Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our Visit to One Hundred Acre Wood

Am I disappointed?

Tonight, Kevin and I took Sophia to see her first movie. I had built it up in my mind. Perhaps because my own first film had left such a deep impression, and not an entirely positive one. I was four when my mother took me to see a double feature: Cinderella and Escape from Witch Mountain. Cinderella had also been my mother’s first film. I only vaguely recall Cinderella—the songs stand out in my mind, and Cinderella’s brilliant transformation orchestrated by her benevolent fairy godmother, but ultimately it was too benign, too milquetoast to have taken up serious nerve cell real estate. I do remember Escape from Witch Mountain. Vividly. Animated, Cinderella was clearly not real. But EFWM, with live action, was terrifyingly possible. Consider the plot: two seemly normal, alien witch children are stranded on our planet and desperately trying to make their way home. At four, when one tends to still straddle the line between fantasy and reality, I was a believer. I managed to keep it together until the male protagonist played a harmonica and magically made clothing get up and dance. That’s when I started screaming. I believe I had to be carried out of there.

I had it in my head that Sophie’s first movie should also be Cinderella, but with Disney keeping their classic films on lockdown in a mythical vault so they can re-release them at great profit, it didn’t look like that was going to happen. But then I picked up a $1 copy on VHS at the library, and we decided to go retro and purchase an almost-obsolete VCR. I regretted that her first movie would be on television—I pictured a much grander experience—an old movie house with red velvet seats and curtains that parted for the film, like Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, my second home when I was in college. But, it was a small concession to be able to continue the Cinderella tradition.

Sophie sat between Kevin and me on the futon. She was atwitter with excitement. I had a hard time holding back the tears as Cinderella, sweetly wakened by her rodent friends, sang in her attic room, “A dream is a wish you heart makes, when you’re fast asleep….” Sophie, who had only experienced ambient television up to this point, was rapt. She popped her thumb in her mouth, removing it only occasionally to laugh at the antics of the cat and mice. In fact, she seemed more taken with their slapstick comedy then the more complicated fairy tale plot line. But she must have understood the bare bones of it because, immediately after, she wanted to re-enact the story, from beginning to end. And for the next several weeks she would play Cinderella to my wicked stepmother, joyfully sponging the kitchen floor and dusting the living room furniture. (An unanticipated—but welcome—side effect.)

I wasn’t against introducing Sophia to a movie-theater movie, but I had a hard time finding one that would fit my criteria: slow, animated, wholesome and not scary. I also hoped to find a theater that lacked an assaultive sound system and wouldn’t preface the film with twenty minutes of commercials. I don’t think they exist anymore. Kevin says that my annoyance is evidence that I’m getting old.

Then, one day, as Kevin and I headed back from the farmers market in the center of town, he pointed out an advertisement on the side of the bus. Winne the Pooh.

Maybe,” I said.

We had both grown up with Pooh. The Pooh of my youth, forever on a crusade for honey with a rumbly in his tummy, certainly met my criteria. Then, one night, Kevin emailed me an article from the Times. The new Pooh film was to be a throwback to the animation of an earlier time, appealing to the nostalgia of geriatric parents like me. Apparently, they had tried to give Christopher Robin and the gang a modern makeover a couple years back, but nobody wanted to see Eeyore breakdance. This, it seemed, in a world where the Lion King is about to be re-released in 3D, might be as close as I’m going to come to what I envisioned for her first movie.

“We are so there.” I wrote back to Kevin.

So, in the grip of an unrelenting heat wave, we went to the local multiplex for a late matinee. I didn’t know what to expect, whether there would be throngs of parents and their preschoolers taking refuge from the oppressive humidity or an empty theater, abandoned in favor of the beach and other summertime destinations, so we arrived 17 minutes early. As it turned out, the latter was true. We were one of three families that occupied the stadium during the pre-dinner hour.

I will never arrive at a movie theater 17 minutes early ever again. The first few minutes of advertising were promising. First, a spot from the Foundation for a Better Life promoting encouragement. Okay. I’m fine with that. Then, an advertisement for touring a battleship on the Delaware. Also relatively inoffensive. Next came a promo for a one-time showing of a Shakespearean play at the Globe theater. Now I was getting the feeling that I had been targeted. Somebody had done their homework to study the demographic coming to see this movie. But from there, things went downhill: not one, but three trailers for Happy Feet 2, two relatively scary coming attractions for animated films for the preteen set, a bizarre commercial for Sprite that involved transforming a rap star into a robot. By the third Happy Feet 2 trailer (A penguin rapping, “Don’t call it a come back cause I been here for years,” followed by an troupe of penguin chicks crooning, “we’re bringing fluffy back.”) I sprung from my seat, ready to throttle the teenage projectionist (if there still are projectionists) and force him (or her) to start the show. In thirty-seven minutes they had made up for Sophia’s three and a half years of television deprivation.

