The Playroom: Smiley face

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

I am now sending my 5-year-old daughter to karate in her older brother’s shirts because they are long enough to cover the gigantic smiley face he drew on the butt of her karate pants in permanent orange marker.

A friend asked me, “Why are permanent markers accessible?” Um, because I’m a bad mother? I do try. I once locked all the Sharpie markers in a safe in my bedroom closet that only I could open with a complex combination under a full moon. They still managed to find them. No matter how diligent I am, my kids also still manage to take a header off the upstairs landing. It turns out I can’t protect them from everything.

So at some point I decided to take the Sharpies out of the safe in my bedroom, to use them even when the moon wasn’t quite full. I moved them into my desk drawer, which is where little fingers found them this time.

In a single 24-hour period, this is what little fingers learned. There are different types of markers. Some markers belong to Mommy, and there is a reason for that. They don’t come out of your clothes or the front room couch, your doll’s face or the quilt on Mom’s bed. They bleed through paper onto your Hello Kitty coloring book, they mark up the counters of your play kitchen, and the dog will eat them and turn his mouth a weird shade of blue. All of this is why grown-ups use them to write your name on soccer balls and on your brown-bag lunch when you go on field trips. Some markers are for grown-ups, and there are reasons for that, so stay away from Mommy’s markers. Lesson learned.

In the process of teaching my children about markers and making good marker decisions, I learned something too.

“Did you draw a smiley face on your sister’s butt?”

“No. Yes.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know. ‘Cause it’s funny?”

And at this my son went into peals of giggles until he realized I was mad. I was not laughing and I was barking something about how he owed me 20 bucks to pay for his sister’s karate pants.

He started crying and told me he didn’t have 20 dollars. Then he went upstairs, cleaned out his piggy bank and gave me the six dollars he did have. I felt terrible. I wanted to give it back, but I couldn’t because I was teaching him a lesson.

But like so much of parenting my children, my son taught me something. I realized that although sometimes my kids take a header off the upstairs landing, and it’s really scary, most of the time it doesn’t matter if the permanent markers are accessible. It doesn’t really matter if the dog’s mouth is a weird shade of blue and my daughter has a gigantic smiley face on her butt. And my son is right, the smiley face is funny.

What I can’t figure out now is if I should give him his six dollars back.

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