Reservoir Mum and Maki and I have just arrived for Tyson’ kindergarten Christmas concert and there are eighteen four-year-old kids smacked-out on candy cane juice and dozens of parents swooning over their offspring as they guide them towards a significant transition period in their young lives but as I place Reservoir Mum’s tray of banana and choc chip muffins on the snack table, the thing I notice above all else, is that they will be competing against a huge tray of rum-free rumballs.
I’m not at all concerned about the platter of smelly goat’s cheese with its plain and easily splintered crackers, or the quartered salad sandwiches ordered into a long line to hide the fact that it involved only two minutes of effort and four slices of bread, or the bowl of prawn crackers that look exactly the same as the ones we get for free every time we get Chinese takeaway, but rumballs are super delicious and so easy to pop and biting down on one only encourages you to reach for another within seconds and there are so many on those two trays that every adult here could have eight each! That pretty much equates to a whole meal and a big no thanks to my wife’s home made muffins.
When RM and Maki head down to the front of the room to sit next to her Reservoir Mother and Sister In Law I linger back and find a spot that allows me to get some good video footage of the concert and to keep an eye on the snack table at the same time.
All the food is still wrapped in plastic but I’ve noticed there are many toddlers in the audience and a plan to cull the rumball’s numbers is beginning to surface just as the evocative Christmas Carol Silent Night signals the entrance of the young performers and then, for a moment, I am lost in a bubble of emotion because Mrs Doutre appears leading the troops and just behind her, second in line, is Tyson.
I’m waving like an aging Wiggle in the middle of a public prostate exam as I hold the camera with my other hand but I’m only fully aware of this in retrospect because Tyson is not just sitting down and watching his class mates perform but is singing right along with them. He’s banging sticks together and shaking bells with the natural sense of rhythm I’ve always known him to have but have never seen him display in public. My mind has a spotlight on him. I see no other children.
During a break between songs I pretend to sneeze to provide the cover I need to wipe actual tears from my eyes and then creep to the snack table where I hold my ground until Maki sees me. As he makes eye contact I open my mouth and widen my eyes like a Wiggle removing his dentures and encourage him over as I peel the plastic from one corner of a tray of rumballs. When he reaches for one I say, ‘Oh, Maki. You mustn’t….’ so that he shoves it into his mouth with defiant glee.
My playful mock-scolding attracts the attention of a little girl who spots the chocolate bubbling out of Maki’s mouth and she’s standing beside him within nanoseconds. A short kerfuffle breaks out as they reach for the tray at the same time because even though there are at least one hundred rumballs in front of them, these people are toddlers, and so they not only want the very same rumball but they want it desperately.
The girl’s mother turns and is immediately concerned that her daughter has raided the snack table but I hold up a hand, assuringly, and say, ‘One won’t hurt’ as I give her two.
Maki and his little friend head back into the audience as the next concert song begins and because I’m now confident that word of the open tray is circulating among the toddler crowd I snatch half a dozen rumballs myself and take a certain distance, perched for more filming, knowing full well that in an effort to keep peace during the concert every single parent will renege on dietary ideals and allow their child to stuff their mouths silent with chocolate.
I’m popping my handful of rumballs like they’re a special bag of Tic Tacs I’ve taken to a rave party as my emotional centre is being shaken and stirred by the reminiscence in such Christmas classics as Holy Night and Jingle Bells and just when I think I can’t achieve a greater high Tyson’s heartfelt and hilarious rendition of The Little Green Frog dulls the bulb of caution shining from my frontal lobe and the experience becomes spiritual.
There are tears. My chest is shuddering. This comes from a place inside me that gets blanketed too often and right now it’s saying THANK YOU, to whatever, for dropping me here in this place, and for giving me to these people.
As the kinder kids are getting dressed into their costumes for the nativity play I sneak back to the table, fake-sneezing several times, and it’s pleasing to see that half the tray of rumballs is empty.
I feel a certain connection with the toddlers now because we’re all freaked out on a sugary high but with the goal of directing adult mouths to RM’s delicious muffins I go a little further – to take myself beyond the doors of perception – and sneak another eight rumballs.
Five minutes later I’m a little spaced out, kind of awed by everything, and I could be in the desert doing acid and riding a serpent, feeling this way, but in reality I’m watching Tyson the sheep being led to baby Jesus by several satin wearing Sheppards and just like a Wiggle suffering Alzheimers I’m wondering if this is the best experience I’ve ever had.
When the drummer boy comes along I sing pa rum pum pum pum like I’m the only one there and then there’s an eruption of applause and I’m holding Tyson up for a cuddle saying, ‘You sang so well and clapped your hands and danced!’ as he laughs all crazy and embarrassed for the attention.
I do my best to compose myself after putting him down by focussing on RM’s muffins again, which is a weird thing, I know, because to be honest she wouldn’t care, at all, if every single muffin came back home with us, but… I don’t know… they’re my wife’s muffins, damn it, and I just won’t have them not being eaten!
I’ve managed to switch the light back on in my frontal lobe by talking to the other parents and counting down the muffins – which are disappearing at a rate of knots – but this portrayal of control and composure is only a mask. I keep swallowing emotion and staring at Tyson. I can’t help it.
He’s only four but he’s had some hurdles to leap over with sleeping trouble and a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder and some behavioural challenges including yelling and a difficulty sitting still to build on certain skills but through it all, and even during the most difficult periods, he’s been the sweetest boy, with the cheekiest disposition, with the ability to crack my heart and heal it stronger from one beat to the next, and to see him singing and clapping his hands in front of an audience is like holding my arms towards the sky, smiling in sunlight, crying in rain, wanting for easier days at the same time that I ache for the days as they pass us by, a strange magic.