"Sorry, excuse me...oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, excuse me, sorry" Pete muttered as he squeezed between a variety of knees and the backs of chairs designed for five-to-seven year olds. He hated nativity plays, thankfully at the school his three children attended only Reception children were given parts in the nativity play while the rest of the school sang songs, wrote letters to Father Christmas or made identically disgusting calendars to present proudly to their parents on Christmas Day.
Jake had successfully completed every 'Christmas' period without any trouble from a shy little boy aged five, to handing over an, admittedly quite good, card last year aged eleven. Now he was at secondary school he had come home with a Christmas card written in German, an interesting timeline of Jesus' life and a strong belief that Christmas was on the wrong day and that they should rewrite the calendar altogether.
Ben, on the other hand, was seven, and had performed the nativity play two years ago. He had been a sheep and had only been on the stage for two minutes before a harassed teacher hauled him off after he re-enacted a sheep peeing on the Angel Gabriel's bare feet and wailing because he was told to 'ssh!' after baaing so loudly. The year after a mangy looking orange wrapped up to look like a cracker had been handed over and this year one of the calendars-decorated-with-dried-pasta-for-no-apparent-reason had reared their ugly heads again.
It was the last day of the school term, Thursday 21st December, and Karen was playing Mary in the nativity play. Sue and Pete both realised that this was purely a superficial casting because of her cute face and golden curls, her character had obviously not been taken into account or a much smaller part with no words would have been awarded.
Pete reached the middle of the fourth row back and plonked himself into the seat beside his wife, the boys were at friends houses so that Pete and Sue could put all their effort into 'enjoying' Karen's performance.
"Sorry." He hissed apologetically at Sue, who gave him angry eyes. "Have I missed her?"
"No. You just missed them all singing 'Silent Night', which was dreadful." She replied. "But I think she'll be on in a minute.
"Thank God" Pete sighed.
A grumpy looking woman sat behind the Brockmans tapped Pete on the shoulder and motioned for him to shut up. Pete gave her a withering look and went to turn away, just before the man beside her quickly took advantage of being face to face.
"Do you mind scrunching down a bit, big boy?"
Pete, embarrassed, turned back to face the stage and sat up as tall as he possibly could, earning a sharp elbow from Sue but he felt that the pain was worth it.
Then Karen walked proudly onto the stage, beside 'Joseph' and 'Donkey'.
"I jutht don't know what to do Ma-wee" lisped 'Joseph' "All the inns are full"
Karen beamed out at the audience.
"What about that stable there?" She pointed towards the 'stable' painted onto a bed sheet and hung up on the left side of the stage. Word perfect, Pete felt a warm mix of relief and pride surge through his body.
"I'm not thure Mawee" 'Joseph' clearly had an unfortunate speech impediment but as he had a starring role Pete felt that his annoyance at the child was justified.
"It does look a bit..." Karen was hesitant, as she tried to remember the last word of her performance, apart from giving birth which she put a bit too much effort into. Sue mouthed 'dirty' to her daughter. Karen thought of her parent's discussion that they had in the summer about a dirt picnic bench.
She smiled and began her line again. "It looks a bit crap." She announced, her sweet face flushed with pleasure over her 'rescue' of the play.
The crowd began to laugh, many people gasped at the word coming out of such a little girls mouth. Then people began to stare at Pete and Sue who, mortified, stared at the stage, trying to ignore the murmurs that began to whisper around them. This was where another appalling rumour would emerge about them, which undoubtedly everyone would believe.
The rest of the play ran smoothly and without mishap, everyone clapped the children at the end and it was then that Pete leapt up to go and get the car, Sue, avoiding stares, dashed across the hall and collected Karen from the teachers in charge. Ignoring offers of mince pies and mulled wine, and plenty of intrigued parents obviously wanting to prove the schools latest 'parent rumour' to be true, she darted out of the school, dragging an irritated Karen with her.
"Mummy, I wanted a biscuit!" She whined.
"You can have one at home." Sue snapped.
"But, but, there were chocolate chips..."Karen continued "We never have chocolate chip biscuits."
"I'll buy you some tomorrow, Karen, I promise." Sue sighed, as she helped Karen to strap herself into her booster seat.
"But you said that they were overpriced...over...somethingy rubbish!" Karen moaned. "I only eat them at Maisy or Alexa's house."
"Oh." Sue was surprised, although Pete didn't know why, Karen had an unnaturally good memory.
"Why don't we just leave this now, you'll get biscuit tomorrow." Pete butted in.
"Ok." Karen smiled, contented.
Sue was putting Karen to bed when the question that she dreaded being asked came out of Karen's mouth.
"Why did everyone laugh when I said about the stable?"
Karen's innocent face looked up at Sue, who gave her a cuddle and decided it would be better to try and pretend that she didn't actually hear the question be asked, she walked towards the door and held it open to say goodnight again and blow her daughter a kiss.
"But why, Mummy?" She repeated.
"Umm..." Sue searched for a good reason, excuse, or anything that would let Karen sleep peacefully without worrying about some high ranking politician coming to arrest her for swearing.
"Why?" Karen pestered.
"They were overcome with how good you were at acting." Pete smiled, squeezing Sue's arm as he joined his wife in the doorway of Karen's room.
"Ok." Karen said, contented by the answer, and snuggled down into her bed and lay still for a couple of seconds. Then she sat up and fixed her eyes on Pete. "Can you read me Snail House?"
Sue smiled and slipped away.
Pete was stuck. He had to read that stupid book, no, it was a novel, now. It was late at night. Karen looked up at him with her big, brown eyes.
"Fine." He sighed, collected the book from the shelf and sat on Karen's bed.
"There was once a snail..." He began
"You're making it up!" Karen protested.
Pete groaned inwardly. Stupid 'Snail House'.