Took the kids out to see a play, Take Me Back To Harlem, that was being put on by the students at a local youth center. The play was done reasonably well, but if you’ve ever taken even a small group of kids anywhere en masse, you will not be surprised to hear that it was an extremely stressful event por moi.
A couple of years ago, while living with Grams in a tightly-packed neighborhood, I had a dog who was a real barker (hang with me, I’m going somewhere with this…). She was a neurotic, high-strung Lab mix of some unknown provenance who would, at the slightest provocation, let fly with a loud, seemingly unending chorus of Booorrorororroooorrooooo boororrooorrrrooroooororroo boorroororoooorooooorrorooro…etc, ad nauseaum.
This was bad enough in the day, but became especially nerve wracking at night, when not only did the piercing sound wake both of us out of a dead sleep but probably all of the long-suffering neighbors as well, some of whom were quite elderly or handicapped and all of whose eyes I could feel turning toward me through the darkened walls of their peace-shattered homes. Every night I would lay there, edgy, tensely hoping the dog would just sleep through the night. Every passing car, every loose and roaming animal, every passing stranger, every random and unexpected noise made me twitch and flinch and hold my breath, hoping she didn’t notice, hoping it wouldn’t set her off. Sometimes my wish was granted. Most times, it was not. And more times than not, this wish-failure meant I had to get up, get my robe on and go outside to shut her up. It was exhausting – night after night after night, either being woken from sleep by her barking or kept from it by the anticipation of such.
Going to the play was like that. We had ten kids with us, several of which are what I consider to be our “hair trigger” wall-bouncers. It doesn’t take much, if anything, to set those few off being loud and silly and impervious to attempts to dial them down. Combine that with being out of their regular environment and in a setting least conducive to handling such breakdowns gracefully and, well, nervous systems suffer.
This was further compounded by the roller-coaster pace of the play, which consisted of rousing song and dance numbers in the Jazz Harlem style that got everyone all excited and bouncy, interspersed with nerve-wrackingly long, quiet dialogs being delivered with almost no action by younger actors without enough voice projection to be heard, resulting in long stretches of boring, quiet periods which were, quite frankly, designed to drive easily bored and hyperactive kids into acting out. Take note also that the theater was filled with rows upon rows of said hyperactive and easily bored kids, many of whom never did settle down and only got more vocal and active as the play progressed. Add to that the knowledge of how kids feed off each other in those circumstances, and you have the misbehavior equivalent of an armed thermonuclear weapon on a randomly accelerated countdown – you know it’s going to blow, and probably sooner rather than later, but you don’t know when and you don’t know what’s going to set it off.
So I spent most of the play alternately worried sick that they were just going to fall out all over the place and trying to use whatever force of psychic will I could summon to keep a lid on them. I butt-clenched my way through every lull in the action, every muffled dialog, every upswell of laughter or chatter around us, every misbehaving kid nearby, every passing minute that nothing happened, every dangerous second passing to a silent litany of pleasepleasepleaseplease…
Yeah, well, you get the picture. Which makes it all the more amazing that for the most part, nothing happened. We wound up with the best behaved group in the entire auditorium. A few giggles, some fidgeting and a bit of chit-chat, but otherwise they were all but perfect, while all around us the other groups degraded at a rate that was downright pity-making for their handlers. We did have a bit of trouble keeping them quiet and sane on the ride over and back, but during the show they did frighteningly well.
None the less, my nerves are shot. I came home, cracked open a moderately alcoholic beverage, sucked down some salt and fat in the form of chips and guacamole, scarfed a few bits of chocolate and otherwise did what I could to mellow out the harshness. I’m still in recovery, but I’m almost feeling human.
I just hope there’s something left of me by the end of this adventure.