife.
"No, it's your daughter. She's emitting spontaneous shrieks of excitement," I explain.
Later, on the drive back from school, my daughter has a question. Like all her questions -- What's a Muslim? Who was Hitler? What are civil wars? -- there is a preamble.
"Dad, I am excited, but I'm scared too," she says, informing me of her concerns over forgetting her lines or having a wardrobe malfunction.
"It is okay if I scream?" she says.
"Sure," I say, "knock yourself out."
She opens her mouth and gives vent to a scream that nearly shatters the windscreen. I didn't know an eight-year-old could produce such a sound. The last time I heard anything like it was in the dying minutes of the All Blacks game. That time, it came from me.
"Is all the excitement gone now?" I ask.
"Not really," she says. "Can I do another one?"
In previous years, my daughter has had minor parts: sheep mostly, or angels or fairies. Crucial roles, of course, but not what you'd call taxing. A bleat, wave of a wand and that was it.
But this year, she has hit the big time. She's playing a person. And not just any old person. The Mayor of Hamelyn Town, no less. That's Hamelyn of Pied Piper fame, by the way.
Just before she makes her entrance, the cast sing a song about how the mayor is "a most important gentleman, a very important man". My daughter likes this.
In fact, she is starting to become used to this kind of public reverence. When she comes down for breakfast, she pauses at the top of the stairs that lead to the kitchen and makes a circular motion with her hand, like royalty acknowledging the mob.
"People of Hamelyn!" she cries. "This had better be important! You've interrupted my lunch!"
This is her opening line in the play, and we have heard it hundreds of times. She has practised it endlessly, trying out various pauses and emphases. It has become so embedded in the family consciousness that I nearly opened a work meeting with it the other day.
She's also playing a rat. And the transition from rat to mayor is a major cause for concern. She has only a minute to change costume, and in the dress rehearsal, her chain gets caught.
"June Rogers is playing 16 characters in her Christmas show," I point out.
"But she's a grown-up," replies my daughter. I'm not sure about that, but I let it pass.
Every night at bedtime, my daughter wriggles with excitement under the covers. "How many days to go now, dad?" she asks.
Eventually, performance day dawns. My wife is down with a bug, so Granny Ann takes her place. We file into the little hall in the basement of the school. There is the usual rustle and murmur as the audience settles. Then the music begins.
It turns out that my daughter makes an excellent rat and a pretty good mayor. In fact, the only hiccup in the whole performance comes from me. And right at the worst possible moment too.
"People of Hamelyn!" my daughter is saying from the stage when there is a shriek and a clatter from the audience. Everyone turns to look.
It's me. I was standing to one side, determined to record the famous "lunch interruption" speech so that my wife could see it later.
But my iPhone slipped and landed on Granny Ann's head. And then it clattered to the ground and skittered across the floor. I try to pretend all this commotion has nothing to do with me, but I don't fool anyone.
On the way home, my daughter, replete with fizzy drinks and sweets, is disposed to be forgiving. "I'm sorry love," I say, "I hope I didn't put you off."
"I knew it was you, dad," she replies. "But I didn't mind. You know what they say: the show must go on!"