In August 1980, when I was almost five years old, I was on “Romper Room” for a week. Not the Miss Molly one, the Miss Mary Ann one. She was I think, the second host(ess) of the show? Either way, she was the REAL “Romper Room” host, before Miss Molly just made the whole thing about singing every week to her freaky puppets. Miss Mary Ann interacted with the children.
And she really liked me, Miss Mary Ann did, in the way that most subsequent teachers would. I was polite, intelligent, and smarter than most kids my age, which I would feel more braggarty about saying, were it not for the fact that I can barely afford my rent at age 31.
But so yeah, teachers and I always had that weird relationship, where they’d love me and be drawn to my precociousness until they got unnerved by my strange, freaky little brain that just didn’t follow a very linear path.
Case in point:
A big theme of “Romper Room” the week I was on was preparing us for school, since we were all entering kindergarten. In one segment, Miss Mary Anne and the kids sat around a mat that had all different school supplies, like paper, pencils, scissors, etc.
The task before us was to pick two different school supplies that could ostensibly be used together. Obviously, you want like, a pencil with paper, or crayons with a coloring book. But I was with a particularly dull little group of children, and they were like, picking up two crayons with a glaze over their eyes. I think maybe they were sedated.
So then I raise my hand, and Miss Mary Ann looks at me all relieved, like, “Judith will have the answer.” And many times when teachers called on me, I did have a good answer.
But then other times, my brain would spin off into SunshineLand, and this was one of those times. Miss Mary Ann’s face fell as I enthusiastically picked up…two pieces of paper.
Miss Mary Ann: (inaudible sigh) Okay, Judith picked up…two pieces of paper. Judith? (last glimmer of hope) How could you use these pieces of paper together?
Me: (performance anxiety silence)
Miss Mary Ann: …
Me: You could…keep one…and give one to another person!
Miss Mary Ann: Oh, well that’s very nice, but we’re looking for a way to use them together…
Miss Mary Ann: (“DIDN’T YOU USED TO BE SMART!”)
Me: (losing my religion)
Miss Mary Ann: Well…maybe…maybe you could fold them!
Me: (huge, beaming, desperately grateful smile, nods head effusively)
Miss Mary Ann: (sits in fearful anticipation for the rest of the show)
***LATER THAT EPISODE***
“Romper Room” would do a lot of human interest/cultural awareness stuff, and on this day, they had a representative from the local ASPCA on the show. He brought with him two identical kittens. They were so cute!!! I always loved kittens and cats, and wished I could have one myself. So I was mesmerized, for the approximately seven minutes that the kittens were on the set.
Fast forward to wayyyy later in the day, and we were going over school traffic safety, reviewing various signs and their meanings. Miss Mary Ann went over them with us, AND we watched an entire long, boring movie about signs and safety.
Afterwards, Miss Mary Ann quizzed us. “Now,” she said, pointing to a “STOP” sign, or something equally obvious, “What does this mean, when we see this.”
I raised my hand very seriously.
“Yes! Judith,” Miss Mary Ann said, obviously hoping I would redeem myself for the Two Papers Fiasco.
“Those…those kittens looked like twins!”
Seriously, it was amazing. Miss Mary Ann was an improv pro, but she got all visibly thrown, like “What the hell is WRONG with this child!” but also fascinated, because, like, “What the hell was WRONG with this child,” you know?
“Well…yes,” she stuttered, quickly regaining her footing. “Yes, they were probably from the same litter…and SPEAKING of pets, well — maybe — what are some ways we can keep PETS safe outside, using our school traffic safety laws!”
And no, even my memory is not so psychotic that I remember all of this in detail, but for years, I had a videotape of my week on the show. It’s since gone missing, which breaks my heart, but I’m very glad to have gotten to watch it. If for no other reason than nowadays when I get that very same exact giant facial question mark from people, I can laugh it off as a “Those kittens look like twins” look. And I get very, very many of those.
© May 22, 2007