… I could stop and think of a snappier title, but that sums it up, really.
Play School is an iconic Australian television show for kids. It’s been running since 1966 and is the second longest running children’s show in the world. Two presenters sing, dance, tell stories and make crafts on a variety of simple sets, with the aid of equally iconic toys with names like Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Scrap and Humpty.
(Excuse the dry introduction, I’m trying to lay some background details.)
There are also often live Play School performances that tour the country – and they really tour it, they don’t just visit the capital cities. I remember my mum taking us to at least one of these, and of course we grew up watching the show on TV.
I knew there was going to be a show here, and I was so excited to take Devin, but by the time we had money to buy tickets, they were sold out. I was extremely disappointed; this is not a city where live entertainment abounds, let alone live entertainment for kids. Every time I saw a poster or heard mention of it for the next month, I would sigh heavily and relive the disappointment.
On Thursday, the day before the show, we made a spur-of-the-moment change of plans and went out to eat lunch, rather than stay at home. So spur-of-the-moment, in fact, that I had to drive all the way home and back (a twenty minute round trip) because I had forgotten my wallet. By the time we were eating it was almost 3:30pm.
Just as we were finishing and gazing around the shopping centre food court, Jene said, “Hey, that’s Jay Laga’aia.”
And so it was, just he and another man (actually Bill the piano player for the show) wandering around the (quite small) complex.
I stared and thought. Should I take Devin and speak to him? Maybe ask for a photo? This was a rare opportunity. I’d never encountered someone well-known before. But no one else was approaching him – did they not recognise him, or were they just as shy as me? My heart was pounding as I grappled with conflicting feelings of anxiety and urgency.
Jene continued to urge me to do it, and finally, as they were heading out the doors, I found myself walking in their direction almost without thinking.
I had Devin by the hand, and I ushered him ahead of me as I apologised for interrupting. I introduced Devin to Jay, and Jay to Devin. Jay asked if we were coming to see the show, and I said that we’d missed out on tickets, so we were saying hello now.
“Oh, no! Hmm, well, I’ll you what Devin – you bring Mum along tomorrow anyway, get her to give me a call, and I’ll get you both in, free of charge.”
At this point my hands were shaking uncontrollably and I could barely grasp the card he handed me. I could feel the familiar flush spreading from my chest to my face. I thanked him very much and said we’d see him tomorrow, and just as we were walking away, Devin asked me, rather loudly, “Who’s that?”
Throughout the encounter Jene had taken himself off out of sight, and the first thing he said to me was how red I was. Wonderful.
Regardless, I felt incredible. I could scarcely believe I had done that. Me.
That night, I suddenly realised I would need a phone with credit to make the call the next morning. Frustrated with credit recharges and possibly feeling the last pulses of adrenalin from earlier, I impulsively ordered a phone on a plan before arranging to take Jene’s mobile with me in the morning. This is noteworthy because when I made the call and it went to message bank, I tried to hang up – and couldn’t. The phone wouldn’t respond. Jay Laga’aia would’ve received a voice mail of me saying, “Ohhh, it won’t hang up, Devy!”, frantic tapping and fumbling, Devin whinging and me hissing, “Devin!”, before I finally resorted to switching the phone off.
I bravely turned it back on and tried again; this time when it went to voice mail, I was able to hang up, glory of glories.
(I didn’t leave a message because… well, I froze. I can hardly deal with answering machines in normal circumstances, let alone incredibly unusual ones like this.)
A few minutes later, Jay called back, and soon Devin and I were in the auditorium, waiting for the show to start.
Devin picked a Humpty and shared his Le Snack… while making faces. Because, I don’t know. He’s a three-year-old.
The show went for 45 minutes, which is just about perfect. You can see the emphasis is on imagination – the washing basket was a tractor and a boat.
Devin was becoming rather fidgety by the end, complaining that he was hungry, but I wanted to wait for an autograph and thank Jay again. We didn’t have a long wait in line – they were lovely and friendly to everyone but still moved quickly because they had another show to perform soon after. We reached Abby first, she signed a card for Devin and slid it over to Jay as he was finishing with the kids in front of us. When he saw Devin’s name, he looked up to find him and gave him the most enthusiastic greeting.
Though they hadn’t really been stopping for photos, he told me to put Devin up on the table so I could get a picture. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get Devin to look away from the signed cards, but he did at least nod and say “yes” when Jay asked him if he’d enjoyed the show, which is more than the blank stare that he usually gives people. I said we’d had a great time and thanked him very much, and we said goodbye.
After a quick regroup on the stage and a closer examination of the autographs, we headed out to get some morning tea at the cafe downstairs. (Well, eventually, after Devin had watched the glass-walled lift go up and down a few times.)
Just as we had almost finished, both of us feeling calmer and refreshed, I got another call from Jay. He said he hoped we’d had a good time, asked what we were doing for the day and told me what his day entailed, and passed on his best wishes for Devin.
Such an amazingly nice guy!
I felt incredible after all of that. Proud of doing something for Devin that resulted in a positive chain of events for both of us. I really can’t articulate how significant this was for me… All I can say is, the me of even three months ago would not have done any of this.
I felt so buoyed by the experience that I let Devin ride up and down the carpark lift (a novelty in this city) for a while, and when we got home I registered us both to volunteer for National Tree Day – which is a story for another post.
So thanks, Jay Laga’aia – your kindness had more of an impact than you probably realise.