It was a sneak preview of our upcoming play, Dancing At Lughnasa, held in front of the student body. I was Maggie and I was nervous. I had solo singing parts, I danced an Irish jig, I had lots of lines. I had polka dot underpants on. Curse you, polka dots.
It was several weeks after the performance, which had been blessedly uneventful (so I thought….). Someone nudged me in a laughing, knowing way about how funny it was when my skirt twirled up in my dance during the show and everyone saw my underwear.
Ahem….I was not aware….um….what?!
The urge to melt right through the floor, or vanish, just simply disappear, I’ve had that urge many-a-time.
It was a small room, steadily warming up to uncomfortable tropical temps. A free papier mâché class at the local library for Reuben’s age…what could go wrong? There were ten kids and that many mamas and papas. The table was quickly mounded with torn newspaper strips; the parents industriously ripping enough to stuff a king-size mattress. I left Reuben to rip his own (giggle). Plus, I had a baby on my hip, and wasn’t this thing his project after all?
So the plan of action is to blow up a balloon for the body, wad a ball of paper and tape it into a head shape, attach egg carton eyes, cut out cardboard ears, wire up a trunk (and cover that in paper and tape), and do the same for a tail, then add four paper towel roll legs and cover them with tape. Reattaching all the parts that kept falling off also. And weaseling the tape away from the tape-hogging-mompetitors. And that’s just the base. Then you drag strips of newspaper through Elmer’s glue and you need 2-3 layers of the stuff all over that poor creature, which alternately sticks to the mountain of paper strips, or falls head-over-heels, being so heavy in the head.
Did I mention that this was for six year-olds. And that we had two hours?
So, Reuben was doing his thing and the balloon belly exploded. Just…BAM! And all the mamas and papas jump and look at us. Henri bursts out into wailing. I go in search of a new balloon. The teacher explains to me how to be careful not to pop the balloon with the wire for the tail. Did I have the heart to tell her we weren’t even remotely close to making a tail yet?
So we worked (yes, by now I see that Reub’s is woefully behind because his mom isn’t doing it for him, so I come to help) at getting the deflated, mangled, lump of tape and towel tubes unstuck. We got the new balloon situated and BAM! Explosion number two. There was a moment there where I considered scooping Reuben up and fleeing the room, yelling “OKAY….okay….we’re just going to go get ice cream….ICE CREAM! YEAH! THANKS!”.
I got another balloon. Reuben was still game to keep on-keepin’ on. He blew it up again and handed it to me to tie off. Some diabolical twitch in my fingers happened. The balloon took off, took off farting lustily across the wide table, over the mountain range of paper, past the recognizably-elephantine shapes, past the startled eyes of the mamas and the papas. And nearly nailed a man in the head. Did he pretend not to notice? Because I needed that balloon back. That slobbery balloon. Sir? Sir….can you….um…there’s a balloon on the floor behind you. Could you….yes….could you please hand me that slobbery balloon and a side of dignity back? Thanks.
While the balloon was on its noisy trajectory, I really did consider ducking under the plastic tablecloth and hiding. I just needed to not see what I just did. To just let the whole world forget I did that, okay?
Reuben was giggling beside me. I smiled at him. I thanked him for having such a good attitude about this whole thing. I told him I was proud of him. He took it all in stride. He really enjoyed putting his hands into the glue and ignoring the fact that we had, oh, twenty minutes to finish.
It was not a marvelous experience, but a memorable one. It was an opportunity to persevere, it was an opportunity to see my son keep his cool and his humor in the midst of a frustrating debacle. I’m sure all he’ll remember is the escapee-farty balloon and that he thinks he made an elephant. I’ll remember my boy, and seeing something real and precious in his personality that I’d never seen before. It’s the sort of thing which keeps me from hiding under the table, it makes me downright shine.