Motherwit: Story Time

Motherwit: Story Time

Nov 15 Moterwit Art

By Elizabeth Johnson

Scene: Large room with toys in the lower level of a library. Moms, nannies, and one dad sit on square cushions arranged in a circle on the floor; approximately 25 two-year-olds play, talk, stare, point, jump, run, trip, cry, and generally display the full spectrum of toddler behavior.

Kate: C’mon, Gwen, we’re blocking the stairs. Don’t you want to go in?

Gwen: No.

Kate: But you told me earlier this morning that you wanted to come to story time, remember?

Gwen: Remember?

Kate: So let’s go in and say hi to our friends.

(Gwen sits down on stairs).

Kate: We’re here for you, sweetie, not for me. (muttering to herself as she surveys the room) Definitely not here for me. Definitely not my idea of fun. More like my idea of hell.

Gwen: Mama, what’s your idea of hell?

Kate: What? Stop listening so closely! Would you rather go home now?

Gwen: Would you rather go in now?

(Kate and Gwen descend the remaining steps into the room. A mom stacking blocks with her son waves to them).

Kate: Gwen, say hi to Julie and Zack!

Julie: Zack, say hi to Kate and Gwen!

(Zack and Gwen look sideways at one another. Zack gets into a downward-facing dog pose. Gwen sticks her finger up her nose).

Julie: It’s so good for them to have this chance to socialize.

Kate: Absolutely. (winces as Gwen picks up a bracelet of bells from the floor and jingles it in her face) And think how great it will be when they’re in preschool and they have even more opportunities to socialize. We might not even have to do this kind of thing anymore!

Julie: Um, I don’t know what you mean?

Kate: Ha ha ha, nothing!

Julie: Zack and I love story time.

Kate: Absolutely. Love it.

Julie: This time when they’re young just goes by so fast.

Kate: So fast. I know.

Julie: Have you guys started trying for another one yet?

Kate: I don’t know, sometimes I think one is all I can handle.

(Julie stares at her).

Kate: Ha ha ha!

Julie: Ha ha ha!

Gwen: (pointing) Mama, what’s he doing?

(Julie and Kate turn and see that Zack has approached a group of boys who are stacking cushions into a tower. Zack picks up a cushion and chucks it, hitting one boy in the face. The boy starts to cry. Julie jumps up, apologizes to the boy’s nanny, and drags Zack away).

Julie: We don’t throw things when we can hit other people!

Gwen: He hit that boy.

Julie: It was an accident.

Gwen: It was not an accident.

Kate: (hastily) She’s in this phase where she likes to say the opposite of whatever you say.

Julie: Oh. How cute.

Gwen: How not cute.

(Librarian appears and counts the number of children. There are now 40. She looks at the ceiling and appears to say a quick prayer).

Librarian: It’s really wonderful that so many of you could join us today.

(No one hears her).

Librarian: (louder) This program is designed for fewer children so we’ll all have to be on our best behavior!

(A little girl runs into the wall and begins screaming).

Librarian: (shouting and waving her arms) Over here! Everyone come sit in a circle!

(The adults corral the children and get most of them sitting within a few minutes. The librarian begins reading a book. It’s difficult to hear her over the ongoing noise. Those kids not physically restrained by an adult soon begin wandering around the room. One girl starts singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider).

Librarian: (stops reading) Is this working? They seem a little restless.

Gwen: It’s not working.

Librarian: (closing book) How about we dance instead?

(Librarian turns on a CD. Music plays and a cheerful song instructs the children to engage in a variety of movements).

Kate: Can you flap like a bird?

Gwen: No.

(Song plays: Reach for the sky!).

Gwen: I don’t want to do it.

Julie: (dancing energetically) This is so fun!

Kate: Absolutely! (muttering) I could really use a drink.

Gwen: Mama, what do you use a drink?

Kate: I just said I need a drink of water! Do you want to keep dancing or do you want to go home and make lunch? You probably want to keep dancing.

Gwen: I want to go home and make lunch.

Kate: Well, if that’s what you want! Wave good-bye to Zack and Julie!

Gwen: Wave hello to Zack and Julie.

Julie: Are you sneaking out?

Kate: We’re sneaking out!

Julie: See you next week?

Kate: Sure! I’ll probably be crazy enough to come back.

(Julie stares at her).

Kate: Ha ha ha!

