By Jennifer MacLean
I’ve been supportive of all the plays and concerts at my son’s school. I’ve sat and smiled through a seemingly endless rendition of “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.” I’ve taken photos of every Tweedledum and candy-cane character in the class and handed out copies to other parents. I’ve even managed all the costume requests through the years. I’ve found black long underwear in May for a wolf costume. I’ve created an Evil Marshmallow (white long underwear stuffed with pillows and a spiky dog collar, in case you were wondering). I even managed to clothe a Gangsta’ Cockroach. But last year threw me for a loop.
I knew the roles were being handed out, so I asked Liam at dinner what he would be doing in this year’s school play.
“The butler,” he said.
“That’s wonderful!” I congratulated, silently cursing. Where the heck was I going to get a size 8 black suit and cummerbund?
“And the bishop,” he added.
“That’s good too!” A white cape and a red hat? Okay, I can do that.
“And a prince.”
“Wow.” This might be more challenging. And it was adding up.
Then came the doozy.
“And a Nazi.”
The Grades 4, 5 and 6 were staging The Sound of Music, and Liam was apparently playing all the small roles, including a Nazi soldier.
The play is great, of course, and it would be a real accomplishment for the children to learn all the songs and the lines, not to mention build all those Alps for props. But I sensed awkward conversations ahead.
I hadn’t planned on sitting down with Liam to explain war atrocities just yet — he was only eight years old. But, sure enough, I found myself forced to when he addressed me with a “Heil Hitler” and a forward arm salute. “Whoa,” I exclaimed. “You cannot joke about that. Ever. It is not funny.”
I explained who Adolf Hitler was, who the Nazis really were, and what they did. I didn’t get into details about gas chambers or torture, but I told him that there was a time in Europe when the Nazis were in power and they killed millions of people. I told Liam that my grandpa, his grandma’s father, went away to war to stop them. I explained that Nazis were full of hate and this was a sad, terrible chapter in the world’s history. He asked me if there were still Nazis in the world. I said no. There are no neo-Nazis or skinheads in The Sound of Music, so I figured I didn’t need to scare him further.
Next up was telling friends and family who asked what role Liam had landed in the school play. One friend joked at least the costume was easy; I just had to find a brown shirt. I commiserated about this in the schoolyard one day with Captain Von Trapp’s mother.
“Tell me about it,” she sighed. She was helping out with the costumes, and described the look of horror on her contractor’s face when he came into the living room and saw the stack of swastika arm bands she had been sewing.
When the night of the play arrived, I was so proud of my little boy. He remembered all his lines. He served the drinks without spilling. He sang his solo in “The Lonely Goatherd” with gusto. But when he unfurled a giant swastika over the Von Trapp family home, I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel. Pride? Horror?
In the end, it was a great experience. The play was challenging and a wonderful learning opportunity for all the kids and it gave me the chance to talk to my son about an important, but horrible time. I admire the teachers and the school staff for being brave enough and dedicated enough to take on that particular play.
But I’m not putting the pictures on Facebook.
Jennifer MacLean’s heart melts every time her son remembers his lines, even if he doesn’t remember to say them slowly enough or loudly enough for people to hear.