As Sam and I stood, in the atrium of South Coast Mall at midday this afternoon, called to a moment of silence whilst the anthem was played we all took a moment of solidarity to replay those memories and send good wishes to those for whom the memory is so painful. Least we would have done if the chap and chapesses on the Asthma Awareness table next to me had not been talking so loudly about the new inhalers they were giving out free. Or that lady behind me asking her son, in shrill tones, that it was a moment of silence and we had to be quiet because the lady asked for silence ok? Twice over. My snap to judgement is unfounded, seeing as we were at a shopping centre on a saturday afternoon in the middle of the Festival of Children.
Through our course of antibiotics Sam has literally been counting the days till he can have his face painted. "I will ask for a Lion this week without stripes ok mum?" Fine by me I tell him, quietly hoping for his success. Half and hour later we have reached our destination and a young lady transforms our boy into a Frankenlion. That is to say more of a green/blue roaring predator than a Savanah native. He took on his role with upmost concentration. Waving regally to all who looked twice at him bestowing them with gentile smiles and knowing nods. "Yes it's me", his expression seemed to say, "I really am the king of the jungle".
After his brush with brushes we filled up mum's tum with a quick lunch and then headed back to the stage to take in the afternoon's delights. First up were a local dance troop. The peppy choreographer proudly announces that the children about to perform dance around 20 hours a week (hang on - that's a full time job isn't it?!) and are the winners of a competition in Lake Tahoe. Moments later the small stage is filled with wannabe performers, legs in the air, smiles plastered on their face, lips and eyes painted 1982 crimson and baby blue. They perform a routine to Imagine in sparkly outfits and a sunflower as a prop. My favourite part was watching the children in the audience gaze up at them. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered. After the winner's encore we strolled up to the other stage to catch the end of a puppet show. A taciturn puppeteer took us through his quasi funny gags but held our attention with his troupe of marionettes. For the parents he added in a few educational questions on shapes and so on. No violence. If parents today saw the Punch (by name and nature) and Judy shows of my childhood there would be law suits. In fairness domestic violence probably has no place in children's shows. Others could counter-argue that this early exposure arms growing women as to what is acceptable or non acceptable behaviour. I'll stop there, the argument is thin to say the least.
After his reticent curtain call and passing out of his card we headed back to the main stage to catch a troupe of diminutive Polynesian dancers shaking the straw skirts off their bodies. Looked like a lot of fun. The drums were banging, the live guitars were strumming, there were hoots and cheers and singing. It wasn't till we reached the front seating area that I realised the dancers were no older than 7. Then the whole scene took on another colour. The singer I noticed was a very large man of a certain age, hollering out to the girls to smile and calling out the change of step. Routing after routine performed and the girls appeared to get younger and younger, gyrating their hips like wizened women. I turn to catch the look on the adults in the audience. I think they all have the same shade of grey awkwardness as I do. The girls on the stage appear be basking in the attention. All of them, no matter what kind of hair they have naturally, have their tresses out loose with a frizzy wave, the kind you get when you sleep in braids over night. I suppose this, along with the bikini tops of coconut shells is supposed to create an ambience of authentic Polynesia. I am secretly hoping they will bow soon. Just as I think it's time to clap does Pimp, sorry Caller, request the girls to go out into the house and find some partners. Sam looks over at me, eyes like saucers bright with anticipation. He cannot wait to get up there and dance. A breath later he is centre stage with a 6ft adolescent who is wiggling her hips like they are about to take off and he is being told to copy. He does. Obviously. With vim. Then the lap dance, sorry demonstration, is over and he is escorted down to rapturous applause. I am wondering where this prude in me has sprung out of, or whether it was best just to follow his lead. I mean, it just doesn't seem right, to tell someone to get off this stage at once young man, when it is just that that puts bread on our table. If only there was less of the come hither hips thing. Ah. I spose if he asks me to make him a straw skirt I will have to draw the line. Skirts are really not my speciality. I can just about stretch to a paper hat and then I call it a day.
To recover from Polynesia we take in the craft table where young children are beavering away at bracelets. On the table there is a piece of paper spelling out P.E.A.C.E. We wait patiently, in that truly British way of behaving like you are in a queue even when there is none and getting quietly frustrated when no-one notices its your turn. Eventually an elfine lady, flicking her fringe away from her face smiles, with a slight whiff of condescention down at us.
"Er, what do we do?" I ask. A little pathetically.
"We're making peace bracelets for the children in Africa."
"Oh." I say. With a slight frown. "Er, can we make one too?"
"Yeah, well, we ran out of twine so, no."
"You can make a card though?"
She hands Sam a card and he starts writing his name all over it. I love the way he scrawls the shapes on top of one another spelling out his name in the way you would build with wooden blocks. It looks bouncy. Like him. I watch him and wonder what on earth these children in Africa are going to think when they get this little piece of paper from a boy they have never met in writing they can't read, shimmering stickers all over it of racing cars with the american flag. I am fighting cynicism here so as not to spoil his enjoyment but what I am really wanting to shout out is "Why?!" Or, please can I offer some help that will really help. I ask nothing because I know it is going to come out all wrong and perhaps a little vicious. Really I ought to have picked up a leaflet and found out more about the whole thing and I wouldn't even be writing all this already. Instead I was all ruffled by the ladies behind the desk looking like they had just cleared the shelves of Abercrombie & Fitch. Textbook displacement of feelings of discomfort about those blooming coconut shells. It made my brain go all defiant.
