Okay, technically it was a puppet show, a play and a ballet, but still, we were mighty theatrical this weekend and not in a hurling ourselves to the floor and weeping over small slights kind of way. Not that any of us ever does that. Why do you ask?
Act I: Veteran’s Plaza, Silver Spring. Friday 5:45 p.m.
Downtown Silver Spring is a pretty place right before Christmas. In addition to the neon lights of the Regal Majestic Theater and the stores and restaurants that light up the night all year long, there are Christmas lights and a big lighted wreath, and this year nature had seen fit to give us the first real snow of the season the day before, just an inch or two, but enough to make June’s school’s annual Solstice lantern parade scenic. Before the parade started, people milled about in the dark. The adults socialized and the kids played in the snow. The Red Fox was quietly engaged in making a snow pile on a bench and a bunch of kids noticed a glow under the snow near a tree and dug up a ground level light, thinking they were rescuing a firefly. A group of teenagers passing by stopped and asked if this was the Purple School lantern parade they remembered attending as preschoolers.
Soon we were marching around the courtyard, in between the lines of concrete benches, once, twice, three times. The kids’ lanterns glowed, mostly with electric lights but some with real flames. Current students and recent graduates held rectangular painted paper-and-chicken-wire lanterns on long wooden sticks. June had painted the sun on hers with orange paint. Noah had an older, round black and white paper mache model circa 2005 with a wire handle and an alumna one year older than him had her light in a glass jar.
As we marched, we sang “This Little Light of Mine,” mostly just the chorus over and over. June shook the jingle bells she’d brought along. (The very same kind of jingle bells the Painted Turtle had brought as they marveled earlier.) The Robin’s dad strummed his guitar as he strolled. We marched on wet bricks and patches of slushy snow until it was time to go inside the Civic Center for pizza, veggies and hummus, and home-baked treats. The Ghost Crab’s mom had arranged some of the cookies on either side of the table in the curving bark of a stripped log, lined with aluminum foil. It was a lovely effect. June’s and my contribution was on red plastic plates but we were proud of it anyway. Over the course of two days we’d baked and frosted six trays of sugar cookies in the shapes of stars, snowmen and Christmas trees. Beth put one star cookie in each of June’s classmate’s backpacks when she’d co-oped that afternoon and we brought the rest to the party.
The conference room where the party was held this year was smaller and more crowded than the library that hosted it last year and the year before but people spread out on the floor and managed to avoid stepping on each other as they ate picnic-style.
The central event of the Solstice party is the shadow-puppet show the Tracks class puts on each year. This year the show was an adaptation of a children’s book about a yellow leaf that is not ready to drop from its tree, even after all the other leaves have fallen. June played the part of the sun and stood at the edge of the screen holding her sun puppet as the Toad stood at the opposite edge with her moon puppet and children with apple, pumpkin and snowflake puppets trooped by to demonstrate the passage of autumn. Finally a scarlet leaf convinces the yellow leaf to drop and they fly off together. The play went off without a hitch, unless you count a few missed cues and an attempt by one of the children to snatch the moon puppet away from the Toad.
After the play, teacher gifts were presented. Lesley’s gift from the Tracks was a wreath the kids had decorated together, each contributing natural items they’d collected. June’s donation was a seagull feather she found on the beach the weekend before. By 6:45 the party was over and we were on our way home in time for the kids’ baths and Noah’s percussion practice and the rhythms of our evening routine on one of the longest nights of the year.
Act II: Round House Theatre, Bethesda. Saturday, 2:15 p.m.
I had a date with a handsome and charming young man on Saturday afternoon, coffee followed by the theater. Well, he had mango juice instead of coffee, but we both had a cranberry bliss bar in the Starbucks right outside Round House theatre (http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/). The store was humming with dressed up tweens and their parents, waiting to see A Wrinkle in Time. Noah and I went on a Madeline L’Engle kick this fall reading A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters. We both enjoyed the first two quite a bit, but I don’t recommend reading the last two to your nine year old. The third book was hard for Noah to follow. It’s a family saga with too many characters, too many of whom have the same names. He wanted to keep going to see if he liked the fourth book better, and he did, but I found myself editing as I read because of some mature subject matter. We’re done reading L’Engle for now—we’re currently in the middle of A Christmas Carol—but we were both excited to see this play.
