“Wake up sleepy head,” I said to my daughter, Natalie.

“What? What?” she said, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“It’s time for your special treat,” my wife said.

“It’s not my birthday,” Natalie, said.

“It doesn’t always have to be your birthday to get a treat,” I said.

“Where we?”

“Newark,” I said.

“New-ark” my daughter burbled.

After we extricated Natalie from her car seat and got our parking ticket validated we walked over to the Newark Performing Arts Center. When we entered the building the foyer was packed with small children and parents. “Look!” Natalie cried, pointing to a little girl. “She’s wearing Peppa!”

“So are you,” I said. “You’ve got your Peppa shirt, pants and jacket on.”

“He’s wearing Peppa too!” Natalie said, looking at a little boy. “Peppa! Peppa!” In fact, almost all the children were wearing Peppa themed duds or holding Peppa Pig dolls of every variety.

Clutching her Peppa doll close to her chest, Natalie stared wide-eyed at the crowd, overwhelmed by the crush of people. “Hold Daddy’s hand, dear,” I said. “I don’t want you to get lost.” Then the usher took our tickets and lead us to our seats on front row in the third-tier mezzanine. Not the best seats in the house, but the event was one night only and we were lucky to even get in.

“So how often is Peppa on in your house?” I said to the father sitting next to me.

“Oh, my God,” he said, “Constantly.”

“Ever notice how when the characters have a barbecue they only serve salad?”

The father laughed. “I’m glad my daughter hasn’t noticed that, yet.”

The lights dimmed and the theme music from Peppa Pig began blasting over the loudspeakers. Then the curtain rose, revealing Natalie’s surprise – a live action Peppa Pig show. To say my daughter was happy would be a cosmic understatement. Her face lit up with such joy that I almost burst into tears.

“Peppa!” Natalie screamed, her voice mixing with the sounds of thousands of ecstatic children. “Peppa!”

When I was around Natalie’s age, my dad bundled me into our old Dodge and told me we were going to the store. When we got to our destination I thought we were in a store because they sold candy behind a glass counter. Then my Dad led me into a darkened auditorium and a movie began playing – Bedknobs and Broomsticks. We weren’t at the store! We were at the movies! I remember being very excited and my father smiling. Maybe he was almost crying too. For the next hour and a half I sat rapt, treated to a fantasy world where children flew on a magical bed.  It’s the first movie I remember seeing and my Dad’s little surprise remains a treasured memory to this day.

As I wiped my eyes I thought of all the wonderful little things my mother and father did for my brother and I when we were little – trips to the amusement park, go-cart rides, water slides, playing on the seashore, buying ice cream cones off a truck, reading to us at night; happy memories fused into our brains. There is no greater joy than making your children happy. Now, forty-five years later, I’m doing the same thing for my child. Natalie will probably remember this day for the rest of her life. I closed my eyes and thanked Providence for letting me live to see this day. Better late than never.

Of course, things didn’t run smoothly. Terrified Natalie was going to execute a swan dive off the railing into the seats below, my wife and I took turns holding her by the seat of her pants. Then we had to make sure Natalie didn’t toss her Peppa doll into the crowd. That would’ve been an epic disaster. Then, while she was jumping up and down, she split her lip on the railing. Cue the screams.

“Great,” I said, daubing the blood off her face with a handkerchief. “Now Child Protective Services is gonna be calling us.”

After much cuddling, soothing and a potty break, Natalie regained her bearings and sat rapt, watching Peppa and her friends as they cavorted on the stage, singing songs, jumping in muddy puddles and chasing each other around the stage. All of Natalie’s favorites came out to play – Daddy and Mommy Pig, Mr. Bull, Suzy Sheep, Danny Dog, Pedro Pony, and Rebecca Rabbit. And when The Bing Bong Song began playing, Natalie sang along at the top of her lungs. But when the song was over Natalie began crying for no reason.

“Meltdown,” my wife said. ‘She’s overstimulated. Maybe we should go.”

Go?  I thought to myself. We paid 120 bucks for these tickets!

“Hang in there,” I said to my wife. “It’s almost over.” Then I told Natalie. “Go the distance, kid. There’s ice cream later.” My daughter calmed down immediately. Ah, the sugary confection bribe. Works every time.

The show ended and the curtain fell. When the lights went back on I could see the faces of happy children and hundreds of shell shocked adults. “That was brutal,” I heard one parent say. When we left the theatre I saw a bar had been set up, probably for the next event, but I managed to resist the urge to down a double scotch. I wonder if my Dad drank a few beers after he took me to that movie years ago. Sometimes making your kid happy is nerve-wracking. That’s the price of parenthood but it’s a price worth paying; always and forever. I hope Natalie will experience the same joy with her own children one day.

Riding towards home and ice cream, Natalie sat in her seat – happy and content – singing  The Bing Bong Song with gusto. Happy memory made. I hope my wife and I will give our daughter many, many more.

Mommy and Daddy love you, Natalie. Always and forever.

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