Looking back on it, the second session was much better than the first. I was pretty nervous the first time through, but it wasn’t until I debriefed with my wife afterwards that I realized how I could improve things. She liked that I had a puppet sidekick, but she was horrified how I used him. As the kids filed in, I couldn’t wait so I started singing the first verse to “It’s a beautiful day” by Kathy Reid-Naiman before they were even seated. I did this for two reasons. I was totally nervous, but I also went for the cold opening to get their attention and to show them that I wasn’t screwing around. We were going to sing and we were going to have fun. I had Louie the Toucan on my hand the whole time and kind of forgot all about him. He hung limply at my side while I sang and only when I had the sensation that I was wearing a velvety glove did I realize I had a puppet on me. I mumbled some garbage about how Louie and I were happy to see everyone and that we had a fun morning of songs and stories planned for them. I faced my first challenge when I went to read the first book, Silly Little Goose.
I realized I couldn’t turn the pages of the book with just one hand, but what to do with Louie? I don’t remember doing this, actually, but my wife says I that shouted “Who wants to look after Louie? Anyone?” and suddenly threw the puppet across the room to a startled mother, hitting her in the chest. Louie made his way around the room for the rest of the session, never to return to me. “Never give up control of the puppet!” my wife schooled me afterwards. “I should have told you that. The magic is lost when the kids see the puppet up close”. I’ll tell you another time I almost lost the magic. I went to play “I like to rise” by Kathy Reid-Naiman and in my haste I almost clicked on the next song on the iPod: “I like it rough” by Lady Gaga. Luckily, I never did hit play because I remembered how the song went at the last moment. Disaster averted. The only fame monster in my programme was Louie.
Other than those misfires, I think the session went well. English was a second language for about half of the mothers, so I think the songs and rhymes were just as important as the books. Speaking of the books, my wife thought I should have chosen physically bigger books. She thought some of the Moms and kids had a hard time seeing the pictures. “Although it was better once you took off that puppet”. There was one Mom who scowled at me throughout the whole session, which really unnerved me until I realized that was just how she looked. She was singing along with me, so I have to assume she was enjoying it. One of the Moms brought her 4-year-old daughter as well, and she was great. She got all my jokes and responded to all my questions. I realized my programme was probably aimed at a slightly older crowd, as none of the two-year olds (including my daughter) wanted much to do with me. I found myself playing to this one 4-year-old more than anyone else, and she became the leader of the songs and rhymes. She was the only one who really “got” the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was really glad she was there.
Between the first and second sessions I changed up the books (choosing bigger ones, thank you very much), changed some of the songs and rhymes and kept a couple the same for continuity.
One thing was for sure, I was done with Louie.
That damn puppet caused too much grief in week one to make a second appearance. I thought this right up until the kids began arriving for session 2, and one of the Moms came up to me and said “My son’s been talking about Louie all week long. He can’t wait to see him again!” Damn it! I had to run into the storage room and dig the little bastard out. Did Mr. Dressup ever feel resentment towards Casey or Finnigan? Luckily I had the heads up from this one Mom, otherwise I’d be spending the first 10 minutes of the session fielding questions about Louie’s whereabouts. As it was, I made up some nonsense about how Louie and I spent the week and how we were back for some more fun. The one thing I know about successful sequels is that you need to ramp things up. Instead of one puppet, I was ready to use four. I was smart this time. I just used Louie to introduce the session and then put him behind my chair. I had a pig puppet to lead us in a pig rhyme, a bunny rabbit to lead the “See the sleeping bunnies” song, and I thought I was quite clever in finding a dragon puppet that doubled as a crocodile for a crocodile tickle rhyme.
“Tickle rhyme?”, you may ask yourself. I know I did. “You’ve got to go up and tickle the kids with your puppet” my wife told me. “Or if you not comfortable with that, pretend to tickle them.” I don’t know what was worse, trying to actually tickle small children wearing a dragon puppet masquerading as a crocodile puppet, or merely pretending to tickle. “The other option, ” my wife explained, “is to just tickle yourself”. Now this sounds even worse. Tickling myself in front of small children? In the end, I didn’t need to worry because the kids were a lot more familiar and I dare say aggressively friendly and I had to keep 3 or 4 of them at bay while I tried to complete the rhyme. The kids wanted to tickle the crocodile! It was all backwards, I was losing control and I looked for support from my wife, but she was nowhere to be seen. Apparently my daughter started acting up at the beginning of the rhyme and my wife had to take her out of the room for a bit. I was on my own, being overrun by three toddlers. I panicked and did what I had to do. “Okay kids, who wants to look after the crocodile?” I shouted as I launched it across the room into the lap of a different by equally startled Mom.
Before I knew it, the session was over and I had to say goodbye. I knew I was just the “fill in” guy and that the regular program leader would be back the following week, but a part of me wanted to carry on and do all eight sessions. I was beginning to build a bond with this kids and their mothers, and I felt like I was actually getting into a groove. I am going to be on vacation when the third session takes place, but I left a note for the regular program leader. “We had fun. They’re a lively group. I started this thing with the toucan puppet. The kids seem to like him. Maybe you could also use him for continuity. His name is Louie”.