“Sit down, Melissa. There’s nothing you can do.” Kevin said. He has an uncanny ability to detect when commercials are over, always popping the TV off mute a split second before the feature presentation comes back on. I dropped back into my chair, my heart still pounding with its fight or flight response to the Happy Feet trailer.

And then the movie started.

I wanted the experience to be perfect: to bring positive memories from my childhood flooding back, to be a magical experience for Sophia, lighting her eyes with joy and her heart with song.


Though the overall story was sweet, it was a bit chaotic at points and difficult to follow. The animation was, at times, inspired, and in other moments like Disney on acid. The use of text and plays on words was, perhaps, appealing to adults, but soared over the heads of its intended audience. As for the music, unlike “A Tigger’s a Wonderful Thing,” and the title song, “Winnie the Pooh” from the original film, the songs were forgettable (as evidenced by the fact that I can’t recall a line or a possible title).

Having already sat for an hour, Sophia became restless midway. Again, it was the sight gags, less than the verbal humor that grabbed her…Pooh and piglet’s bumbling attempts to raid a bee’s hive for its honey, Pooh jumping into and swimming around a great jar of honey. She managed to sit with it through the credits. At the end, when I asked her what she thought, she simply said, “good.”

Before we had left to see the film, we tried to prepare Sophie, explaining what a movie was like. I described a stadium-like theater with a giant screen in front upon which they’d project a video.

Sophie thought for a moment, “Movies and plays are different.”

“Yes, a play is live action, with people dressed up as characters. A movie is more like TV. It’s just a picture.”

“Oh,” she sounded a tad disappointed, “I thought there would be people dressed up as characters.” I felt a slight wave of glee at her disappointment. Perhaps the movie would not be as seductive as I feared, a gateway drug into a world of television and characters and commercials. A new frontier of pleading for screen time and intense negotiation. A turning away from her precious books.

And so, later than night, as Kevin and I settled into the couch to reflect, I realized that I wasn’t disappointed with her relative indifference to the film. In fact, I found myself feeling relieved. Immediately after the film, she asked for a story about her and Curious George “Go to the Movies”. And later that night, she went right back to begging for “just one more chapter” from her new Magic Tree House book. She liked the movie, but no more than the books we’ve read her or the stories we’ve composed for her or the plays we’ve attended.

It seems that the allure of image will not supplant her imagination any time soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Read This, Not That

The following blog was inspired by the children’s book, The Costume Trunk, by Bob Fuller, which I read (to Sophia) as a participant in the online bookclub, From Left to Write. I received the book gratis from the publisher, but was not paid to write this article.

What constitutes a quality children’s book? Quality is often ephemeral—you know it when you see it, but it’s hard to put words to it. Still, I’m going to try.

To some extent, the quality of a children’s book can be measured by the impact it has on the reader, which I suppose is true of any book, regardless of the audience.

1. If it evokes a strong emotional reaction:

When I was about ten years old, I read The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book broke my heart. By the end, I was dissolved in tears, and completely shocked by my own reaction. I remember running down the stairs calling for my mother, “Mom, this book made me cry!” She said, smiling, "Books can do that."

2. If it has rich, three-dimensional characters that help a child reach higher, yearn for more, and expand the possibilities of who he/she can be:

Madeline L’Engle’s brainy, empowering heroine of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry, was unattractive, socially awkward and had trouble in school, yet she made me want to be smart, a scientist, and introduced me to a whole new, traditionally male-dominated, genre of fiction.

3. If it teaches you something new…The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Transports you to another time…Tikki Tikki Tembo. And another place with imagery so rich, a world so complete…Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? forget your own surroundings.

4. If your child begs you for novel stories about his or her own life that incorporates a literary figure…Curious George (the original H.A. Rey books, not the formulaic ones based on the videos)...

…you know it’s good.

