…but the much younger guy who was playing him onstage in the musical Keating!.
When the last ever season of Keating! The Musical wrapped up in Sydney, it was accompanied by mixed feelings of sadness and relief for me. Sadness because it was the end of an amazingly successful run of a brilliant show that had thrilled audiences all over the country for three years. Relief because for most of my husband’s eight-month tour I was either pregnant, single parenting two small children or carting said small children on and off planes to join their father in hotels around the country.
The Melbourne season was the most memorable leg of the tour, mainly because it’s our hometown but also because I was due to give birth at some point during the four-week run. We prayed that the active little sprocket inside me would have the courtesy to arrive on her due date. That way I would have a full four weeks of support before my husband, Mike, who was playing the lead in the show, had to head off around the country again.
And so it was.
On a Wednesday night, the twenty-seventh of February, just around the time Mike was finishing his first number on stage, my waters broke. Our first child had to be induced hours after my waters broke, so I didn’t feel an urgent need to let him know. However, I couldn’t help recalling the two of us laughing about the remote possibility of this second baby deciding to arrive within the two-hour window that Mike was on stage, so I timed my call for the show’s interval. Our plan had been for me to call the assistant stage manager, should anything happen in the small two hour window of the day that Mike was on stage, and inform her that all systems were go. I dialled the number, feeling calm and sure of what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.
Mel answered the phone with a startled “Fiona!”
I was an oasis of calm.
“Hiya Mel, I’m just ringing to let you know that my waters have broken, but….”
Mel was not an oasis.
“THEY’VE JUST STARTED THE SECOND ACT! HE JUST WENT ON! SHOULD I DO SOMETHING?! ARE YOU OK?!”
One could be forgiven for thinking that it was Mel who was in labour. I assured her I was “fine and no, no contractions yet, and yes, just wait ‘til the end of the show before you tell Mike so he doesn’t freak out”. I hung up the phone, dragged my hospital bag into the hallway, called my parents to ask them if they could come and pick up our four-year-old, then sat back to watch the climax of a particularly excellent episode of Six Feet Under.
Mike rang within five minutes in a state of controlled panic, fully prepared to bail out mid-show. I, the shimmering oasis, assured him that there was no need as nothing was actually happening just yet. As the boys came on for their encore that night, Mike announced that they’d have to speed things up a bit tonight because his wife was in labour.
After seven-and-a-bit hours of what can only be described as…well…indescribable pain, Abbie June McLeish, arrived into the world covered in goo and gunk, all purple and swollen and screaming, and perfect.
The following five months leading up to the end of the tour passed in a whirlwind of planes, taxis, long phone calls, very little sleep, exhilaration, exhaustion and the occasional mini-breakdown.
There were many night during one of my two week solo parenting stints at home,while Mike was on tour, when I would sit on the couch breastfeeding my newborn at 3am, eyes hanging down to my stretched, post-birth belly button, half-watching Jessica Simpson confesses to once having acne in the same way one might confess to an accidental murder in a Pro-Activ infomercial. In those dark silent wee hours I would quietly sob as I contemplated the horrific thought that in three short hours my four-year-old first-born would be up, bouncing around like a pill popping raver. There’d be the usual incessant demands for breakfast, park and bike rides and as there was no husband around, I’d be dealing with all of this alone. Good times.
Looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing for the experience it gave all of us as a family. We’ll always have the photos of that insane and wonderful period flicking over on the digital frame in the kitchen to remind us of the places we saw and the people we met. Despite all of the craziness and chaos, we proved that, if nothing else, kids are adaptable and can be dragged all over the country without any long-term damage being done.
If only I could say the same for their parents.
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