Julie: Ha ha ha!

Elizabeth Johnson is a freelance writer and mother of a three-year-old. She writes on parenting topics and for the children’s market.


Back to November 2015 Issue

My Super Man

My Super Man

By Daisy Alpert FlorinIMG_3335

Oliver, my four-year-old, hung his Batman backpack in his cubby, a still point amidst the chaos of preschool drop off.  He was wearing a Batman t-shirt with removable cape, a Spiderman sweatshirt and Justice League sneakers.  Underneath, he wore his underwear backwards so the picture of Iron Man was facing forward, inviting what I can only imagine was a wicked wedgie.  After hanging up his backpack, which held a Spiderman lunchbox and water bottle, he headed toward his classroom clutching a book we had made by stapling together pictures of Spiderman from the Internet like a talisman.  As I watched him walk away, his sneakers lighting up with each step, I wondered what exactly was going on with my youngest son.

Oliver’s fascination with superheroes began about a year and a half ago, shortly before he turned three.  What started out as a mild interest in Spiderman, Superman and Batman quickly expanded to include all superheroes both major and minor.  His collection is vast, added to by well-meaning family members and friends: toys, books, clothing, games, a piggy bank, dozens of figurines and–the crown jewel–a silkscreen canvas of a dozen superheroes purchased at great expense by Grandpa.  Oliver subscribes to a superhero magazine, and we’ve borrowed every book and video from the library numerous times, renewing them again and again and returning them only with great reluctance.  Along the way, he has acquired an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things superhero: costumes, superpowers, alter egos, villains, even the alter egos of the villains.  He knows the difference between DC Comics and Marvel and can list the members of the Avengers, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

And then there are the costumes, colorful, synthetic bodysuits with velcro closures that make the transformation complete.  (If you pay extra, you can buy the “muscle version” in which strategically placed foam inserts give your preschooler a bulging six pack and pecs.)  Oliver knows wearing costumes to school is a no-no.  “When I come home, can I put on my Captain America costume?” he often asks me on the way to school.  And sure enough, as soon as he gets home, he will pull the costume on over his clothes, a look of relief on his face, like slipping into a hot bath at the end of a long day.  I have taken him on errands in full Batman attire, inviting smiles and comments.  “Hey, Batman,” a clerk at Costco once said as we walked past.  Oliver grabbed my arm and pulled me toward him.  “He thinks I’m Batman!” he whispered.

When I let him, Oliver loves nothing more than to scroll through images of superheroes on the computer.  Then he begs me to print them out so he can tape them to his walls.

“Don’t you think that’s scary, Oliver?” I asked him one night, pointing at the picture of Spiderman battling the Lizard that hung over his bed.  The Lizard’s claws were sharp and his muscled limbs burst through the seams of his lab coat.

“Nope,” he said.  “Remember, Mom?  I’m not scared of anything!”

Was that really true?  When I taught preschoolers, I often told parents who worried about the aggressiveness of superhero play that this kind of play was normal because it helped children feel safe in a world that is constantly revealing new dangers.  But while I understood this intellectually, I worried about my own son.  Was his world so scary?  Had I done something to make him feel nervous or insecure? When my daughter, Ellie, went through her princess phase, I had similar worries about the extent of her identification with these pampered damsels in distress.  Would she grow up with unreasonable expectations of what she could be?  But in hindsight–Ellie, now eight, rolls her eyes at princesses–I see that much of my worrying was for nothing and that as much as it irritated me at the time, I actually missed the phase.  Would Oliver outgrow superheroes one day as well, trading them in for more dude-like passions like skateboarding and fantasy football?  Perhaps.

But one night, while reading Spider-Man’s Worst Enemies for the umpteenth time, I wondered what I was worrying about.  Dressed in Batman pajamas, Oliver snuggled close to me as I read, his strawberry blond hair shining in the light of the reading lamp, his thumb planted firmly in his mouth.  “Anyone who hurts people or breaks the law is Spider-Man’s enemy,” I read.  “As long as Spider-Man is around, his enemies will never win!”  So maybe Oliver will never outgrow superheroes and become a guy who goes to Comic-Con dressed like the Green Lantern.  Maybe he’ll also grow up to be someone who believes in justice and in the power of good over evil.  I looked down at my son, his cherry brown eyes framed with soft eyelashes curved like commas, and reflected on what amounts to my parenting philosophy: What’s the worst that could happen?