You also know schlock when you see it. Often, it’s gimmicky, intended to further market characters, toys, and branded goods to children (e.g. Disney Princesses, Dora the Explorer, Spiderman, Smurfs, etc.). These books are typically vehicles to introduce and promote series of characters. They typically introduce figure after figure, with a flimsy, incoherent, or meandering plot. Most follow a formula. Almost all are predictable. Despite the best efforts of some of these books to appear wholesome and “teach a lesson,” the lesson is either oversimplified without the complex moral subtleties that real dilemmas carry or it is obscured by the much more seductive inappropriate behaviors in the book. These books do not show, they tell. They ask you to believe, rather than inspiring belief. Their characters are flat and constricted by traditional gender roles. Yet, they appeal to kids. They carry a seductive, almost addictive quality. And they turn kids who would otherwise be happy playing with a cardboard box into consumers…wanting related toys, figurines, towels, book bags, Happy Meals that never seem to satisfy.

So, in honor of quality children’s books, I would like to list a few of Sophie and my favorites…I hope there are some here that you’ve never heard of, but will be inspired to read. I invite you to please share amazing books you’ve read with your children—I’m always looking for a new, wonderful read, and I’m sure my readers are too.

Melissa’s Non-exhaustive List of Wonderful Children’s Books (in no particular order):

The Other Side
When Vera was Sick
Vera Rides a Bike
Rhyming Dust Bunnies
Press Here
Black Book of Colors
The Growing Up Tree
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Wanda’s Monster
Wacky Wednesday
Knuffle Bunny (One, Two and Free)
Wow City!
Wow America!
Wow School!
The Secret Remedy Book
I’ll Be You and You Be Me
What Do You Say Dear?
Now We Can Have a Wedding!
It Looked Like Spilt Milk
Pink Me Up
The Show and Tell Lion
I Spy Shapes in Art
Pricilla and the Pink Planet
The Paper Bag Princess
Princess Fishtail
Trouble at the Dinosaur Café
Rubia and the Three Osos
The Uglified Ducky
Once Upon a Wood
Fancy Nancy (yes, it’s good, so are the subsequent ones but only those written by the original author)
Naughty Parents
Secret in the Garden
Good night, Pillow fight
Will I have a Friend?
The Three Questions
When Sophie Gets Angry
Leo the Late Bloomer
On the Day You Were Born
I love you, Blue Kangaroo
(also: It Was You, Blue Kangaroo and Happy Birthday Blue Kangaroo)
The Bag that I’m Taking to Grandma’s (and all the other wonderful rebus books by the same author)
Anything Dr. Seuss
Anything Richard Scarry
Almost anything by Jan Brett
Any of the Lola and Charlie books by Lauren Child
Any of the Llama Llama books (though the holiday drama one is less good)
Any of the Frog and Toad books
The original Madeline books

And last, but not least:
The original Curious George books: (Curious George, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Curious George Takes a Job, Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Rides a Bike, Curious George Gets a Medal)

Your turn.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

Recently, at a 75th birthday party, we spent a wonderful day with friends and family. Sophia frolicked in the pool and grass in equal measure with her new best friend, Shane. Kevin and I watched, floating idly on foam noodles, periodically swigging icy beer. I realized for the first time in a long time that I felt absolutely no anxiety.

Making the two-hour drive home, spent from doing a whole lot of nothing, I flipped on NPR for a little stimulation. Sophie was listening to Curious George on her headphones while simultaneously flipping through a library book. Kevin was sitting next to her, playing possum. His head was tilted back against the headrest and his eyes were closed but I could tell he wasn’t asleep. Terry Gross was interviewing theater critic Jason Zinoman on how the horror film genre was redefined in the 1960s. The conversation was interesting, but fairly intellectual and certainly beyond Sophia’s cognitive understanding, particularly since the only reference point she has for film is the 1950 version of Cinderella we just showed her a month ago. Zinoman was making the case that the “new school of horror was based on real life: realistic, mundane events that could leave the audience wondering where evil could lurk (everywhere) and who could be evil (everyone).” I caught Kevin’s eyes in the mirror as they opened briefly. He read my silent question, “It’s okay to leave this on, right?” responding with a shrug and an audible, “She’s totally absorbed in her book.” So I left it on.

Terry played a clip from the Night of the Living Dead, which, Zinoman says, was a seminal film in the use of gore. I haven’t seen it, but Terry did a good job of setting it up: A brother and sister are in a cemetery together visiting their father’s grave at their mother’s insistence. The sky is stormy, with thunder in the distance. The sister has a fear of graveyards, and the brother is taunting her about it. The clip rolls and the voices have the prim lilt of 50s actors. The brother is teasing, saying, “They’re coming for you Barbara,” as a man approaches in the distance. As irony would have it, the man is a zombie. Barbara screams at the zombie descends upon her.

