Thursday, 15 October 2015

Collective Bargaining by Naomi Elana Zener

“I call this meeting to order. On your behalf, I’m meet with management later today to renegotiate our collective bargaining agreement and I need your full, undivided attention. I’ll be taking Union Boss with me to the meeting, but I need you all to quiet down now,” the Representative—a childless woman named Mindy who was a local area music teacher in her forties—advised.  The gnawing chatter refused to die dow. “Listen up! Pay attention to me so that we can all agree on what we want to ask for.”

The toddlers sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the daycare space rented for the meeting. Before them, at the front of the room, Mindy and Union Boss sat at a bright pink Ikea plastic table with stylistically matching green chairs from the same big box store. Both Mindy and Union Boss clapped their hands together furiously to get the crowded room of toddlers—ranging from eighteen months to four years old—to simmer down. Known only as Union Boss to the room, and standing at thirty-nine inches tall, the Napoleonic, ginger-haired four-year old boy was elected by the group for his positive sharing skills. Union Boss had asked Mindy, who’d been his music teacher for over half of his life, to help him in speaking with management, also known as ‘Parents,’ to address his and his friends’ complaints about how they were being treated universally. Union Boss hoped that the fact that Mindy was childless and a woman would help her to appear impartial to Parents. Ready for battle, Union Boss was ready to address the throng, but the toddlers reigned supreme in their disquiet. Union Boss signaled to Mindy that it was time to pull out the big artillery. Mindy opened her valise. She pulled out her ukulele. Misdirected into believing they were about to be led in song, a hush befell the room.

“We have the Parents’ list of what they want us to do. I can’t read yet, so Mindy will read it to us,” Union Boss advised, taking advantage of the strategically created opportunity to address the crowd. The youngsters had been assembled and dropped off at a local area play gym under the guise of attending a free two-hour drop-off program. In exchange, all the parents were asked to complete Mindy’s questionnaire about their chief complaints about raising toddlers. Mindy explained that it was to help her to better understand the complexities of the psycho-social child-parent dynamic. All each parent heard was “two-hour drop-off program.” The children’s parents were more than overjoyed at the prospect of having two consecutive childfree hours to themselves, so they jumped at the chance to leave their kids in Mindy’s care to enjoy musical education.  Each would’ve given her their left arm if Mindy had asked for it in return for two hours of free babysitting.

“When your parents dropped you off today, they were asked to fill out a form asking them questions about what they could change about how you all act at home. I’m going to read the top five most common complaints with examples to highlight their grievances. Please let me get through this list without interruption. Turn on your listening ears and close shut your talking mouths, ok? If you do this, once I’m done we can sing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’.” Mindy instructed. The toddlers simultaneously nodded their heads, turned an invisible key on their mouths, and sat ready to take everything in.

“Here’s what your moms and dads had to tell us:  

1.     Your parents say you don’t listen. Many parents wrote that you listen to your nannies or to the teachers at daycare, but when you come home, it’s like you don’t understand English. I know for some of you, English isn’t your first language and you speak another language at home, like French, Farsi, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew. Your parents also say that you act like you don’t understand them either in whatever language they normally speak to you at home. They want you to start listening. If they pull out the ‘1, 2, 3,’ they mean business. They wrote that it’s not an invitation to start counting up to 10. They don’t care if you can count when you’re supposed to be listening. And, they want you to stop the counting act in public for strangers to see and think you’re so smart and cute. It’s not cute.  

2.     When your parents put you in Time Out, they want you to stay in Time Out. One parent wrote that it works like Vegas for adults, but without any fun. What happens in Time Out, stays in Time Out.

3.     Potty training is a big issue for them. They want you to just be potty trained already. Many parents said that they know that you know how to use the toilet. That you’ve done it successfully many times, so they want you to stop going in your diaper, or worse pulling your diapers down and making a number 1 or 2 on the floor. They say it’s not right when the dog does it, and it’s really wrong when you do it.

