“You’ll never guess what, Daddy: I’m going to be in a play at school. AND…it’s all about Bethany Hen.”
So began a rushed conversation with my 4-year-old earlier this week, amidst the 6.45am madness of simultaneously ironing a shirt, boiling an egg for the eldest, and explaining to the youngest why it really, honestly wasn’t unreasonable of me to have put her Peppa Pig dress in the washing machine.
“YES, Daddy,” came the world-weary reply, eyebrows raised in exasperation at my failure to understand what this was all about.
“Oh, that’s nice. Anyway…HAS ANYONE SEEN MY SHOES?”
And after that, I didn’t give Bethany Hen any further thought. Amidst the early morning madness, this all seemed fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and, although I wondered why my daughter’s class was doing some kind of farmyard play at this time of year, I never bothered to enquire further. I was already running late, I had a train to catch, and I presumed that a quick pat on my daughter’s head – accompanied by a smile that was vaguely directed at her – would suffice.
Fast forward on to this morning. Our house once again resembled some kind of modern art installation (think an even more messy but slightly less disturbing version of Tracey Emin’s bed, mixed with a Banksy-esque mural being drawn on the wall by a toddler). My daughter was now attempting to discuss Bethany Hen in further detail, this time skillfully choosing a time when I wasn’t attempting to do 14 things at once.
“You know I told you about my school play, Daddy?”
“Yes, I remember,” came my reply, as I deliberately made eye contact – this time hopefully giving the impression that I was actually listening.
“Well,” she said, with a suitably dramatic pause. “I’ve got some exciting news about Bethany Hen…”
By this point, I was genuinely intrigued.
“I’m going to be Mary, Daddy!”
At that moment, as she beamed with pride and looked to me for a mixture of surprise, approval and encouragement, I finally realised what this was all about. Far from being a play about chickens, my little girl had simply become slightly confused about the word Bethlehem.
Thankfully, I had a couple of minutes to spare before needing to leave the house. As I brushed my teeth, this 4-year-old Virgin Mary-to-be sat at my feet telling me all about why her news was so special. She had evidently remembered the entire casting process, and happily reeled off the various roles her friends will be playing (apparently, Dylan is genuinely over the moon to have been chosen as the camel). It was still a whirlwind of activity – but for an all-too-brief period, I was able to share my daughter’s excitement about what is, in her world, something momentous.
Although it’s only November, I’ve already decided on one of my new year’s resolutions: find a time, each morning, to give my children my full attention, as I listen to one thing they want to share. When the demands of the workplace are never more than an iPhone-tap away, and we feel exhausted before the day has even begun, it can be so easy to forget to enjoy and appreciate those snatched seconds of happiness.
And my priority for before this year is out? To make sure I book a morning off work and witness my little Mary in action, on the road to Bethany Hen.