I quickly reach for the volume and turn it down. This gets Sophie’s attention. She looks up “Turn it back on, Mom, “she says.

I wait a few beats…surely Terry has moved on, and then turn the volume up. From the speakers, Terry explains, “Once the zombie appears, it’s trying to eat the sister….”

I quickly turn the volume back down. This time, Sophie doesn’t look up from her book. Again, I look at Kevin, who, from his expression, appears to want to hear the rest of the discussion as much as I do. After a longer pause I turn it up the volume again and the conversation is back to intellectual zombie analysis. I glance in the mirror, Sophie’s face is impassive, her nose buried back in her book.

Once home, way past Sophie’s bedtime, we whisk her into her PJs. Kevin reads her a bedtime story as I run a toothbrush over her teeth. All the while she chatters happily about her time with Shane. It appears as though she has emerged from her exposure to Fresh Air with her innocence in tact.

The next morning, I’m making waffles as Sophie is drawing with crayons at the kitchen table. Kevin wanders in half-awake and stands behind our daughter, “Watcha drawing?” he asks.

Without looking up Sophie tells him, “A zombie eating a sister.”

I gasp and spin around. Kevin and I stare at each other, stifling appalled laughter.

Granted, she has no idea what a zombie is. But doesn’t anything eating a person have some element of horror to it? I wonder what images she has formed of zombies. Are they friendly creatures, like the monsters who occasionally take up residence in her closet, or are they going to become the stuff of nightmares for the next six months? How has she incorporated this new information into her larger worldview? What have I done?

I don’t know because I can’t get anything else out of her. She continues to happily draw her carnivorous monster in broad, uncontrolled sweeps of a pink crayon.

Let this be a lesson to me: whether she understands or not, she’s always listening. Little pitchers have big ears.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What Will She Remember?

A friend of mine justified the parental labor of some onerous activity designed mostly for the pleasure of children (i.e. traveling the length of the state to the shore, which requires packing a great deal of equipment and a high tolerance for in-transit sibling warfare): “we’re making memories.”

I tried to use this tactic with my husband, in attempt to lure him to the beach (which he experiences as a series of sensory impingements—the grit of the sand, the slime of the sunscreen, the beating of the sun on his perspiring brow). He immediately dismissed this notion without further explanation. “I don’t buy into that.” I make a mental note to ask him why not when I felt less invested in his response.

All this got me thinking…what will Sophia remember? How much does it matter that we do our best to fill our children’s days with joyful experiences? What kind of an impact does it have? Why do I bother?

My own memories of childhood are spotty at best. I cannot remember the daily experience of having my mother at home when I was a young child. The odd bits of tape I have in my mind are ones fraught with emotion: the humiliation of noticing that my neighbor was watching me from a tree as I squatted next to my baby pool to pee; the fear I felt running up the street screaming for my mother after watching one of the neighborhood boys step into a bees nest and suffer 82 bee stings; the disappointment upon receiving my first kiss, planted on my lips by a wet-mouthed second-grader deep in the recesses of our spare-room closet. There are good memories, but they too have a deep emotional resonance: visits from my New York cousins who transformed our living room into an imaginary swamp full of alligators that nipped at our feet as we sought refuge on the cough; after years of lessons, suddenly finding myself able to swim in our manmade township lake, with no one around to help or bear witness to my moment of triumph; my father quietly waking me in the middle of the night and leading me out onto a cold Cape Cod beach to watch a meteor shower; we held hands as the sky sung with stars.

All of these memories were forged out of intensity, none were planted or planned.

In the calm of the morning, I asked Kevin, “What is it about the idea of ‘making memories’ that you were so opposed to the other day?” He explained that he wasn’t against going to the shore, per se, not if were going with the intent of having fun as a family. However, he was not interested in creating an experience for the sake of having a picture of it. He didn’t want the intent of forming a memory to trump being in the moment.

Made sense to me.

It is easy to confuse images with memory. There are some things I “remember” only because we have pictures. I am grateful for these pictures, for without them, I would make sweeping generalizations about an otherwise barren landscape. I would only understand those years through the lens of now. The knowledge of the past I possess in the present. But my childhood is not Sophia’s.

I want her to not need pictures. I want her to emerge from these years with the sense that she had a wonderful childhood, whether she remembers the specifics of the day-to-day, or not.

