Nothing is really little, not even a mermaid

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On the evening before her performance at YMCA theatre camp, Little Bean says to me, “I need my hair to be red, do we have a wig?”

“What? Red?”

“My costume. I mean, the hair has to be red because I’m Ariel.”

That much is true. At the beginning of the week, she announced that she landed the prime role in this week-long camp project of the Little Mermaid. Obviously, she was Ariel. She had three days to memorize about ten pages of lines and music and find a costume for her final performance, which was tomorrow.

“Uh,” I start, “we don’t have a red wig.”

“Ok,” she shrugs. “I’ll just dye my hair.” She says this as if it’s nothing.

A quick couple phone calls to a nearby uncle and in short order we have in our possession one of those hair spray temporary color cans. Red. Just spray it on and not only do you have red hair, but every single thing you lean against is red as well!

My daughter has always leaned more toward outdoorsy pursuits, getting her hair muddy as she studies tadpoles for example. But Theatre Camp has provided a new and surprising sort of challenge. Words, and song. The fact that it’s the Little Mermaid helps, but memorization is a different sort of pursuit than, say, fishing or hiking. Putting on a half-hour theatrical show with a dozen second- and third-graders, and doing it in one week, seems to me, to be far more challenging.

But she dug in. The other day I found her splayed over her bed, her head hanging down, dialogue sheets on the floor.

“What are you doing,” I asked.

“Learning my lines,” she said. Ok, then.

She has always been, how can I put this, theatrical. She can learn quickly as well, if it’s really something she wants. She can’t get into the car in the morning in under five hours, but she can learn ten pages of dialogue, apparently, in less than a week.

But in a way, she’s uniquely suited for theatre. Being on stage is about being comfortable with exposure, and overcoming that wave of embarrassment if you make a mistake. Standing up in front of a crowd offers very little cover. You must be you to succeed. Fortunately, at least so far, she appears to be unable to become embarrassed.

The next day, after a few morning minutes in our driveway spraying red chemicals on her head, I find myself sitting at the tail end of a row of high, plastic chairs set up for parents of kids in the show. I’m the only dad in a sea of moms. The basement of the YMCA is chaos, as all the other camps and classes have also come to watch the show. Little Bean’s class has designed an undersea background of blue, and councilors squat in front of the stage waving a ribbon of blue paper matchet to emulate rippling water.

The councilors have shortened the musical of course, but all the beats are there; introducing the sisters, Ariel and Flounder and Sebastian, the shipwreck, the conflict with her father. You all know how this goes.

And Little Bean, as it turns out, DID memorize her lines, and didn’t even need much off-stage prompting when it came to her little dance numbers.

The young crowd laughed and interrupted. The parents cheered. The whole production was duly adorable in every way. And we sat through the ritual of children’s theatre that parents and their kids have been sitting through forever.

We watch and listen and we hear echoes of the baby girl she once was, and we’re reminded of the young woman she’s going to become. I swallowed hard, in fact, when my Ariel professed her love for Prince Eric.

“Guess you’re King Triton,” one of the mothers quipped.

Even the most trifling moments can provide clarity. Even in the old basement of a downtown YMCA surrounded by foosball and craft tables, we can find small, hidden revelations. Someday, it’ll all be part of your world.

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About this Author

Dan Szczesny

Dan Szczesny is a longtime journalist and author who lives with his wife and energetic daughter in Manchester. Dan writes a daily journal called Day By Day where you can subscribe for FREE to get essays, articles and updated. Learn more about Dan’s adventures and Day By Day at