Daisy Alpert Florin is a staff Editor at Brain, Child. She lives and works in Connecticut.

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I’ve Earned It

I’ve Earned It

By Kate Haas
0-3A few weeks before my oldest son entered kindergarten, we attended a playground get-together for incoming students and their parents.

“This is my last kid to start school,” one mother announced mournfully. “The house will seem so empty. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.”

I regarded her with envy and astonishment. “All that time to yourself? Oh, you’ll find something to do.” I gave her the comradely grin of one mother-in-the-trenches to another.

She looked at me as if I’d insinuated that she might take up exotic dancing.

“Yeah, I’ll find something,” she said, stiffly. “I’ll keep busy.” She moved hastily away.

Clearly I had made a major faux pas.

There’s hardly a moment in the day when I’m not tending to one or both of my young boys. I chose to stay home with them and don’t regret that decision, but I’ve always treasured solitude, and I never really made my peace with the loss of it that motherhood so abruptly imposes.

My husband and I do our best to give each other breaks, and I savor every moment of these interludes. Finally, a breather. A chance to shed the ever-present sense of parental responsibility and simply exist by myself. Still, with two active kids and a slew of home improvement projects on the agenda, time alone these days is mostly like bad teenage sex: unplanned, unpredictable, and it doesn’t last long enough.

All this will change next year when my youngest starts preschool. His three mornings of singing and art projects will translate to ten and a half hours a week of freedom for me. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

For years, I’ve been in the thick of hands-on, day-in, day-out mothering. A break in the intensity, even one represented by a few mornings of preschool, has long figured in my mind as some sort of Holy Grail. Like everyone else, I have ambitions, projects that have long simmered on the back burner. Those hotly anticipated free hours represent the opportunity to start fulfilling them. But until that conversation at the playground, I hadn’t realized that some parents actually mourn the end of the daily round I’m chafing under.

A few days later, I encountered another mother, an older woman whose youngest had just entered first grade. Tentatively, I asked whether she had misgivings about all of her children being in school. She looked at me as if I were crazy.

“Are you kidding? I work from home and now I can do it in peace.” She sized up my two-year-old in his stroller. “Preschool next year?”

“Yeah. Three mornings. I’ll have ten and a half hours of free time. Not that I’m counting.”

“Nothing wrong with counting,” said my new acquaintance. She leaned closer, as if to impart a hard-won secret. “Listen. You might want to look into part-time work when your baby starts school. That’s fine later on, if you want to. Or if you need to, of course.” Her voice took on the cadence of a preacher or a politician.  “But not right away. That first month, you enjoy yourself. Watch a movie, go to a bookstore; whatever you want. As long as it’s something just for you. Because after all these years of changing diapers and cleaning up after those kids, you’ve earned it.”

I continued my walk, her words echoing in my ears. Earned it. Have I? Thanks to a combination of luck, location, and frugality, our family can live on one modest income. I do plan to return to work, but not until the boys are older. Theoretically, I could use my free time to eat dark chocolate and watch all five seasons of The Wire, which I missed the first time around. Have I earned that?

More to the point, do I regard the work of motherhood this way? As labor for which I’m racking up invisible points? For which I deserve some compensation beyond that of seeing my children grow up to be decent human beings?

It feels petty to admit, but there’s a part of me that does believe a reward is in order. Sure, I do this job for love. But it’s work, all the same. I’m not getting a salary for it. Social Security won’t credit me for these years at home. Neither am I likely to land a part-time job during those preschool mornings. Time to myself is the only payment I can expect to receive at this stage. And frankly, from where I stand, time alone ranks right up there with gold.

As a parent, I’ve put my children’s needs before my own, wholeheartedly, day after day, discovering in the process a capacity for acting unselfishly that still surprises me. I don’t like to think about how often, lately, it’s just an act. After six years, stay-at-home parenting is wearing me down. I love my children dearly, but I don’t mind admitting it: not only will my eyes be dry on the first day of preschool, they’ll be alive with anticipation.

Finally, time alone. Not with one ear on alert during the unpredictable span of a child’s nap, but for hours on end. Time to dig into long, complex novels, to compose that letter to my senator; to organize the basement (well, maybe not). Time to assess who I am, now that the intensity of the early years has lifted.

Sure, I’ve earned that.