It was a good adaptation. Though I though the playwright made the character of Calvin a little too jokey, the actor grew on me. And so many things were just right—Meg’s awkwardness, Charles Wallace’s quirkiness, although they had to use a seventh-grader to play him. It would have been hard to find a five year old up to the job. I asked Noah later if the characters were as he imagined them and he said the father was supposed to have long hair because he was too absent-minded to get it cut, but the actor who played him was bald. I kind of loved that Noah noticed that but didn’t mention that the actors who played the kids were white and both their parents were played by African-Americans.
He was also very interested in the technical aspects of the production, the house that rolled on and off the stage as needed, the projections on the back wall. When the play was over, he wanted to go look at the projector. We had balcony seats so it was pretty close to us.
Beth and June picked us up when the play was over and we went out for dumplings, garlic eggplant and noodles at City Lights of China (http://bethesdacitylightsofchina.com/) and then for desert crepes at an outdoor crepe stand (http://www.yelp.com/biz/ritas-crepes-bethesda). It was fun to stand in the frosty air among the bustling sidewalk traffic and watch as the servers made the crepes on griddles and then to take the warm triangles wrapped in paper and foil to eat as we walked back to the car.
Act III: American Dance Institute, Rockville. Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
In the freezing cold restroom, I gave June a quick summary of the plot of The Nutcracker. I was hoping if I distracted her by talking to her, she might relax enough to pee before the performance. She’s actually pretty good in public restrooms, but for some reason today she couldn’t go. This was making me nervous because I had failed to bring any spare clothes for her and she’s still imperfectly potty-trained. But she jumped off, insisting she really couldn’t go and we went to stand in line with Beth and Noah to enter the theater.
We were attending The Nutcracker at the American Dance Institute (http://www.americandance.org/), a dance education center, so it was a stripped down version, performed mostly by children and teenagers. I did miss the more elaborate staging of some other versions I’ve seen and the larger casts, but it was just right for June’s introduction to the ballet.
Although, strictly speaking she has seen it before. We took Noah to see The Nutcracker at the University of Maryland when he was four and a half and then the next year, when he was five and a half and June was a baby, we all went again at another location. June was about nine months old then and I thought she might enjoy the music and the colors and the movement. I was right, but what I didn’t predict was how loudly she would express her enjoyment. A woman in front of us gave us dirty looks every time she squealed, so it was a relief when she nursed to sleep some time in the middle. Falling asleep at The Nutcracker is something of a family tradition, as Noah had missed the whole second act when he dozed off in his seat the year before. (He’d only recently stopped napping and my kids do not give up their naps easily.) June did nap this afternoon, however, so she was fresh and ready to take in everything.
We settled into our seats and I read the synopsis from the program to June in order to keep familiarizing her with the story. She said she thought she remembered it and I reminded her that YaYa had a book about it at her house. (In fact, the kids are going to see The Nutcracker twice this year, as YaYa will be taking them next week when we are in Wheeling.)
We were seated early and June was impatient for the ballet to start but once it did, she was very attentive, smiling and clapping, and at one point (during the French marzipan dance in the second act) standing in front of her chair on her toes with her arms over her head rapidly shifting from foot to foot. It was beyond cute. Noah and Beth were seated in the row in front of us, so I didn’t see as many of his reactions but he seemed to enjoy himself, clapping quite loudly at the end.
When the show was over I asked June what part she liked best and she said the Christmas party scene. I bought her a little snow globe depicting Clara holding the nutcracker. She’d seen it at intermission and fallen in love with it at once and had asked several times if she could have it.
We stopped at a supermarket for a few items on our way home and as Beth opened June’s car door, the snow globe came tumbling out of the car and shattered on the icy parking lot. June started to cry, that horrible, hitching cry you probably know if you are a parent. I hesitated just a moment, wondering if this was the moment to let her cope with a small loss, or whether to try to swoop in and make it all right and I went with the latter. It was just too tragic. I promised to try to find her a replacement. By the time we were in the checkout line with our eggnog, pretzels, hot chocolate mix and peppermint sprinkles, she had recovered her good spirits and was singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Once we were home, I consulted the URL on the box and almost immediately found another snow globe that’s almost identical to the broken one and ordered it. The shipping will be more expensive that the little trinket, which gave me another moment of pause, but it’s Christmas-time and I didn’t want to be a Scrooge. And that thought got me to thinking, with happy anticipation, that some year we should really go see A Christmas Carol.