I’m sorry Mr Darwin, but six and a half weeks summer holidays were never part of the natural order. We mess around with nature and we screw things up.
My wife and I went into our children’s school yesterday morning to watch our eight year old daughter’s class assembly. Millie had told us that they had been learning about Ancient Greece, and they all needed to take white sheets in to dress up for the part.
We had no spare sheets, so my wife got some from work. As well as working on funerals, she also collects bodies for the coroner, and these were the sheets that they use to wrap the bodies in. I checked for any Turin shroud type images, and, God forbid, bodily fluids, but Jen assured me that they had never been used before.
Millie had told us that she had a special role to play, but had been swore to secrecy by her teacher, as had all of her classmates. She wasn’t allowed to tell us as it would spoil the surprise. She then spent twenty four hours trying to do just that.
“Just let me tell you what I’m doing, it’s really good.”
“No Millie, we will wait and see.”
“All the kids were laughing at me in rehearsals. Let me give you a hint”
“No-it will spoil it. Don’t say it.”
She continued unabated with a barrage of ‘but I’m going to explode’ pleading, but we managed to avoid any spoilers. If she ever makes it as an actress she would be hopeless at promotional interviews. The tabloids would be all over her.
So: the morning of the assembly. It turned out that some of the other children had cracked, and had told their parents of Millie’s role. Some were telling us it was really good, some were laughing about it. My imagination was in overdrive, and for the first time I found myself wondering if one of my children could tap dance. I was expecting something musical, full of grace, and There’s No Business Like Show Business spotlight scenes.
I could see Broadway.
The gathered parents and children from the other classes were hushed as Millie’s class filed into the hall, all wrapped in death shrouds, I mean nice linen sheets. Some wore laurels on their heads. A few clutched swords.
There was no sign of Millie.
I tried to discern if any other children were missing, but it didn’t look like it. They were all sat before us in a line, upon benches, facing their expectant audience. The assembly began.
They took it in turn to stand up, say a few sound bite facts, then sit back down, passing the microphone to the next nervous child at their side.
“We have been learning about the Ancient Greeks.”
“They flourished around 4,000 years ago. Before the time of Christ.”
“They created the first democracy, where everybody got a say in how they lived their lives.”
On it continued down the line, each child rising and falling in a Mexican wave of information. Then, half way down the line, when it was her turn, a girl stood and said “They used to take part in naked races.”
At that very point, the door at the side of the hall opened, and in burst our sprinting Millie, dressed in a skin-coloured leotard and a strategically placed fig leaf. For one split second, Jen and I nearly had a heart attack.
We heard “. . . naked races.” and suddenly our daughter emerged in a, well yes, a flash, running across the hall in a seeming streak as everybody erupted in laughter. All eyes trailed her route as she ran to the far end of the lined children to take her place, self-conscious and panting.
I closed my eyes-my old ‘finding myself naked in the classroom’ nightmare had just reacquainted itself with me twenty five years on.
The assembly continued. Something was said about Homer, but I didn’t take it in. The Simpsons wasn’t much of a sedative.
Once the assembly had finished, and the other children dismissed, the Year Four children were allowed to come and bid their proud as punch parents farewell until the afternoon. Millie came to us, wrapped in a modesty-saving teacher’s cardigan.
“I had to get changed in the teachers’ staff room. I couldn’t stop staring at the biscuits.”
We congratulated her on her performance, and her unusual self-restraint when it comes to food.
“Dad, I was dead embarrassed. Everybody looked at me when I came in. My cheeks turned red.”
“Millie, all of your cheeks turned red. And we saw them.”
Next up is my son’s Nativity. His last one, in play school, was around the time Millie used to dress him up in her clothes.
“James, pull your dress up when you are walking on the stairs” was something I had never expected to say to my boy. And he would hitch it up as he climbed them.
His Nanna, all sentimental and nostalgic: “What are you playing in your Nativity? Are you a King? Or a shepherd?”
“I’m a Mary.”
Well we’ve finally had a breakthrough in getting some information out of my son since he’s started school. He’s a lot more taciturn than his three sisters, and bats off questions set by his anxious parents with shrugs and mumbles and general indifferent evasiveness.
“How was your first day then?”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Did you make any friends?”
“What are their names?”
“You don’t know them.”
Okay then. Subject shift. “What did you have for dinner?”
“Wow cake!” Overplaying it a little I know. “And what did you have before it?”
“No, before your dessert. The hot meal?”
A lot sharper: “Cake!!”
Deciding to come at him from a different angle: “What did you have for your morning snack?”
(Much louder) “CAKE!!!!!”
I must assure you all that his school really does have a healthy outlook when it comes to eating and food, so we must take his answers with a pinch of cake. I mean salt.
During yesterday’s round of questions he finally began to open up. I went through the accustomed routine, not really expecting to get anywhere. “So what did you have for dinner today?”
“I had chicken….”
I jumped on this to encourage further disclosure. “Chicken! Chicken is lovely!” Im vegetarian-this was purely tactical.
He went on. “Yeah chicken…and egg….”
Chicken and egg? “Nice.”
“…and a fish head.”
My daughter Millie came out of school a few days ago, gushing about the game she had been playing with her friends. Like all good stories, it is a long-running affair, an episode every lunch time.
Half listening, which I unfortunately sometimes do on the perilous journey home as I navigate the many roads to cross, while keeping a firm grip on her younger brother, I asked her what the game was.
“Well, I am Barbie,
and Lucy is Barbie’s sister Stacie,
Evie is my boyfriend Crystal Ken,
Freya is Barbie’s little puppy dog
and Lana is the zombie.”
“I am Barbie, Lucy is Barbie’s sister,Stacie, Evie is my boyfriend Crystal Ken, Freya is my little puppy dog, and Lana is the zombie.”
Perhaps these really are the games our kids play in the Twenty First Century. Although I must admit, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, my first thought would not be:
Whatever role you play this weekend, be it cute, pigtailed doll or festering walking dead, have a great one.
See you on the flipside.