that other girl, she can’t do it

We were in Florida last month, and there we had the privilege of working with a swim teacher, named Dick Cutrera, who absolutely blew my mind. I took my two-and-a-half year old daughter to six lessons at his house in six days, and she went from someone who sat on the top step and ran screaming for a towel if she were splashed with a single droplet, to someone who jumped in– without any flotation devices– and swam back to said steps. He’s a wonder worker who has been teaching kids to swim for FIFTY YEARS (Cosmopolitan magazine did a fabulous Palm Beach spread of him teaching kids in a Don Draper-era 1961.) 

I was as enthralled during Maggie’s lessons as she was, because “Mr. Dick” keeps up a constant banter with his young charges that is a marvel of child psychology. His chief means of motivation is the constant mention of another (imaginary) child, one not nearly as successful a student as his current one. It goes something like this:

“Ooh, you put your face in the water? That other girl, she can’t do that.”
“When you get water in your eyes, you wipe them down, right? That other girl, she cries for her mommy to bring a towel.”

Maggie’s smug superiority that she is nothing like “that other girl” is really something to behold.

Mr. Dick’s other means of motivation is a Ziploc bag of Mardi Gras beads, and another Ziploc bag, filled with soil from his garden. “Oh, you’re going to get to pick out a necklace,” Mr. Dick told Maggie as she perfected floating on her back. “You’re going to get TWO necklaces. That other girl? She’s getting black dirt.” The black dirt, sitting there next to the necklaces, will never actually be given to any child; but it is all the proof Maggie needs that this other girl actually exists.

Other things we learned about “that other girl”:

–she lives right up there (pointing vaguely) and she might be watching you from the window
–her name is Mary (sometimes)
–she broke Mr. Dick’s garden gnome and her mommy is going to have to buy him a new one

Maggie scooped up these bits of information with wide eyes, nodding sagely, and although it’s been three weeks since we came back, she still talks about “dat udder girl, her not do it, her get black dirt” several times daily. 

Since “that other girl” got Maggie to swim, I have decided to apply this line of reasoning to the potty, as well. Wish me luck. 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jillian July 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Amy, hello! Boy am I glad I tripped onto this article you wrote: while I was looking for UWS activities for kids.

I'm moving to the UWS from the DC area, and I've been scared poopless about not having affordable and close things to do with my two rugrats. I know pretty much nothing about NYC so it's a little overwhelming.

I'm pregnant with a 3rd due in August and I feel like no sane person lives in Manhattan with three kids 3yo and under. Are you still there now that you have three?

I've come across your play (Mother Load) a year or two ago and hope to see it in full some time, since I'll be in NYC now.

Anyway, thanks for the insight and I look forward to your future work πŸ™‚


kelly B. July 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm

This is hilarious! I'm interested to hear how this goes with potty training. I'm 'getting ready' to get ready to start potty training my 2 yr old. Somehow I think I'm the one that needs fooled since I'm more unsure about it than my daughter is. I hear so many horror stories about either it not working or worse.. that their kid was potty trained before they were two. That comparison just means we've failed before we've started. Poop on that. I'll just keep in mind children don't typically grow up and go to college in diapers, right?


Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 12:51 am

What I want to know is what you are going to put in the bag for "dat other girl" when you are potty training… hmmmm?


Amy Wilson July 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Hmm. Well, Anonymous, I guess potty-users get necklaces, and non-potty-users get: black poop. from their own Pull-Ups.


Amy Wilson July 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Hi Jillian! I do still live on UWS, with three kids. Life in NYC with kids can be maddening, but it's also GREAT. You'll be amazed how much there is to do within walking distance of your apartment, especially on the UWS.

Some of those places I mentioned in that Mommy Poppins article are no longer around, but there's still tons of places to be, so send me another note once you're in NYC and I'll give you more ideas!


Amy Wilson July 2, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Kelly B- this is my third time down the potty-training road, and despite what everyone says about girls being easier, well, not so far.

I will say that if you wait until they are ready (as in, they're motivated to give it a shot) it will be short and not too painful. If you try to force them, it will take a lot longer.

That being said, I'm starting to be slightly forceful, because I mean, come on. Let's go here.


Jillian July 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Moving in as I type this! Well, my hubs and 3 guys we hired are, anyway. If you happen to see a very pregnant lady sitting on a U-Haul truck, that's me πŸ™‚


just one foot July 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Genius! I wish I'd known about 'the other girl' when my kids were younger. I did have a friend who issued and took away 'points' if her kids were good/bad. "Don't jump on the bed, you'll lose five points!" The points never bought anything, were never redeemed, but somehow the threat/reward of 'points' sounded important enough to motivate her kids. I love clever parenting. πŸ™‚



Karen July 25, 2010 at 5:09 am

Do yo uthink this technique will work on my 6 yr old?!


JBH January 13, 2011 at 3:36 am

Dick Cutrera taught me and my brother to swim in the 70's. I remember him saying that other girl is a baby. We have home videos of him teaching us. Thanks for sharing.


Amy Wilson January 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Amazing! I just can't believe how long he's been doing this. Still going strong, by the way- if you ever get down to Vero Beach Florida look him up.


Leave a Comment