When I was six years old and in first grade, I had the meanest teacher of all. Her name was Mrs. Womelsdorf. She was thin and wiry and wore dark-rimmed glasses. She yelled a lot and slammed our classroom door. I was so terrified of her to the point that I was afraid to ask permission to go to the bathroom, which was through a door attached to our classroom. I later developed a bladder infection because of it.
I was a quiet, sensitive, and nervous child, and her intense personality upset me. One morning I sat with five other students in the back of the classroom, and we listened to audiobooks on headphones and then answered questions in a booklet. Someone at the table spoke loudly (because of the headphones), and she flew over, ripped my headphones off my head, and yelled at me. I was humiliated! I wasn’t the one who had talked.
I looked forward each day to riding the school bus that would take me home to safety.
Despite her gruff ways, Mrs. Womelsdorf did two things I liked very much. First, just before the school buses arrived to take us home, she’d reward us if we’d been good. She’d give each student six mini fruit-flavored marshmallows, which I loved because I’d never seen them before. I was excited because they were colorful¾not like the white ones my mom bought! The other nice thing she did is she’d read to us. She was the teacher who introduced me to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a character I still love today.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a character in a series of children’s books by Betty MacDonald. Mrs. Womelsdorf would become kind when she read those books. I’d sit there savoring my fruity marshmallows and relax, listening to my teacher read. I loved when she’d walk around and show us the book’s illustrations by Hilary Knight. I later discovered Hilary Knight also illustrated the modern-day Eloise books.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a character that lives in an upside-down house with a kitchen that is always full of freshly-baked cookies. She was married to a pirate, and she knew everything about children. She was a problem-solving genius for fictional parents and provided cures for everything. For example, Mary turns into an Answer-Backer or Dick becomes Selfish, or Allen decides to be a Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle always had the perfect cure. As a result, the children became well-behaved, and their parents relaxed by the end of the story.
When I became a parent many years later, I became nostalgic for these stories and checked out plenty of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books from the library to read to my children. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was so wise!
Before I knew it, I needed a few cures for my children.
When my oldest was preschool-aged, I needed a cure for bedtime monsters. This was before mighty Google and the Internet, so maybe I got the idea from a parenting magazine. I got a spray bottle, cleaned it out, and filled it up with faintly colored and lightly-scented water and a pinch of glitter. I labeled it “Monster Spray.” Then before bedtime, Jessica and I snuggled in my bed to read stories. I reassured her and showed her how to use the spray to mist the monsters and chase them away, and she seemed satisfied that it was a proper cure. I also gave her a tiny flashlight, thinking it was probably just a nightmare that had woken her and made her afraid. The Monster Spray worked. After several nights of taking the spray and the flashlight to bed, Jessica was cured of her nightmares.
Another cure I came up with was Magic Popsicles. I still share this cure with new parents! A Magic Popsicle is just a regular Popsicle, but it’s used to determine how bad a child’s injury is. The scenario went like this: I was at Kiwanis Park with my two little girls. One of them ran too fast and fell on the pavement, tearing her pantleg and skinning her knee. Blood-curdling screams ensued. How severe was the injury? It was hard to tell through all the tears. But then I’d say, “Would a Popsicle make it better?” She’d nod her head, and I’d reach into our lunch cooler and unwrap an Otter Pop in bright blue or red. Suddenly, the crying stopped, and soon her little sister and accompanying friends also wanted dripping, syrupy Popsicles. Another successful cure!
Magic Popsicles could often accompany Magic Band-Aids. Magic Band-Aids had to have action figures, Mickey Mouse, or Hello Kitty printed on them for maximum effectiveness. The crying stopped immediately with the application of a Magic Band-Aid.
My last piece of magic was later deemed a mean trick by my youngest, Macy, who was similar to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Allen, the Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker. Macy wasn’t a slow eater. She was a picky eater who only willingly ate 3 or 4 foods, including macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. I learned how to cook cauliflower in chicken broth until it was very soft, then I mashed it with a potato masher and added milk, and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Macy. Ate. The. Cauliflower! This was less of a cure and more of an outright miracle!
I guess all mothers have their bags of tricks with their unique cures. Now that my kids are 21 and 19, we laugh together about some of the “magic” I used when they were young. All I know is that if I showed fear or uncertainty, my kids would feel scared too. But if I projected confidence and positivity, they knew they’d be okay.
I enjoyed my girls’ childhood. I loved watching them grow and develop from helpless babies into strong, confident young women. Was it magic? Maybe!