From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Marker Magic

It’s very important to give children a chance.

Nikki Giovanni

When I decided to check out the private kindergartens in San Diego for my pint-sized daughter, Alyssa, I knew she would face an interview at each school. Instead of letting her worry, I explained that she would conduct interviews and then tell me what she thought of each school.

Alyssa marched into her first interview with a clipboard and a yellow pencil. On the paper, she had drawn a series of large circles. I smiled and waved at the teacher as she closed the door behind them.

Alyssa’s high-pitched voice carried through the partition. “Okay, the first question I have for you is: How do your markers smell?” I could hear the teacher laughing in response. This was a good sign. I decided to make a chart myself while I waited.”

The teacher laughed, recovered and said, “Could you please ask me that question again?”

“Sure,” Alyssa agreed. “How do your markers smell?

Does your yellow marker smell like lemons or bananas?”

“That’s a very good question.” The teacher pondered a moment. “But I don’t know the answer. Let’s go into the classroom and see.” She walked down the hall with Alyssa, who smiled a casual, “Hi, Mom” as they headed to the classrooms. I stayed on my bench, waiting for the verdict. It came about ten minutes later.

“Banana,” Alyssa whispered as they returned to the interview room. Her nose wrinkled in disgust.

At dinner that night, Alyssa’s father asked what she thought about the kindergarten she had visited that morning. “Oh, Daddy,” she said, like he should know the answer already, “the school’s yellow magic markers smelled like bananas!” She stuck out her tongue.

“So it was a banana school.” Her attorney father prefers clear-cut answers to every question.

“Yes,” Alyssa concurred, “a banana school.”

“Well, you still have seven more to visit.” He winked at me.

And so it went at school after school. Alyssa asked the same leading question. Some teachers made up a lame answer like, “They smell nice, Alyssa. Please sit properly on your chair so we can get along with my questions for you today.” Others ignored the question altogether. Few bothered to go check. I crossed those schools off my list.

At dinner each night, Alyssa’s father would ask about that day’s interviews.

“The teacher doesn’t know about her markers,” she might report.

“Really, really, really banana,” she might reply.

A couple of schools got a “lemon” score.

After we’d visited all the schools, I printed out an Excel table that detailed the pertinent facts about each and settled Alyssa on the couch in the living room with her favorite Barney video. Her father and I retreated to the dining-room table where I spread out the school information packets we’d collected.

“Okay, I’ve analyzed each school in terms of their teacher-student ratio, facilities, cost, distance from home and. . . .”

He held up his hand. “That’s wonderful, honey, but all I want to know is whether your top choice is a banana school or a lemon school?”

I swallowed. “It’s a really, really banana school.”

“A really, really banana school,” he repeated. We both glanced at Alyssa, engrossed in Barney’s millionth rendition of his “I love you” song. “How are we going to tell her?”

“Don’t worry, Daddy,” Alyssa called out, her eyes still glued to Barney, “I can bring my own markers!”

Kathleen Ahrens, Ph.D., and Tracy Love, Ph.D.

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