17th December 2019
In the first of our special series of articles for Christmas, Peter Wright tells the heartwarming story of his seven-year-old daughter, who hoped for a speaking part in her school’s nativity play.
"I’d like a speaking part in the Christmas play," my seven-year-old daughter said as she turned her face towards me with a hopeful smile and wishful look in her pale blue eyes. My heart raced. I felt that sudden rush of adrenaline and my palms began to sweat as I fought that primitive paternal urge to protect her.
It was August. We were sat in the consulting room of our local hospital. After months of waiting and worrying we finally had our first appointment with a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT). Since about the age of three our daughter has stammered. At first, we went to our GP who gave us a few leaflets and reassured us she’d probably grow out of it. She didn’t.
Neither my wife or I stammer, so as parents we had agonised over how best to support her as we tried but failed to find adequate sources of support and information. Our daughter’s stammer has changed over the years. At times she stammered over certain sounds, other times she would block and no words would come out at all. Sometimes it wouldn’t be noticeable, and we’d delight in hearing her chattering away. Other times we’d have painful tears in our eyes as we watched her desperately trying to force her way through a sentence and struggling to breathe, or even worse — she’d go silent.
I was elated to see her so happy, and yet I could feel the anxiety building inside me. How would she cope in front of all those people?
I remember one occasion, when she was six. It was Christmas Day and she had been really struggling with her speech, made worse by the excitement and tiredness of the 'big day'. I’d tried to support her, but with my poor knowledge of what she needed I hadn’t handled the situation well. As it got to bedtime, I held her in my arms as she sobbed uncontrollably. "Why won’t it go away, Daddy?" she cried. “I hate it, I want it to go away.” It broke my heart.
Fast forward to the summer, and as the session with our SLT drew to a close, she finished by giving us a list of things that might help and techniques to try. She turned and asked my daughter if there was anything she could think of that might help her. That’s when she said it. “I’d like a speaking part in the Christmas play.” Our SLT noted it down and said that she would put it in the report that she’d send back to the school, but that she couldn’t promise anything.
A few months later as the school began its preparations for Christmas, our daughter’s teacher, who was kind and supportive, approached my wife nervously. "She’s asked for a speaking part in the play," she said. "I’m happy to give her a part but thought I should check with you first" Later that week, our daughter emerged from school beaming. "I’ve got a speaking part, Daddy, I’ve got a speaking part!" The joy on her face made me well up. I was elated to see her so happy, and yet I could feel the anxiety building inside me. How would she cope in front of all those people?
Taking to the stage
Christmas grew nearer and the day of the play came. We got there extra early and managed to get seats right at the front. The hall was packed. My stomach wouldn’t stop spinning. Had we done the right thing in approving my daughter’s speaking role? It was too late now if we hadn’t.
The audience hushed and the play began. We anxiously sat and listened as each child took to the stage to dutifully and passionately perform what they had rehearsed. And then the moment came. The Three Wise Men entered, followed by their apprentices. Our daughter was apprentice Wise Man number three. As the time came for her to say her lines, we held our breath.
I know every parent feels super proud at moments like those, but I was just overwhelmed with complete admiration for this gutsy, courageous, brave little girl. She spoke her lines loudly, boldly and confidently, completely owning the stage for her few moments in the spotlight. Then she took her place in the chorus line ready for the final song. She’d done it!
She saw where we were sitting and shot us a proud smile. I gave her a double thumbs up. She’d done us proud and she knew it. She had done herself proud.
She’d done us proud and she knew it. She had done herself proud.
At the end of term, she was presented with her class teacher’s award. On the back it read: 'You performed with such confidence and impressed us all. Well done!'
My daughter taught me so much that day, about courage, resilience and not letting anything stand in the way of following your dreams. She taught me to ask people what help they want, rather than assuming I know what they need. My daughter also taught me that she has a very promising career in public speaking ahead of her, if she wants it.
Picture: Peter with daughter (right) and family.
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