- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

David Woods Taylor experienced a rite of passage years earlier than most when he escorted his best girl to the prom on Sunday.

David, 4, sported a Navy blue double-breasted suit, a crisp white dress shirt with French cuffs and gleaming patent leather slip-ons. His "date," Felecia Taylor (a k a Mom) complemented her son by wearing a pearl pink gown with a matching translucent pink bolero jacket, pearl-colored peau de soie heels and a matching evening bag.

Thanks to Mother's Care Daycare Centers , David and 74 other pint-sized youngsters ages 2 to 5 donned their Sunday best at the Eighth Annual Tot's Prom at the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring, Md.

They made a dashing pair. And David didn't have to worry about transportation, either. Mom took care of that they arrived at the prom in the family's silver Mercedes-Benz.

"This is an opportunity for moms and dads to create a memorable day in the hearts and minds of their children," says Jacqueline Hatcher, Tot's prom coordinator since 1992.

"It's an absolute blast. There's a sense of excitement as soon as the children and their guests enter the hotel lobby… . They're greeted by friendly smiles from teachers, and the children show off their special frocks. Everyone is wearing their biggest smile," Ms. Hatcher says.

In many cases parents get a bigger kick out of the prom than the children, says Ms. Hatcher, an events planner since 1990, who takes special care of the annual event for the 250 attendees.

"The parents and grandparents are beaming. For every one child there are two to four guests in attendance. Very often the adults are more excited about the prom than the children," she says.

"This is as much fun for me as it is for David," Mrs. Taylor says.

"At this young age, David and the other children get to experience to a certain degree what the prom is like," she says.

• • •

Mother's Care, which has three locations in Upper Marlboro, Cheverly and Adelphi, stresses both scholastic achievement and social graces. Along with a full complement of classes, the children learn self-discipline, how to walk in a single file and how to follow their teachers' directives," Ms. Hatcher says.

"But, they're also taught social skills how to interact with other children and adults in terms of showing good manners and being courteous; little boys are taught to be polite to little girls and to share their toys," she says.

At the prom, children get a chance to show their parents and family members all they've learned during the course of the school year including etiquette.

The children, seated inside the John F. Kennedy ballroom under sparkling chandeliers at formally set tables with pink and blue linen, enjoyed fried chicken or chicken tenders dinners and juice boxes (they're spill-proof). Adults' entrees included Chicken Marsala or roast beef. During the evening guests were entertained by keyboardist Brandon Broadnax, who tours and performs with Philadelphia's Grammy award-winning Boyz II Men.

Of course, Ms. Hatcher says no prom or party would be complete without confections. Several cakes that read: "Congratulations to the Graduates," were served with ice cream sprinkled with assorted chocolates. Zap the clown proved a highlight for the little ones. With squeaky nose, kaleidoscopic hair, oversized shoes and a pocket full of tricks, Zap led the children in "Circle Time," singing and dancing to favorites like "Jesus Loves Me," "Deep and Wide" and "Father Abraham."

The crowning moment of the afternoon took place when eight princes and princesses were crowned during an awards ceremony for demonstrating exceptional skills in leadership, sharing, good manners and congeniality, Ms. Hatcher says.

Afterward, the royal court took to the dance floor for the first waltz of the evening with their dads and moms. They swayed to the father-daughter duet, "Unforgettable," by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole.

Fathers spinned their daughters to the adoring lyrics of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," and David and Mrs. Taylor, along with the other mothers and sons, floated to Boyz II Men's "Mama," an endearing melody honoring mothers.

Mrs. Taylor, who lives in Cheverly with her husband, Joe, and their four sons, says Mother's Care brings out the best in David.

"It's a wonderful place to have your children. From Day One, they've treated him like he's one of their very own children. He can recite books in the Bible. He's singing gospel songs, and each morning David leads the family in devotional prayer," Mrs. Taylor says.

What's most important, she says, is that her youngest son enjoys being at the Cheverly Mother's Care center because of the warm environment, the stimulating curriculum and the fun activities.

Bryant Williams escorted his mom, Angela, to the prom, too. Bryant, 4 and 1/2 years old, has attended Mother's Care at Evangel Church in Upper Marlboro since he was 2.

Bryant, a dapper fellow, turned heads Sunday in his black double-breasted suit, white shirt and black, gray-and-white tie. Mother and son decided to dress alike for the special occasion. Mom wore a dressy black pantsuit, black heels and bag.

"I think Bryant is excited about wearing a suit. That's all he's talking about wearing a suit. He's looking forward to looking like Daddy," she says.

"I think this formal event is very good practice for Bryant. He's usually on his best behavior. He gets excited about seeing people he knows when we're out," Mrs. Williams says.

Like Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Williams was more excited about the prom than her little one.

"We've attended every year, and this is a wonderful program. I've seen Bryant excel in all areas. Mother's Care has done a wonderful job preparing him, not only for kindergarten but also in Sunday school. He's done very well and definitely benefited from the experience," the proud mother says.

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