More than once, I have listened to an interview on the radio during which the person being interviewed said something like, “I had an idyllic childhood.” I felt envy creeping through me. This envy is my motivation.

Every day, I do my best, if not to create specific memories, then to create a context of joy. When it occurs to me, I pull out my camera and snap pictures that capture thin slices of this joy. But even if no record existed, I am hopeful that the feeling will be encoded in her brain, etched deep in her neurons. That she will be someone, someday who can toss off the words, “I had a lovely childhood.”

It may be that she won’t remember a damn thing. That she’ll have to dig through digital recordings of parades and playdates and parties to piece together her past. But perhaps she will take experiences from the relationships she enjoys now…with me, with Kevin, with our relatives, friends and neighbors and carry them forth to her relationships in the future. And she will be happy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Early to Rise

Through my earplugs, I can hear the eerie creak of my glass door knob turning. Little naked feed pad across the wood floor, over to where I am sleeping. Or rather, pretending to sleep, hopeful that my lifeless form will deter her.

It doesn’t.

“Mom? Is it time to wake up yet?”

I half open one eye. I am of the mind that if I open it any further, I will be pulled too far over the line, into consciousness, and will not be able to fall back asleep. One look at my digital clock confirms my suspicions. It is exactly 5:34. AM.

“No,” I say gruffly. “Go back to sleep.”

“But it’s light out!”

“It’s too early. Go back to sleep.”

She slams my door and runs back to her room, in a huff.

I’m up.

I toss and turn for a half hour or so. Too angry and resentful for my brain waves to slow down enough to hit delta, the deepest stage of sleep. I throw a shirt over my eyes to block the early morning sun filtering through the holes around my air conditioner. I hug my blankets to my chest and feel the vibrations of my heart beating against them. At last, sleep sneaks up on me, furtive and strange. I am immediately absorbed in a vivid dream where an agent is asking me to read a chapter of a book I have just written. The words swim on the page, refusing to make sense, and I can’t even recall the gist of them let alone recite them verbatim.

“Mom, is it time now?” Jolts me out of my sleep. I could almost be grateful for being rescued from my predicament, except that I’m immediately aware of the fact that I’m not sleeping. And my annoyance trumps my gratitude.

I glance at the clock. 6:30. Are you kidding me?

“NO! Get back in your bed.”

“No! I’m done sleeping.”

“Then go back to your room and look at books.”

“I looked at them all already.”

“Sophie, I am not getting up until 7 o’clock, so find yourself something to do until then.”

“I know! I’ll do a puzzle.”

“Great. Go.” I know I sound mean, but that is what sleep deprivation does to a person.

I am not a morning person. If I had it my way, I’d be up until 1 every night and sleep until 9. I have always loved the night. I love how I feel like the only person on Earth. How quiet it is. How still. At night, anything seems possible. Night is sexier, edgier, more mysterious than day. The hours of light stretch before me, impossibly long. Night, too short.

I close my eyes, but my mind is already whirring: planning the day, reviewing my to-dos, fretting about work. Five minutes passes.

She’s back. “Mo-om.” She whines, drawing out the word from one syllable to two. “Are you up yet?”

“Yes,” I moan. I may have won the previous battles, but I have lost the war.

She climbs into bed with me. “Do you want me to rub your back?” Her voice is full of tenderness. All it takes is this little offer to shift my emotional state from angry to touched.

“Yes.” Her hand lightly passes up and down my vertebrae several times, before she curls her body into mine and pops her thumb in her mouth.

Having passed through three and a half years of phases, I know the early-wakening is time limited. It, too, will pass. As will her desire to crawl into bed with me and cuddle.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Little Yogini

Yoga seemed like a good idea.

At home, I taught Sophia a few poses: Downward-Facing Dog, Tree, Child’s Pose, Cobra. Sure, she only held them for a nanosecond, but she liked the idea of twisting her body into new shapes. Then she started inventing some of her own, such as the “Geeky Bop” pose which consists of poking your butt out and holding up one of your arms at a right angle. So we went to the library and took out a book that I had loved as a child, Be a Frog, a Bird, or a Tree. Sophie thumbed through the pages and did her best to imitate the kids photographed in a variety of postures. Most were still too hard for her, but she liked Bird pose a lot, leaning forward and flinging her arms out behind her. So when the children’s librarian told me that they were going to run a summer yoga series for kids, I thought she would love it.

