Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi lived in a cozy house on Magnolia Avenue with her mommy and daddy. Most days, Little Suzi was happy, but on one particular Saturday in March, while the little girl was reading a book to her dolls and stuffed animals, her mommy stopped by her room to tell her to ‘clean it up’: “Your room is very messy; you need to clean it up.”
It was not unusual at all for her mother to say this. In fact, she said it almost every Saturday, unless they both were busy with Campfire Girls or family bowling.
“You have such a nice room with your own bed, your own closet, and lots of toys and stuffed animals,” Suzi’s mommy often reminded her. “You should keep it nice so that when your friends come over, you can be proud of your room.”
And, normally, Little Suzi would reply to her mommy in the customary way, such as “OK, in a minute,” or “In a little while, when I finish this chapter of my book,” or “As soon as Albert finishes using the potty, so that he can clean up his mess too.”
Albert was Suzi’s invisible friend who sometimes helped her do her chores. With Albert’s help, she found it easier to get started and to finish things like putting her toys and books away, folding sheets and pillow cases for her mommy, and washing and drying dishes at the kitchen sink (while standing on stools so they both could reach).
But on this particular day, Little Suzi surprised her mother!
“I don’t want to clean up my room,” Little Suzi replied with her hands on her hips and in a stinky voice. “And, as you can see, I’m very busy right now reading this book about ‘Alice’ to Albert and these other children.”
Little Suzi immediately knew she had gone too far when her imaginary friend Albert said nothing, suddenly sat up stiffly beside her from where he had been looking at the pictures in the storybook as she read, and stared up at her with eyes wide and mouth open. And at that same moment, the little girl also knew it was too late to take it back now.
Stopping in her tracks, one step beyond her daughter’s door, Little Suzi’s mother wasn’t sure at first if she had heard what she thought she had heard.
“I beg your pardon, miss?” Suzi’s mommy pronounced as she stepped back in front of the open door to the room.
When Little Suzi did not answer right away, her mother waited for a response with her eyebrow arched high over her left eye and her head tilted down to the right so that she was looking sideways at her daughter. Her mommy was quite surprised, because Little Suzi usually did her chores without being pouty or stinky—and certainly without using petulant responses like ‘as you can see’!
And, so, she turned and left the room, closing the door behind her and telling her daughter calmly, but firmly, “Well, I guess you had best stay here in your messy room until we can all talk about it together when Daddy gets home.”
Now you’ve done it! Albert chastised his friend for her stinky behavior.
Later that afternoon, Little Suzi was still lying on her messy bed and still reading Through the Looking-Glass when her daddy came home. She could hear him talking with her mommy downstairs, and they did not sound at all pleased!
Hearing their stern tone, Suzi became worried and begged Albert to help her with this mess she had gotten herself into.
“Albert, what should I do?” Suzi whispered to her little friend. “What if they punish me for acting stinky and not cleaning up my room? What if they won’t let me go to Denny’s birthday party next Saturday?”
“Oh, no!” Little Suzi suddenly stopped and said out loud to Albert as she raised both hands to her mouth, “I forgot about the birthday party. Denny will miss me, and I’ll miss all the fun…and cake!”
When Suzi’s parents got upstairs to her room, she was surprised because her daddy didn’t seem angry at all. Instead, he just seemed sad, which made Little Suzi feel even worse than before. Nothing is worse than making someone you love feel sad.
“Suzi, your mommy told me you refused to help today by cleaning up your room,” her daddy began as he sat down on the edge of her bed and leaned forward with one hand on his knee. “Do you want to sit here in a messy room all day and not go out and play with your friends?”
Albert, sitting on the other side of Little Suzi, whispered into her ear: I think this may be a ‘trick question’. I’ve heard this kind of thing before. Be careful how you answer!
Suzi did not want her parents to know that Albert was helping her, so she sat very still and did not even move her eyes and kept her lips tightly closed so that they made a thin little line. For a moment, maybe two, Suzi just sat very still on her bed looking up at her parents.
For their part, her parents were patient with her and waited for an answer to their question.
Then, finally, Little Suzi answered very carefully and slowly: “I don’t not want to.”
Good answer, whispered Albert in Suzi’s ear. (Sometimes Albert helped get Suzi out of trouble but other times helped get her into more trouble instead.)
But Suzi’s mommy and daddy did not understand the answer: “What?” replied her confused daddy, as her mommy frowned.
So, it was a trick question, the little girl thought. But she couldn’t think of another answer, so she just sat there with her hands in her lap looking as nervous as Albert. They all were just looking at each other and trying to think what to say next.
Finally, her daddy spoke to her in a firm but gentle voice: “Let me explain. Your mommy is like a queen here in our house—the queen of the castle, understand?”
“Yes,” replied the little girl. But not really, because Mommy was not at all like the Red Queen or the White Queen in the book she was reading. But she also knew that ‘yes’ is always a far safer answer than ‘no’ when Daddy started explaining things she did not understand.
“OK, then,” continued her daddy. “So if Mommy is the queen of this castle, then what does that make you?”
Suzi thought very hard about the question and then looked over at Albert for help, but her friend just raised his imaginary eyebrows and shrugged.
Not being able to think of any better answer, the little girl finally said, “The queen’s cat?”
At first, her mommy and daddy just looked blankly at the little girl and then at each other. In a moment, grins broke out on their faces, they both began to chuckle, and, finally, they laughed right out loud.
“No, sweet girl,” Suzi’s daddy finally answered, “you are not the queen’s cat! You are a princess who must do what the queen asks of you, that’s all.”
“All right, then, Princess,” Queen Mommy told her daughter, “let’s get this room cleaned up and then you can help make dinner.”
“And later tonight, I will read you a special bedtime story,” Suzi’s daddy told her. “It’s called ‘Cinderella and the Glass Slipper’. I think you will really like it.”
If you’re a little girl in trouble
For the bad way that you act,
Maybe the best thing to be
Is the mother queen’s cat!