40 Forever: Growin Up!

Early Childhood Education: Growing Up


Back in the early 70’s, there weren’t many childcare options in my quaint New England town. Since my mother was a working single mom, I had to spend hours every day at a wretched place called The Happy Child Nursery School.

The owner was a morbidly obese, smelly woman who wore muumuus every day, even in the middle of winter. (She was so fat that she probably never felt the cold.) Miss Muumuu lived in a decrepit colonial house which probably hadn’t been painted since the turn of the 19th century. In addition to the nursery school, the house also featured a museum of antique dolls. We weren’t allowed to touch the dolls, but we didn’t want to anyway. The dolls were downright creepy. Many of the dolls were kid-size with metal braces holding them in posed play positions as if they were frozen for life in an eternal game of TV tag. Miss Muumuu also had two male boarders who lived in the upstairs of the house. One man had a twitch and walked with a limp. We called him Skippy.*

There were some happy moments at the Happy Child Nursery School. During playtime we’d go outside, roll over a log, and play with worms. Another highlight was nap time when Miss Muumuu would watch hours of television while the happy children rested on soiled army cots listening to Phi
l Donahue interview male hookers, Siamese twins, and other assorted human oddities. Consequently, the first sex question I asked my mother wasn’t “where do babies come from?” It was what’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual? (They didn’t use the politically correct term transgendered back in the early 70’s.)**

Thankfully, daycare standards and early childhood education have improved drastically. (Believe it or not, Miss Muumuu held an advanced degree in Child Development from an ivy league college.) It’s a bit unrealistic, but The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 experience no screen time (screen time includes computer, video, iPad, and TV screens), and that parents limit older children’s screen time as well. This is because it takes away from real-life creative play and social interaction.

Personally, I think a little screen time, maybe 20 minutes of a Sesame Street video (not a lurid talk show) before dinner is okay because it gives harried parents a much needed break. Some television shows really are educational. Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can recite the Preamble of the Constitution. And not all screens are bad. For example, iPads and smart phones can help nonverbal children communicate and are being used as teaching tools for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although it’s a little didactic, I got a kick out of the book Todd’s TV by James Proimos. It’s about a boy whose parents are too busy to pay attention to him, so he starts spending time with his TV instead. When the parents get jealous of the TV, they do what they should have done a long time ago. They turn it off.

Proimos, James. Todd’s Tv. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2010. Print.

*I also had a school bus driver with a limp. We called him Hoppy. (Gosh, I hope I’m not the one who came up with these nicknames.) My stop was the last on his route so I’d sing to him after the other kids got off the bus. At the time I knew all the words to all the songs in Fiddler on the Roof. He really liked Matchmaker, Matchmaker.

**Speaking of transgender issues, She’s Not There is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. It was written by Colby College professor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, who started her life as James Finney Boylan. I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at an ALA publishers breakfast event. I started chatting with her and asked where she worked. She said Colby College, and I said, “isn’t that where Jennifer Finney Boylan works? Wait–oh my gosh! You ARE Jennifer Finney Boylan! I love you. I feel like I already know you!” She said “well, you do know an awful lot about me.” We were instant conference buddies and I introduced her to all my favorite librarian and writer friends.

Boylan, Jennifer F. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. Print.

Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote another really great memoir entitled I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted. It describes her life growing up in a haunted house. What I really like about the book is that the ghosts aren’t really a big deal. They just happen to be there. Watch this video tour of Jennifer’s childhood home: jenniferboylan.net. It reminds me of Miss Muumuu’s place.

Boylan, Jennifer F. I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted. New York: Broadway Books, 2008. Print.

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