Kate Haas edits creative nonfiction at Literary Mama and publishes Miranda, a long-running print zine about motherhood and other adventures. Learn more about her writing at

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Our Preschool Potty Training Policy

Our Preschool Potty Training Policy

By Carolyn Rabin

0-14We are teetering on the edge of disaster.  My three-and-a-half year old son is one potty accident away from being kicked out of preschool.  The first strike was on Tuesday.  When I picked Jacob up from school Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that he was not wearing the same pair of pants he had on that morning.  Instead, he sat at the arts and crafts table in a rumpled pair of blue pants that is usually stashed away in his cubby.

“Jacob, what happened to your pants?”  I asked, my throat tight.

“What?” Jacob said, focused intently on chasing a glob of green paint around his paper.

“Honey, what happened to the pants you had on this morning?”

“OOOOOh.  I changed my pants,” Jacob explained with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Yes, but WHY?”

“My other pants were full of peepee.”

I looked over at Jacob’s cubby and there it was.  Taunting me.  The letter reminding me that any child who has three accidents in two weeks is suspended from preschool to be “retrained.”  It was only Jacob’s first strike, but I was already rattled.  With good reason.  The next day, Jacob had another accident.

It’s not that Jacob can’t stay dry, it’s just not a particularly high priority for him.  For Jacob, sporting a dry pair of pants is a very distant second to hearing the rest of the story at meeting time or holding onto his spot in the pretend play area.  Perhaps it was at preschool, having established his priorities, that Jacob adopted a remarkable equanimity toward potty accidents.

A typical conversation on the topic at home:

Jacob (calmly): “Mommy, I need new pants.”

Me (less calmly): “Jacob, are you having an accident?!?”  (I look spastically down at his feet and observe the beginnings of Lake Erie).

Jacob: “Yes.  But that’s okay!  It’s just a little accident.”

Where did this placating banter come from?   Not from me.  And, absolutely not from his father.  As soon as Dan sees a spot of moisture on Jacob’s pants, he picks him up with fully extended arms and runs toward the nearest bathroom at a speed intended to reverse the rotation of the earth by just enough to make it to the bathroom before the accident begins.

We are now in sudden death mode.  One more accident before the end of next week and he’s out.  I arrive to pick up Jacob on Thursday afternoon with my heart pounding.  (Please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords-please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords.)  As I drive up in my car, Jacob’s class is being led out on the playground.  Incredibly.  Painfully.  Slowly.  I wait for him to emerge from the building with every muscle in my body clenched.  There he is.  Tan cords.  Thank you, sweet God of Bladder Control.

Don’t get the wrong idea.  I adore my child and I love spending time with him.  I have rearranged my work schedule to do so.  But two solid weeks at home to focus on potty (re)training?  What this really means is two weeks of bouncing around our living room playing an unending game of puppy preschool  (Jacob’s invention).  Two weeks of Jacob’s mind spinning from boredom and me answering an unending string of questions such as, “If a car isn’t alive, does that mean it’s dead?” “Now that I’m a big kid, can I get an iguana?” and “If tomorrow is Daddy’s birthday, will he get bigger?”

Fast forward a week to the following Thursday.  Jacob has miraculously made it through each day without a wardrobe change.   A healthy share of the credit goes to his teachers who have been taking him to the bathroom every three minutes.  When I drop him off each morning, I thank them.  Profusely.

Friday morning arrives.  It is the last day that Jacob must stay dry to avoid suspension.  Should I not tempt fate and keep him home?  It would be a cowardly move. I am totally considering it.  But ultimately I drive Jacob to preschool as usual.  When I drop him off, I stop by his teacher’s desk.  “Thanks again for taking Jacob to the bathroom so often.  It has clearly made a HUGE difference.  Anyway, today is our last day of sudden death . . . .”  His teacher looks at me concerned.

Three hours later, I receive an email from Jacob’s preschool.  The potty training policy has been changed.  Children are now allowed FIVE accidents in a two-week span before being suspended.  The director explains that the policy was never intended to cause stress, but merely to quantify what it means to be potty trained.  That afternoon, I arrive to pick Jacob up from school with a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in a while.  I spot him across the room, crawling around the carpet and barking.  My little policy maker.

Carolyn Rabin is a health psychologist at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and mother to Jacob and his one-year old sister.   In order to more carefully chronicle their mischief, she recently started a blog:

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