I watch my son as his bottom lip, hanging slack from an open jaw, is bothered repeatedly by his protruding tongue. He then jams his fingers into his mouth. And I don’t mean a dainty suck. It’s like watching a bottom-feeding sea creature attempt to eat an octopus, tentacles first.
It can only mean one thing. The pre-school Christmas songs. I am repeatedly told that Christmas is full of joy. Unfortunately, this thirty minutes is the black hole of Christmas cheer for pretty much everyone involved.
We are ushered in and propelled toward three rows of chairs that have seemingly been loaned from the dolls’ house in the toddler’s room. I am wondering if I should take one for each bum cheek, but parents are still streaming in behind me so decide against it. And there we settle, chins resting against knees, the chairs in front resting against shins behind and all with a perfect view of the back of some dad’s huge head. I lean right and manage to catch a glimpse of B amongst the twenty or so other three and four year olds who are staring at the mass of parents with a mixture of fear and…well, a bit more fear.
There is a palpable air of expectation radiating from the audience. I have attended too many of these events to be in anticipation of a production that rivals the Sound of Music, with seven-part harmonies and pitch perfect singing, but I have a grain of hope that it won’t be totally horrendous. Which is my first mistake.
I notice that B is not in the clothes that he was wearing that morning and wonder briefly if there has been some cataclysmic pants-shitting event that will mean I will largely be spending my evening scraping semi-dried poo from an undersized pant gusset, but then I realise that they are all in slightly strange outfits. It is as if twenty small children have been thrown into a cement mixer with three bags of charity clothes and a few of Santa’s elves’ cast-offs.
A staff member, a girl (not to be patronising, but most of the staff at the nursery could quite easily qualify as my daughter they are that young… or I am that old) so cheery it makes my eyes water, welcomes us all to thirty minutes of our lives that we can never get back.
And so we are mistreated to half an hour of Cheery singing to the parents whilst twenty kids stand in a straggly line engaging in a range of nose picking, bum scratching and thumb sucking whilst completely ignoring her pleas to join in. Song lyrics are mumbled through barely open lips, shoes are studied so intently that several pairs are in danger of spontaneously combusting and a handful of children slowly and inexorably slide into hysterical tears.
B stands, eyes cast downwards, sucking his fist. He occasionally musters enough effort to lift his gaze to mine, at which point his eyes implore me to stop this horrific madness. I smile and wave and silently implore the same. He does momentarily take his upper limb from his mouth and I wonder for a brief, overly-optimistic moment that he is about to burst into song – or at least let a few Christmassy words drip from his mouth – but no. Instead, he lolls his tongue around his lips, looking for a window to lick.
A couple of the kids have, by now, pulled their Santa hats down to their chin to make is clear that they are taking no further part in this ritual Yuletide humiliation, and that they are definitely not going to lie on the floor and pretend to be asleep, let alone flap their arms and pretend to be angels. And all the while, Cheery is emoting her way through a variety of songs and story-telling, valiantly imploring various children to repeat the lines.
She pulls an incalcitrant-looking boy toward her.
“Joe, say ‘I can see the angels!’”
Joe says nothing.
“Say it for me, Joe.”
Joe appears to be trying on selective mutism for size. It suits him.
“I can see the angels, Joe?”
But it appears that Joe cannot. She releases him from her grip and grabs another child.
“Say ‘I can see the angels’ Flora.”
Flora’s bottom lip starts to tremble. A large proportion of the audience are willing her to JUST SAY THE BLOODY LINE SO WE CAN ALL MOVE ON. Flora starts to cry and snot dribbles from her nose as my will to live seeps slowly from several of my orifices.
And so the Christmas concert chaos continues. More children do not say the lines that they no doubt delivered with such panache in rehearsals the day before. Songs are not sung. Actions are not actioned. If I had wanted to spend half an hour staring at a pack of kids doing nothing, I could have propped up my eldest’s class photo against a bottle of wine at home and at least had the pleasure of sitting in a chair not made to suit the physique of a sodding Oopma Loompa.
I think I must have slipped into a temporary coma, as when I next look at Cheery she is firmly ushering gaggles of reluctant kids into a vague semblance of a line behind B. “And all the children got on the train. Choo choo! Let’s go!”
Unsurprisingly, the train does not move.
“Let’s go, B!” Cheery shouts as B stands rooted to the floor, licking his fist disconsolately whilst the children-shaped carriages behind him start to surge forward. If he doesn’t get a bloody move on, there’ll be a derailment of epic proportions and it will take us another hour to untangle the children. Finally, a teacher enters stage left and drags B around by his wrist at which point I am unsure whether to laugh, cry or leave. I think B is having exactly the same thought.
And then, mercifully, it seems we have reached the denouement. For some reason that has completely escaped me, now Cheery has a Tupperware box of metallic glitter shapes that she is handing out to all the kids.
“Throw the glitter over your mummys and daddys, children!” Cheery shrills. Oh good. I knew there was something missing from this whole experience, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until now.
Instantly the kids are all transfixed by how it is that every single piece of that glitter is somehow utterly stuck to their sweaty palms, no matter how hard they shake their hands. I smile. Cheery is now throwing the glitter shapes over the children, who look up in glee. Several then start to cry as they realise that their teacher has, to all intents and purposes, just thrown tiny metallic shapes in their eyes.
And there we have it. Another Christmas, another excruciating children’s performance. Those Von Trapp children have got a lot to bloody answer for. I collect B and we get in the car to go home.
“Did you like your Christmas play?” I ask.
“No,” he sullenly replies.
No. Me neither. I turn out of the car park and we never speak of it again.