The Playroom: Time to believe

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

“Believe you can and you are halfway there,” said Theodore Roosevelt. That may be good advice if you are running for president or you’re a little engine trying to bring toys to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain, but children’s stories don’t always work out that way.

It does not matter how much I believe I can teach a child to sit on a chair, on their bottom and eat at a table without fighting with their siblings. Unless I put them in separate rooms, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” isn’t going to keep my kids from fighting at breakfast.

I actually like this take on the entire believe it and make it happen movement, “If you believe in it, you can start it.” An artist painted that on the wall of the elevated train, L platform.

I do believe I have good kids and I do believe we work on discipline and treating each other with respect. We do start each day with good intentions and we do try. I empathize and say things to red-faced screaming children such as, “I can understand that you are frustrated because you can’t play with the blue shovel in the middle of a parking lot.” We’ve even practiced how we’ll handle certain situations as we role play: “What are some of the ways you can handle your anger instead of clobbering your little sister?” But my kids still don’t do all the things I teach them, and they still treat each other in a way that isn’t even some third-place tarnished bronze version of the golden rule.

At my daughter’s camp this past summer there was a saying posted outside the preschool classroom door: The object of teaching a child is to enable the child to get along without the teacher. That is so not fair. I’m the one doing all the work and then they behave for other people?

Perhaps there is some truth in what is posted on the classroom walls and painted on the walls of the L. At a parent-teacher conference my husband and I sat there quietly stomping on each other’s feet as my son’s teacher gushed with praise, what a joy it was to teach our son, and told us how he was one of the best-behaved children in her class. My husband reminding her, “We are William Steadman’s parents.”

And when she said he was also one of the top two readers in the class my husband just looked at me and said, “The kid can read?” The look on my husband’s face was nothing compared to the look on the teacher’s face as she realized we had no idea the kid could read. Then they both looked straight at me, the mother.

How was I supposed to know the kid could read?

I’ve read to him for six years, done all the early reader books in the series. I sat with him and patiently reviewed sight words and worried silently about his progress but consoled myself because he’s a good athlete and besides my husband and I didn’t learn how to read until first grade and we turned out smart enough to get jobs. How was I supposed to know the kid could read The Little Engine that Could by himself?

Well, me and subway artist already agree, but as far as Mr. Roosevelt’s quote applies to parenting my children, I will just add an addendum.

Believe you can and you are halfway there, as long as you understand your children have to be miles away from you in order to get there.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is She can be reached at