Program Title Leads to Misunderstanding

We humans have either a wide-angled view of the world or a narrower, close-up perspective. A recent interaction at a summer reading event reminded me that for children, it's often the latter.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library offers an abundance of delightful programs for children every summer—presentations such as storytellers, folk singers, magicians, bugs, snakes and more. Since the first summer of those offerings, I have been one of the presenters. But I am more of a mish-mosh person, so my sessions are totally active, mixing music, dance, story, play and chant. It's hard to label or find an appropriate title.

One summer, one of the libraries—unbeknownst to me—advertised me as a “storyteller.” (Actually, we always turn almost everything into a story. But sometimes we sing, dance or play the story.) In the middle of the activity, with everyone joyfully bouncing and singing, a peeved dad rolled his stroller to the front of the room and, in an irritated voice, observed, “I thought you were a STORYTELLER.”

Well, we were dancing the story, I cheerfully explained. “Harrumph,” he growled and pushed his stroller and toddler out of the room.

So the challenge became finding a title for my sessions that did not specify the activity. But sometimes life is not that simple. Is this music or dancing? Are we singing or narrating or chanting? Is this language or arts? Some folks have problems combining ideas, seeing relationships, making connections.

Our wonderful program coordinator, Karen Bell, helped me brainstorm a grand title for my programs. Some years ago, a child wrote me a letter saying, “Mimi, you are the Queen of Fun.” So we titled my sessions “Hangin' Out with the Queen of Fun.”

We had a few summers of total delight. Folks came with open minds, open hearts and great spirits to share in our fun times. Not one disgruntled adult or child had any questions or criticism. That is, until the very first day this summer. I arrived early for the session so I could set up my CDs. The room was empty except for one small child and her mom. I greeted her warmly with, “Hi, honey. Are you here for the program?” The 3-year-old girl shook her head.

“Oh,” I said, thinking she was in the wrong room. “What are you waiting for?”

“I'm waiting for the queen.”

She was so serious, so eager, so filled with anticipation and belief—I could have disappeared that second. I wished I had a golden crown to replace my tie-dye cap or a beautiful gown to throw over my tie-dye hippie shirt and black dance pants.

My little friend was beyond comfort. For an hour she sat motionless and sad, never participating in any of our activities, never changing her expression from disappointment to happiness.

Next year, maybe we'll just call our session “Hangin' Out.”

“Mamaloshen” is the Yiddish term for “the mother tongue” and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.