When I first met Ms. Kathy Brennan, I had no idea that she would have such a profound impact on my early experience in this journey of motherhood. I was a first time mom and had chosen to stay at home with my son.
This was almost eleven years ago and being a SAHM was lonely from time to time. I had no family in the area and while I had kept in touch with many of my work colleagues, I felt out of the loop.
So I signed up for something called Mommy and Me at the Reston Community Center. I thought it would be a mother/child singing, crafting and activity wonderland. What the class description neglected to mention was that it was actually an aerobics class, which infants were invited to attend and watch from their strollers. True, my butt needed that class more than I would admit, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
Next, we tried Gymboree. The facility was well equipped, and I loved the fact that if a toy made contact with any child’s mouth, it was immediately removed from play and sent to the “to be sanitized” bucket. My son had a good time, but did we actually learn anything? The teacher’s policy was: Participate if you want to, but running around the room like a certain cartoon Tasmanian devil was perfectly fine too.
Shortly after that, I attended a local toddler and pre-school fair and stopped at one of the tables and met Ms. Kathy. She was starting up a weekly class in Herndon called Wee Play. Sort of kind of similar to Gymboree, but with a good helping of structure. So we signed up.
We loved it. To this day, going to Wee Play is my favorite memory from my son’s toddler stage. During the opening free play, mommies would chit chat about everything under the sun, so desperate for socialization were we. The kids learned about sharing toys (or not) and how to meet new friends. Circle time was not my favorite (more on that later), but it was an eye opener. I had to learn how to handle less than ideal situations, such as my son at times (okay, fine—MOST of the time) refusing to participate and/or becoming a tad disruptive. We dubbed the class "pre-school prep," and that’s exactly what it was.
Craft time immediately followed and again, Ms. Kathy taught me how to step back and allow my child to create what he wanted to create whether or not it remotely resembled the sample finished product. She would casually pass me by and whisper under her breath something about hovering. Activity time was fun and sometimes a bit stressful, but again—I had to learn how to deal with engaging my child in polite social play and how to redirect him when he went astray with a plastic hockey stick. Or hula hoop. After snack time, the class ended with each child waiting in line to show off their craft to Ms. Kathy and have a little one-on-one time with her, which included the selection of a special sticker to end the Wee Play day.
Once my son outgrew the classes and moved on to pre-school, I missed Wee Play more than I can explain. When my daughter was born several years later, I couldn’t wait to enroll. The location had changed and the schedule went from being once a week to a handful of classes a day. There were birthday parties and music class and summer camp. Ms. Kathy had really made a name for herself in the area.
When I took the class the second time around, it really hit me how different each child is and how much we change as parents from one experience to the next, taking the bits and pieces we learn along the way with us.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a mom struggling to keep her child seated during circle time. When her son became disruptive, Ms. Kathy signaled it was time for them to work it out in the hallway and return when things were under control. Ms. Kathy and I smiled at each other. I can’t tell you how many times I took that walk of shame in the hallway! This time it was my turn to reassure some of the first time moms that each stage of childhood has its own unique caveats, but it’s all part of the process.
Once my daughter outgrew the Wee Play program, I remained in touch with Ms. Kathy—I am happy to call her my friend. Admittedly, I was saddened to hear that Wee Play was closing its doors. Even though we were no longer taking classes there, I loved having the opportunity to stop by with my kids to say, "Hi" to Ms. Kathy and talk about the early days.
A few days ago, as Ms. Kathy was at the studio with the moving truck breaking everything down, I just had to go one last time and say goodbye. I learned more about motherhood from her than she knows. She taught me how to know when to step back and not do everything for my kids, no matter the frustration that was encountered. She taught me to let them get messy and worry about the clean up later. She spoke to the kids in a way that told them that what they said mattered to her and never did she use the dreaded “baby talk” with them. Most of all, she taught me that our kids do not have to be perfect in order for us (and others!) to measure our success as parents.
Ms. Kathy—you were the very first real teacher the kids ever had and you are forever in our baby book of memories. I know I am not the only parent in the community that feels this way! Thank you for everything. We love you.
(Editor's Note: Wee Play was the recipient of a Reston Interfaith Best of Reston award.)