A Good Time Had by Most

Posted by mwallach on June 8, 2012 in My Kids |

Dear That’s Life,
As time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to recall the details of moments past. One of the first memories I can remember with great clarity, however, is my 3rd birthday party. Old pictures help bring me back to the green shirt I was wearing, blowing out the candles and opening gifts. I even remember making beaded necklaces out of colorful uncooked macaroni which we strung on laces. My hair was cute back then, tight little curls all over my head. The events of that day still make me smile.

What I do not remember, however, is when making children’s birthday parties became a multi-million dollar industry. When did that happen and why didn’t I think of that? Gone are the days of sack races in the backyard or renting a video with some friends. Birthday parties are now major events, with stores and businesses popping up specifically designed to host and cater all of your party needs. No one wants to ignore a child’s big day – heaven forbid – but when you have to start using the word “budget” about a party for your three-year-old, it may be an indicator that you’ve gone too far.

When our twins’ birthday was rapidly approaching, I decided not to make them a party. We would celebrate in school with their classes and have plenty of cake. As for inviting over 40 small children (2 children, 2 classes), it was out of the question. I don’t need to be stressed about anyone’s birthday including my own.

We opted instead to take our children to their first Broadway play. It was sure to be a memorable event and also signified that they were growing up, as this is not something done with little kids. In addition, we planned on taking them to Manhattan on the train, which adds to the experience. With our discounted theater tickets, a ride on the LIRR that cost $.75 each and a walk on 42nd street, this was going to be my best idea ever. And besides, seeing “Mary Poppins” is always an incredible experience. We told them what to expect, explained some of the rules of going to a play and headed off on our adventure.

One of the beautiful things about going to a Disney production of anything is that at the end of the day, it is still Disney. There are plenty of children around and they are expected to be there. No one is looking at you askance for bringing your child to the theater, akin to sitting with a toddler in business class. Booster seats available and smiling faces at the door, this isn’t “Macbeth.” We hit the bathrooms right before the curtain went up and then quickly made it to our seats. The lights dimmed and the magic of Broadway began.

I clearly remember going to my first Broadway play – “Annie.” I was determined to ensure this night was as memorable for them as that experience had been for me. I tucked away their ticket stubs and grabbed extra copies of the Playbill to serve as mementos. I taught them terms like orchestra pit and intermission. Most importantly, we reviewed the decorum necessary for a play. It had already been discussed numerous times in anticipation of the event, but it was worth going over one last time.

Everything was going well. They sat in their seats beautifully and stopped asking, “Is it over yet?” after each musical number. About half way through the first act, the audible voice of a young child a couple of rows away could be heard throughout an otherwise silent theater. He had a question and because this was Disney, no one shushed him or asked the mother to take the boy outside. But the audible voice of a young child carries in an otherwise quiet room acoustically designed to make sound and voices travel to each corner of the space. So when my son let out the biggest yawn on the planet, complete with the outstretching of arms as if he had awoken from the deepest sleep of his life, it could be heard by everyone around us – and then some.

I tried to quiet him quickly, but it was too late. I’d be surprised if the actors had not heard that yawn on stage as well. And it was not a short yawn either – it was long, loud and animated. Slightly humiliated, “It’s still Disney,” I thought to myself. People would understand and if not, yawning is not actually something that can be controlled. It just happens although it need not always be accompanied by hand motions. It could have happened less dramatically, but it did not. I quickly explained that he needed to keep quiet. “But it was just a yawn!” he responded, also quite audibly. “Yes,” I said. “But it needs to be a quieter yawn.”

Not to be outdone by her brother, my daughter also had her moment in the sun, though ironically enough, she was completely silent when it took place. It took them a few minutes to realize that clapping after each song was an expected and appropriate audience member response. I encouraged them to clap along with the rest of the crowd both as a sign of appreciation and because it is what Broadway culture dictates. Instead of clapping, however, my daughter kept throwing her arms up in the sky and waving them radically as if she was drowning. The theater is filled with people keeping their hands in front of them and clapping gracefully on their laps and she is throwing her hands in the air and gesticulating wildly.

“What in the world are you doing?” I asked her, concern and annoyance in my voice. “The silent cheer!” she said. Then I remembered: her teacher had taught the entire class a silent cheer so that when something exciting happened in the classroom, they could show their excitement without screaming or disrupting the building. The wave their arms in the air instead of cheering noisily. My daughter loved what was going on during the play and the silent cheer was her way of expressing that. I did not think the people behind us were going to find that explanation funny nor acceptable if I turned around and explained, so instead I put an end to it.

“You cannot do the silent cheer at a play!” I said. “There are people sitting behind you and they don’t think it is funny!” Perplexed, she said, “Then what should I do?” “Clap!” I responded. She looked at me as though I was crazy, but I was afraid to see what others thought of us. “Don’t worry,” I said to myself. “It’s Disney.”

Suffice it to say that after intermission was over, there was no one sitting behind us. There was no one next to us either. Seems they all found made alternate arrangements as quickly as they could, not that I blame them. My kids, however, had a great time and took part in the standing ovation at the end like Broadway pros. On the whole, they did great and I hope that night stays in their minds forever. As for the people around us, I hope they forget us as quickly as possible.

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