The first session, I made the mistake of allowing Sophia to bring Snakey-Pie, her beloved stuffed friend. Sophie insisted that Snakey join her on the mat, and when I asked her to leave him in the stroller the teacher, full of good intentions, said, “Don’t worry mom. This is a no-judgment zone. It’s fine if she wants to have the snake with her. We can do a snake pose.” What the teacher, we’ll call her Lola, didn’t know in her effort to be inclusive and accepting is that 1) I really didn’t want her to have the snake, so (quite inadvertently), she had undermined me; and, 2) As long as Snakey-pie was around, Sophie was going to lie down on her mat and stroke him while sucking her thumb, which would ensure a lack of participation. I thanked the teacher for not having a problem with Snakey Pie, but told her, “I have a problem with Snakey-Pie,” who I promptly took from Sophie and sent to live in exile in the stroller.

Of course, Sophie threw a royal fuss. The non-judgmental mothers were trying very hard not to look judgmental.

The instructor had brought her own three-year-old child, we’ll call her Olivia, who, in three-year-old fashion, was not interested in participating that day. Sophia, who admires and imitates impish behavior, wanted to do exactly what Olivia was doing: not yoga.

Well, fine. I wasn’t going to force Sophia to do yoga. And, as Lola said, yoga is not about forcing anything…your body, other people’s bodies. I could lead her to yoga class, but I could not make her pose. So, she flitted about, in Sophia fashion, occasionally landing on her pink mat to bend over or lift a leg or lie down and suck her thumb.

Ten minutes later, she grabbed her crotch and screamed, “Oh! Pee pee!” (Translation: I waited until the absolute last minute to tell you I have to go to the bathroom and any second my bladder is going to explode or leak onto my yoga mat.) So, because both of us were shoeless, I scooped her up and ran into the library, slapping her down on the toilet just as the deluge began.

When we returned to the class, Olivia announced coyly, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” Hmmm.

“But you just went to the bathroom before class,” Lola reminded her.

“But I’ve got to go AGAIN. NOW.” Lola sighed, asked another parent to take over as she brought her child to the bathroom.

Sophia did rejoin the group and briefly modeled bird pose before taking off in flight and running wildly across the library lawn. One-by-one the other children jumped up and took off after Sophie in a mass show of yoga-refusal.

I looked around at the disappointed faces of the non-judgmental moms in the group. I apologized to them, and though they all immediately chorused, “It’s fine. It’s okay.” I knew that it wasn’t fine with them. They did not bring their children here to be led astray by my deviant child. But who’s going to say, after Lola had declared it a no-judgment zone, “could you please leave and take your disobedient child with you?”

Lola and Olivia returned from the bathroom. A few of the moms quietly retrieved their kids from Sophia’s clutches. Perhaps I should have just picked Sophia up and left at that point. Maybe I was still hopeful that Sophie would do some damn yoga. Maybe I’m just stubborn and didn’t want to give up the vision of the two of us doing yoga together. But we stayed. Or rather, I finished out the class, while I watched Sophia dance in the sunshine, out of the corner of my eye, and fretted each time a child jumped up to follow her joyful example.

It was anything but relaxing.

At the end of class, I reiterated my apologies, and the moms assured me it was fine and that we were welcome back. I wanted to believe them.

Later, Sophia told me, “I had a great time at yoga!”

We skipped last week, as we were away, but today I bit the bullet and we went back. Nobody seemed too horrified to see us. This time, we started off on the right foot, leaving Snakey-Pie at home. It was a gorgeous day, warm and bright, perfect for Sun Salutations. I breathed a sigh of relief to see Olivia was not there. Sophie rolled out a pink mat and sat down. She stayed with the class for the first fifteen minutes, occasionally straying to pick up a branch or run in the grass or ask another child if she wanted to play, but, more or less she participated. In the last fifteen minutes, her focus waned. She tried to grab a ball away from another child and sulked when I made her give it back, sitting in the grass a good 30-feet away for the remainder of the class, angrily shredding leaves. But she returned when the teacher invited each person to pull two cards from large tarot-like decks. Sophie came trotting over me to show me her cards.

At the top was written “The Child.” Underneath these words the card declared that she loved children—being with children, playing with children, and reminded her to remain in touch with her inner child, retaining her youthful playfulness.

What is the measure of a successful yoga class? A child who obediently stays on her mat attempting the poses to please her mother, or a child who doesn’t need to twist her body like a pretzel to experience tranquility. She’s already there.