“Take a bow,” the teachers remind the class in loud whispers.
My three-year-old needs no encouragement, bending all the way down to the floor in a sudden pretentious swoop, as if she had just done a star turn at the Royal Albert Hall. She’s got the Diva thing nailed, clearly. Just a shame she didn’t sing a word or do a single action.
I’d been hearing about the playgroup’s Christmas concert for weeks.
“You’ll have to watch on a Zoom link mummy, because of coronavirus.” And I’d picked up on snippets of verses. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Guiding Wise Men From Afar”…
So I was understandably excited when the day of the big debut arrived, as well as touched by the staff’s commitment to ensuring the children could still take part amid such a challenging situation.
The performance itself was adorable and Maya got off on the right foot, grinning as she walked in before sitting neatly in her front-row chair. But with every minute that passed, my heart sank a bit further. By halfway through, she had slumped down and was twirling her ponytail, in the manner of an Allan Ahlberg character in Headmaster’s Hymn, his timeless parody of the primary school classic When a Knight Won His Spurs.
Once, for a split second, it looked like she was opening her mouth to join in, but alas, it was only a yawn. “Sing Maya, do something, anything,” I implored impotently at my laptop to the amusement of Mr R, and – during the post-match family analysis – other relatives who had watched too.
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I guess it was daunting performing to a camera in an empty church. We’ve seen world leaders falter on that front this year at normally packed events forced online by social distancing measures. Moreover, she’s not been at playgroup long, her planned March start-date postponed, so my “Pushy Mum” expectations were probably too high in the first place.
Even so, I couldn’t help feeling deflated.
And then, as Mr R urged me not to be disappointed, I recalled a passage from Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, which – fortuitously it turns out – I’m currently reading. In it, she describes her mother’s parental mindset as a “kind of unflappable Zen neutrality”.
She adds: “I had friends whose mothers rode their highs and lows as if they were their own. My mom was simply even-keeled…she monitored our moods and bore benevolent witness to whatever travails or triumphs a day might bring.”
As the former first lady herself concedes, such an approach is “nearly impossible to emulate”.
Agreed. The way I’m wired means I’ll always struggle not to travel the rollercoaster of my children’s lives. But the notion of staying level-headed in the face of both bad and good struck a chord with me.
To be able to treat “those two impostors” of “triumph and disaster” “just the same”, as Rudyard Kipling put it in his poem If, seems a smart strategy for tackling life, as a parent and more widely. This year more than ever, surely?
What I’ve learned from 2020 is to take every day as it comes, to try to remain calm as the turmoil rages on. I’ve no wish to underplay how hard this ongoing chapter has been for so many around the globe. We’ve had to confront death head-on, on a horrifying scale. Loved ones have been lost in the cruelest of circumstances, with distraught families reduced to saying goodbye online having not been able to see relatives for months.
I also worry about the financial burden on future generations and resulting poverty that will inevitably ensue from the economic crater Covid-19 has created.
Like everybody, I’ll be happy to see the back of 2020. And yet, for the Razaqs, it also brought new life in the form of our beautiful baby boy, Kamran, who made his entrance at the height of the first lockdown.
Our family became “complete” as Mr R wrote in a giddy “before I remember to stop being nice to you” text in the hours after the birth.
Kamran’s a powerful reminder, for us at least – as restrictions mean a different sort of Christmas and as deeper societal divisions threaten to tear us apart – that there’s always hope.
So, let’s try to move into 2021 with care and consideration for others, keeping faith that the end’s in sight.
Or, to quote Maya, who’s been watching Home Alone as I write this: “The family comes back in the end.”
Lindsay Razaq is a journalist and former P&J Westminster political correspondent who now combines freelance writing with being a first-time mum