The Playroom: 20 Questions

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

It’s 7 in the morning; I’m standing in the kitchen making the kids’ breakfast and lunches. My son walks in and asks, “Mom, is poo a mineral?”

I answer, “No, poo is not a mineral.”

My son giggles, “Is it flexible?” and answers his own question typing slowly into the computer game he is holding in his hand. “Yes, it’s flexible.” Followed by more giggles and, “Yes, you can touch it, but it’s unpleasant.”

He’s got 20 questions to beat the game. If the computer guesses what an 8-year-old boy thinks is hilarious at 7 on a Tuesday morning, the game wins, if it can’t, my son wins.

My daughter walks into the kitchen crying and holding a tooth above her head in a Ziploc baggie. “The tooth fairy forgot to take my tooth.”

I’m standing at the stove, frozen. I just stare at my daughter and the Ziploc baggie she’s holding above her head, wondering if I can blame this one on my husband.

“Does it bring joy to people?” My son falls on the floor laughing.

My older daughter walks in, flops down on a chair and asks, “Why is she crying?”

Her little sister answers, “The tooth fairy forgot about my tooth.”

As soon as my oldest child hears about the absent-minded tooth fairy she stands up, steps over her brother on the floor and walks out.

As I serve my sobbing 6-year-old breakfast, I explain that I’m sure the tooth fairy did come last night and the money just fell behind the bed. I assure her that after breakfast she should go upstairs and check behind her bed and something will be there. Then I get out of the kitchen as fast as possible, sprint up the stairs and realize the gold dollar tooth fairy coins I get at the car wash change machine are all gone, so I open my wallet and all I’ve got is a $20 and some change that doesn’t even add up to 20 cents.

I so want to get this right. The breakfast, the lunches, the 20 questions game that I wish he would play with something more appropriate, like a cheetah. I want my older daughter to be kind and generous to a crying little sister, and I so do not want to set a tooth fairy precedent of 20 bucks a tooth. I feel beaten, as though somehow I’ve lost the tooth fairy game.

I walk back into the kitchen as my son asks, “Can you easily move it?” Diligently typing he remarks, “I’m so going to beat this thing! Yes, you can move it.” The game asks, “Is it warm?”

As my son is doubled over his breakfast, pounding on the table and laughing, I again wonder what’s wrong with just being a cheetah.

My older daughter walks back into the kitchen and hands her sister a 10 dollar bill. “Here you go. The tooth fairy was there — the money just fell behind the bed.”

As my 6-year-old is hugging her older sister with tears of gratitude I ask where the 10 bucks came from. My older daughter gives me a look that reads,

“Really Mom? You are so busted. The tooth fairy in this house forgets all the time and you use that ‘fell behind the bed excuse’ so much that I knew enough to cover for you this time. I raided my own money and I’ve raised the rates way over that dollar coin you normally hand out. Now the tooth fairy is in it for 10 bucks a tooth, and you owe me 10 bucks.”

My son has finally answered all 20 questions. He’s not laughing anymore. He’s in it to win it, and now it’s up to the game.

“Mom, what’s manure?”

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at