After signing his card for an African child we went on to the caterpillar stand where a slightly confused young lad talked us through the making of a paper chain that transforms into a caterpillar with the help of googly eyes and a pipe cleaner. It was like being on the pre-school channel all over again. I'm a champion with the sticky tape I'll have you know. The young fella then tells Sam he can draw a mouth on the caterpillar. Boy looks up at him from under his green lion face paint and asks him what caterpillars mouths look like. The young lad flicks the bleached blonde streaked fringe out of his eyes and back onto his naturally jet black hair and looks expectantly at me. I catch myself looking up at him with the same expression as Sam. He holds his breath for but a brief moment of awkwardness and then chooses to laugh it off,"Just draw a big smile." he answers. Boy does. Seems almost happy with the answer. For now anyway.
Almost time for home when we catch the last show of the afternoon. Some Mexican folk dancing we are told. The director, we are told, is just making her way from Bloomingdales. Moments later on stage she enters tottering her voluptuous form on two spindly S&M type open strappy leathery shoes. She has red lipstick. A red rose worn to one side. Smiley, over made up eyes. I wonder if she might like to meet the Polynesian singer man. She announces the salsa dancers. They twinkle on, all false eyelashes. No older than 5. They look at us, a little shocked from under their hair pieces and wriggle a little to loud applause. The routines and performers that follow graduate in age via 9 year old samba dancers, to 11 year old polka people, paso doble adolescents and the grand finale of teenagers. The boy, at the centre dressed in jingling trousers and proper boots starts to stamp out and the crowd ignites. Our boy's face is big and round and utterly engrossed. As was I. My body started jiggering here and there so much so that a lady infront of me asked, all knowing, if I had someone up on stage? No, I answered, just enjoying the rhythm. She barely hid her confusion before turning back to watch. Sammy laughed at this later when I told him and quickly followed by asking me if she had actually seen his bit on stage?
She kind of flicked me the same sort of look that I got from a blow dried lady in her 4x4 yesterday as she caught me pushing Sam in a trolley from the local grocery store. Inside was his bike, my bag and a small bag of shopping. I looked back at her all apologetic, then defiant, then neither, realising she could not tell anything with me wearing big fat shades. Then, as we zig zagged home I had that horrible realisation that in California, to remove a trolley from the grounds of the supermarket is an offence. I am more than half way home when this sinks. I have a desperately tired boy and a husband who will be home in half an hour and for whom I wish to make dinner seeing as he is not altogether feeling great. More fool I really. I had assumed the hotel would be able to shuttle us home from the store. Only found out they had no drivers on a friday when it was too late. Do I carry bike, bag, shopping on eone side boy on other across busy roads on a sunbaked route? Or, do I just borrow the trolley for a minute and help everyone out a little? See, boy had biked to the park. He had biked through the park. He had biked around the park. He had biked to the playground. He had swung, jumped and tumbled with the three children of a friendly Mexican family. The mother and I struck up easy conversation, her anecdotes interspersed with sudden half crazed rants in Spanish for the girls to stay on a certain side of the climbing frame/fire engine. Later she explains, on account of a prophylactic (used) having been left in the sand. She carries on with tales of her life alternately nursing her one year old and looking bemused at my increasingly hybrid accent. She then tells me of her hopes to have her own cake business. My eyes light up. Cake.
I turn to help Sam with something and when I return there is a fat photo album of her work on the floor next to where I was sitting. I leaf through the pictures of her baked masterpieces, from her shaky early beginnings to the art work of her present day. I tell her she will make it a wonderful success. I wonder about asking her how much she would charge to make Frankenstein monster cookies on a stick, but, unusually, I have the forethought to talk it over with Cory first. We make loose plans to meet at the zoo next week. Sam and I get ready to leave, he peacocking with his helmet eager for the girls to catch his cycle moves. A three point turn later and he leaves with a flourish of manic pedalling, which, by the by, I have to jog to keep up with. The fact that I could actually do this tells me I am feeling better. That and enjoying coffee again. So you see, the grocery stop was impromptu, officer. Probably got me on camera and everything. Must have looked a sight, what with my charity shop bought cotton jersey and striped t-shirt, all wannabe navy chic. Perhaps that lady in her SUV was turning her nose up at the outfit rather than the fact that we looked like we were two homeless vagabonds on the run. Maybe she thought I was the one living rough and that I had kidnapped Sammy. Maybe- oh enough already.
Back to the end of my mall tale. The crowd starts to disperse. Sam walks over to me. Takes my face strongly in both his little hands and his eyes meets me square in the face. "MUM-" he begins, "Next time we come to the Festival of Children, I am going to do the whole show. On the stage." Announcement over he does an about turn and sits in the stroller. Plotting his acts I presume.
We take our time to breathe in the afternoon breeze outside. Nice to breath properly again. We walk through the winding sewer fed gardens and onto the hotel. Dad comes home, still croaky, still nervous about having to do a two show opening tomorrow with half a voice and not feeling quite himself. I've just about fed him as much chicken soup as a human can consume without growing wings and am praying that it does the trick. Before he goes to work, he asks us if we will join him in prayer. We nod, Sam shoving in half of his remaining peach into his mouth so he can hold our hands. Dad offers thanks for our time together, for the fact that we are travelling like many families but dream of. Then his eyes glaze. "Today is a special day," he tells Sam, throat barely masking a quiver. "Why?" asks Sam, as is usual for any statement, of anything, ever. "It's the day daddy decided he would like to live with mummy for the rest of his life." Now I'm a bit quivery. Green lion takes the emotion in his stride. He is used to living with us after all. Outside in the gardens below a wedding ceremony has just begun. We wonder at the slightly saccharin poignancy of this until we open the window and realise that the man leading the ceremony sounds like he is calling a play by play from the commentators box. Must do the lovey dovey thing for extra cash on the weekends, in these tough times.
And so to endings and beginnings. Ending of viruses in near sight, beginning of the new run of the show tomorrow afternoon.
Time to get that spring back in our steps.
Even if it is late summer.