‘I don’t want to do another recitalllllllllll,’ Tess, my littlest five year old whined. She and her twin, Mimi had been in ballet for two years now and this year was the first time they have ever performed in a recital. Because there are so many children in the ballet school, with so many proud parents and grandparents wanting to watch their angels springing across the stage, the dance school has arranged for the girls to perform three recitals. Including backstage time and after show undressing, the children are at the theatre for six hours at a stretch. That’s a lot for anyone, let alone a little kid.
So I understood Tess’ upset. “Tess, this time, I am coming with you backstage—I am one of the chaperones for your dance class." "Chaperone?" Tess asked. "Yep, that's me! ” I tried to sound upbeat, although, to be honest I was not looking forward to this duty, either. It was Mother’s Day here in England and I would be spending from noon until past six at night in a fluorescently lit, drafty, holding room with several dozen, very young, bored ballerinas.
Claire, my oldest chimed in, “Yeah, Tess—Mommy is going to be the chaperone this week! It will be fun to have her there, won’t it?” Tess shrugged her boney shoulders and put on her coat.
I buckled Mimi and Tess in the car. Camille, my ten year old came along, too. She wanted to do makeovers on all the little girls while they waited for their turn to go on stage.
As we drove west on the motorway, zooming past pastures of grazing sheep, all three girls were quiet, then Tess spoke, “Momma, what do shepherds do?” Now that’s something I never really thought about, I said to myself as I began to formulate an answer. “They keep their flock together, make sure none of them get into trouble, guide them around from place to place. Make sure they get enough to eat and drink—that sort of thing. Why?” She was still looking out the widow, “Just wondering,” She said more quietly now, like she was thinking about what I had said.
It was a long ride to the recital hall. A little while later, Camille began telling us all about what she was studying in school. “A long time ago, there was a Duke and a Dork who owned absolutely all the land. But they—“ “Wait, a Duke and a what?” I interrupted her. “A Duke and a Dork, Momma. A Duke is a type of royal man and a Dork is a type of royal woman.” She said extremely confidently. “Ooooooooh. Okay, continue.” I said. And she did, telling us the story of the serfs and their unkind Duke and Dork.
Three hours in to chaperoning duty and I am sure that the clock began moving backwards; tock-tick. I have never arranged so many heads of hair into ponytails and buns. We had a small square in which to sit and keep our charges under control. Camille sat on the floor in the middle, with little girls circling her, waiting to get their makeup done and be transformed from a five year-old ballerina to a five year-old clown.
A girl I didn’t know came over and sat next to me, then Tess came and sat on my other side. The girl asked, “ Is Camille your daughter, too?” “Yes,” I answered. “She is kind to do all these girls make-up,” She said watching Camille carefully apply bright blue eye shadow to the dancers’ eyelids, and brilliant pink circles to their cheeks. “Yes, Camille is a nice girl,” I smiled. Tess put her face between me and the little girl and, wearing a huge grin said, “Yes, and I am a pain in the ass!” I sat frozen. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t want to reprimand her because I knew she had no idea what she said—I didn’t want to draw attention to her words, give them meaning. And I had an overwhelming urge to laugh, but knew I couldn’t do that, either. I got up and pretended to look for something in my bag and allowed a broad smile to dent my face.
Nearly seven hours after leaving home, we were driving back. It was dinnertime and we were all tired. Tess said in a sleepy voice, “Momma? I’m glad you came to our show today. You were a good shepherd.”
I guess it was a pretty good Mother’s Day.