We might finally be moving on, saying goodbye to the dance school that my children have attended at various times for the last eight years. Let’s see, is there anything here that could lead you to connect my words to the institution in question? I don’t think so. I have no intention of revealing the name of the school or any of the people involved. There are no points to be scored. The points I want to make here are more general. They usually are. If I report specific, recent incidents it is with the intention of making a more general point.
My 10-year-old daughter appeared in a musical theatre production last month in a range of small roles. During the lengthy rehearsal process the director of the show repeatedly warned the cast that if they made a single mistake they would be letting everyone down. They would be letting themselves down and letting everyone else down. We’re not talking here about “Matilda” staged by the RSC in the West End. This is a local, amateur production. Maybe amateur isn’t even the right description. We, as parents, have paid a 4-figure sum over the course of the academic year for each child that attends the school, for dance lessons and musical theatre classes, rehearsals, costumes and tickets. We have paid for the show to happen. And my daughter was made to feel anxious that if she fluffed one of her handful of lines she would be letting the whole side down.
On the positive side this had led us to a new catchphrase, and an opportunity to tell her one of my favourite jokes ever. Now, whenever there’s a story about a show involving children, even the 4 year olds whose ballet performances involve chewing their ballet costumes more than throwing actual ballet shapes, we can say, “Did they let … everybody down?” The shows themselves last month went just fine. Nobody was guilty of ruining the whole event for everyone else.
The joke that we were able to revive, now that my daughter has been exposed to the concept of letting people down, involves the Balloon family: Daddy Balloon, Mummy Balloon and Baby Balloon.
In his early months Baby Balloon often falls asleep tucked in between his parents, in their bed. Even when he grows older and has a cot of his own in the corner of their room he still likes to snuggle in between his parents at nights. Eventually he moves into his own room but still wakes up some nights, bounces into his parents’ room and snuggles in between them.
When Daddy Balloon feels that this has gone on long enough he has a word with his son. “You’re too big for this now. You’re not a baby any more. You have your own bedroom. You can’t squeeze into mummy and daddy’s bed at night, there isn’t enough room. This has to stop.” Baby Balloon promises that he won’t do it any more.
One night Baby wakes up, bounces into his parent’s room and has an idea. He unties the knot in Mummy Balloon and … pssst … releases some of the air. He ties it up again and does the same with Daddy Balloon: unties the knot … pssst … lets out some air, ties it up again. He does the same with himself: unties the knot … psst … ties the knot again. Now there’s room for the three of them in the big bed and he squeezes in between his parents.
The following morning Daddy Balloon wakes up and gives his son a serious talking to. “I’m so disappointed with you son,” he says, “I can’t believe what you’ve done. You’ve let your mother down, you’ve let me down, and worst of all, you’ve let yourself down.”