The Saga of Cindy Johnson

November 21st, 2008 by Janet

I no longer remember how I came up with the idea to create Cindy Johnson. But it is with great joy that I now share my most favorite (and effective) parenting tool for toddlers and preschoolers. As you well know, this age group can exhibit some pretty disconcerting behavior at times. For me, the invention of Cindy Johnson dissipated everything from the ugliest of department store debacles to nerve-racking back seat conniptions.

When my daughter Ann was nearly 3, I made a 7-1/2-inch paper doll that looked just like her. (Well, as much like her as any non-drawing mom could be expected to draw.) Although I didn’t know a “Cindy” or a “Johnson,” I named my creation “Cindy Johnson.” On one side, she had a smile on her face, and on the flip side, she had a frown. I used clear Contac paper to “laminate” Cindy, which, after 21 years, has preserved her appearance better than Vitamin E has preserved mine.

I never left home without Cindy Johnson. Her permanent residence was in my purse, so I could whip her out at a moment’s notice, no matter where we were. Whenever my daughter’s attitude rivaled that of a Pekingese without food, I knew it was the perfect time for Cindy Johnson to make her appearance. “Ann,” I would say, “I feel like a Cindy Johnson story right now, but I need you to be quiet so I can tell it.” Neither “time-outs” nor threats of logical consequences could bring about quiet in such record time. Because I tell impromptu stories about as well as I draw, I marvel to this day that my daughter was so engaged by these simple stories that generally all followed the same basic outline: 1) Cindy Johnson and her mom would be having a pleasant time together (smiling face). 2) A conflict would arise. 3) Cindy would be very, very angry because she didn’t get her way (frowning face).At this point, I’d embellish the outlandishness of Cindy’s behavior, and Ann would think this was the funniest thing she had ever heard. I would then ask Ann what she thought Mrs. Johnson should do. And out of my little girl’s mouth would come stuff you’d think T. Berry Brazelton himself had told her. “Well, okaaaay,” I’d skeptically answer. “I guess that would be worth a try. Let’s give it a whirl.” The suspense would always build as Cindy Johnson struggled with her moment of decision. But always, always, the culmination would be the return of Cindy’s smiling face — as well as my daughter’s. Cindy would then return to my purse (after her fewer-than-five-minute performance) and my daughter and I would go about business as usual.

Ironically, years later, I discovered that my daughter never put two and two together regarding Cindy Johnson being “her,” or that all of those scenarios were actually re-enactments of our own conflicts. Perhaps that was part of the effectiveness. In that case, you might not want your paper doll to look too much like your child — be it Cindy or Sam Johnson.

I am not an artist, storyteller, or child psychologist, so I couldn’t tell you why this 7-1/2-inch paper distraction was so effective for my daughter and me. All I can tell you is that Cindy Johnson transformed many an outing for me, and I’d also like to think that the seemingly simple storylines just may have held some pretty powerful wisdom too. Now if only parenting a teenager were this easy!

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