I have a newish part time job teaching an ethics class for kids on Sunday mornings. I thought I was going to be teaching 10 – 13 yr olds, but instead I have 4 – 6 yr olds. I was taken aback at first, but now I am delighted. The kids are great and they make me laugh every session.
One morning recently, three of the 4 year olds came in with mothers who were clearly at the ends of their respective ropes. I was having a hard time getting the kids to focus, so I looked in the magic cupboard and found When Mommy Was Mad. Ok kids, storytime!
Christopher and Robbie’s mom is banging things around, not smiling, or playing with them. Robbie, the younger brother, is having a hard time dealing with Mommy’s feelings. First, Robbie is worried that he did something wrong. Then he tries to get her to smile and play. Finally, he gets angry too and starts yelling “bork!”
Robbie is not accusing his mother of being failed Supreme Court nominee and eighteenth century facial hair enthusiast Robert Bork. He is accusing her of being a prickly porcupine and he needs her to be soft.
This book was exactly what the kids needed, especially the youngest boy, who like Robbie, was internalizing his mother’s feelings. We acted out what being a porcupine looked like and what being soft looked like. I let the kids act out the things Robbie did to get his mother’s attention and we talked about what finally worked.
Four year olds center everything around themselves. They don’t understand that other people have internal lives that are separate. I have no illusions that I taught the kids a lesson that they remembered the next day. I did give them a way to work out the feelings they were having that day and I hope I planted a seed. When class was over I showed the book to all the parents and explained why their children might start running into them yelling “bork!”
There are a lot of books in the magic cupboard, but this one is the first that got the kids thinking about what I wanted them to think about. Petra Mathers’ childlike illustrations were friendly and accessible. The story was printed in crayon, as if a child had written it. It didn’t make Mommy wrong for being mad, or Robbie wrong for being scared, frustrated, and angry. I would recommend it to any parent of small children.