4.     When getting dressed and ready for daycare and preschool they want you to put on the clothes they lay out for you, and to do it without a fuss. One parent wrote that you’re not Anna Wintour from Vogue: you don’t get to stand in front of your wardrobe putting ensembles together, photographing them, and playing dress up when you’re on a strict 45 minute schedule to wake up, use the toilet, brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, and get out the door. Several parents wrote that you should trust them when they say that they colour coordinate way better than you, and know how to pick out appropriate clothes for the season. They say that wool hats, red tutus, jeans, rain boots, and tank tops don’t work in 80-degree summer weather, even if you live in Brooklyn.

5.     Last, they want you to eat the food they give you at mealtime without a fight. If they give you salmon and broccoli, you have to eat it.”

The children grew agitated as they listened to Mindy speak. She felt that their good behaviour deserved to be acknowledged.  “You all listened so well. Now, it’s time to talk about what you want,” Mindy advised. “Then we can sing.”

Mindy had barely gotten her words out when the invisible locks on the children’s mouths burst open. Tempers flared. Tantrums erupted. Union Boss remained remarkably calm. Mindy let the toddlers tantrums have free reign, knowing that when in full-blown outburst mode, there’s nothing anyone can do but wait it out. Fifteen minutes passed, replete with toddlers screaming, crying, kicking and hitting the floor, and some even soiled their pull-ups, leaving Mindy to clean up the mess. Union Boss remained quiet throughout. Finally having settled down, Union Boss rose to address the group.

“Enough,” Union Boss cried. “Remember, tantrums only work if parents and strangers see them. Parents aren’t here. Don’t waste your time. Use your words instead.”

“I’m angry,” a boy yelped.

“I’m sad,” another boy whimpered choking down his sobs.

“I’m disgusted,” a girl, with advanced verbal skills, who’d recently watched Pixar’s Inside Out, spat.

“So, what do we want?” Union Boss asked.

“Later bedtimes,” one little girl shouted.

“More TV,” said another.

Mindy saw that she was losing control of the group and that Union Boss was losing his composure.

“My mommy said the doctor said no more than two hours of TV a day,” a little boy advised.

“Phooey,” said Union Boss. “Parents like when we watch TV. My daddy said it’s the cheapest babysitter.”

“But, my doctor said all kid doctors said it’s not good for kids,” the little boy pressed.

“The doctor is the boogeyman. Do we like the boogeyman?” Union Boss shouted.

“NO!” cried the room of toddlers.

“What do we want?” Union Boss asked.

“More TV.”

“When do we want it?” Union Boss sang out.


“What else do we want?” Union Boss asked, trying to rally the group.

“More Mac ‘n Cheese. No more salmon and broccoli,” two twin boys shouted.

“What are we going to do if we don’t get what we want?” Union Boss screamed.



“Show grandma my penis!”

“Have a tantrum!”

“Don’t let them brush my teeth.”

“Play with my vagina at supper.”

Mindy looked at the room full of children who’d exploded into full Lord of the Flies glory. She desperately wanted to help these children get what they want, but felt some sympathy for the Parents too. After all, many of them paid her good money to teach their kids music every week.

“Why don’t we make a simple list of what you want, so I can speak with your moms and dads when they pick you up in twenty minutes?” Mindy asked.

“No!” cried out several children.

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” screamed Union Boss, who was jumping up and down on the plastic Ikea table.

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” echoed the children.

“Striking won’t help you,” Mandy chastised the toddlers, running after them trying to calm them down. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“Strike! Strike! Strike!” the room continued to chant.

Mandy slumped to the floor, shaking her head in defeat,  as the natives went wild. She wasn’t surprised by the group’s behaviour, but she was disappointed in both Union Boss and herself for believing him to be different. She sullenly wondered why she expected more of him. After all, he was a toddler just like the rest of them.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.