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'The True Mother' | Circle Round 8618:42

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about the most honest person you know... someone you can count on to tell the truth.

Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s even you!

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We’re about to meet a wise judge who has to determine who’s telling the truth,  and who isn’t. And he does some very surprising things to figure it out!

Our story is called “The True Mother.” It comes from the island nation of Japan, in East Asia.

Voices in this episode include Hana Kenny, Lia Yuen and Alex Landi. Grown-ups, you may recognize Alex from Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, and Insatiable on Netflix.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Virginia Marshall. Circle Round’s executive producer is Katherine Brewer. Circle Round’s original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Pick a grown-up in your life, and ask them about a time they used their imagination to solve a problem… a time they called on their creativity to crack a puzzle or get out of a tough spot.

Keep your grown-up’s experience in the back of your mind. And the next time you find yourself with a problem and aren’t sure what to do, perhaps you can use what they told you as inspiration!

Musical Spotlight: Toy Piano

If you’ve read the comic strip, “Peanuts,” you’ve seen this week’s instrument before! Music-minded Schroeder is always banging out Beethoven classics on his toy piano: an instrument that dates back to the 1800s. While a regular piano uses strings to produce sound, the toy piano uses round metal rods. The toy piano was intended to be a child’s toy (its alternate name, “kinderklavier,” translates to “child’s keyboard”) but many classical and contemporary compositions have used this bright, joyful, tinkly instrument. In fact, since 2000, a college library in San Diego, CA has hosted a Toy Piano Festival to honor John Cage: the first composer to write a “serious” piece for toy pianos.


NARRATOR: Long ago… in a big, bustling city… there lived the wisest and fairest judge in all the land. The judge was especially famous for the clever and unusual ways he resolved his cases.

One day, two women appeared before the judge in his grand courtroom. One of the women was dressed in red... the other in blue. When the women entered, the judge noticed they were both pushing… the same baby carriage. Each woman had one hand on the carriage’s handle. When the judge peered inside the carriage… he saw a rosy-cheeked baby boy.

WOMAN IN RED: Your Honor… we have a problem.

NARRATOR: The judge was about to respond to the woman in red... when the woman in blue cut in.

WOMAN IN BLUE: No, no, no! We don’t have a problem, Your Honor! I have a problem! (beat) You see this baby here?

NARRATOR: She gestured toward the carriage.

WOMAN IN BLUE: This baby is mine! (beat) Yet this woman claims he’s hers!

WOMAN IN RED: That’s because he is mine!

WOMAN IN BLUE: No, he isn’t!

WOMEN IN RED: Yes, he is!

WOMAN IN BLUE: No, he --

JUDGE: (cutting them off) Enough!

NARRATOR: The judge held up his hand. The women grew silent.

JUDGE: Alright. So, both of you are claiming to be the boy’s mother. (pause) Tell me... Do either of you have any witnesses to back up your claim? Someone who can prove that this baby belongs to you?

NARRATOR: The women glared at each other. Then the woman in red turned back to the judge.

WOMAN IN RED: I’m afraid we don’t have any witnesses, Your Honor.

WOMAN IN BLUE: You see, we’re both new to the city.

WOMAN IN RED: We traveled here together, from a village far, far away.

WOMAN IN BLUE: And we used to be friends...

WOMAN IN RED: ...until she tried to steal my baby!

WOMAN IN BLUE: No... you’re trying to steal my baby!

WOMAN IN RED: No, you’re trying to steal mine!

WOMAN IN BLUE: No, you’re trying to steal --

JUDGE: (cutting them off again) Enough!

NARRATOR: Once again, the judge held up his hand.

JUDGE: You know… a simple way to determine the real mother is to see which one of you the child most resembles. (beat) Please, come closer.

NARRATOR: The women stepped forward. The judge’s eyes moved from the woman in red… to the woman in blue… to the baby. He did this several times, studying each face intently.

JUDGE: Hmmm… I have to say… I’m not seeing any particular resemblance to either one of you! (beat) We’ll have to try something else.

NARRATOR: The judge scratched his head. Then he tilted it to one side.

JUDGE: (getting a new idea) Tell me… (pause) Is this baby old enough to crawl?

NARRATOR: The woman in red smiled.

WOMAN IN RED: (proudly) He is, Your Honor.

WOMAN IN BLUE: (defensive) Well, that’s only because I’m the one who taught him!

WOMAN IN RED: No, you’re not!


WOMAN IN RED: No, you’re --

JUDGE: Ladies! Ladies! Enough with the squabbling! You’ve asked me to resolve your case... and I will.

NARRATOR: The judge stood up from his seat, and came out from behind the bench. He strode over to the carriage, then reached down and lifted the baby boy into his arms.

JUDGE: Alright. You say the baby knows how to crawl. Let’s see which one of you he crawls to, when given the choice! (beat) But please - no talking. We’ll wait and see which one of you he chooses, on his own.

NARRATOR: The judge knelt down and placed the baby on the floor.

JUDGE: (sweet, encouraging to the baby) Alright, little fella! Crawl to mommy!

NARRATOR: All eyes were on the baby. A moment passed… then another… then another… but the child didn’t crawl toward the woman in red or the woman in blue. In fact, he didn’t budge! He just sat there, playing with his toes.

JUDGE: (thinking) Well, clearly, we’ll have to take a different approach. (beat) I know! We’ll have each one of you hold the baby, then see which one he’s happiest with!

NARRATOR: The women flipped a coin to see who would hold the baby first. The woman in red won the toss.

But when the judge handed the child to the woman in red…

WOMAN IN RED: (sweetly) Come here, my darling boy.

NARRATOR: ...the baby burst into tears! And the woman in blue burst into laughter.

WOMAN IN BLUE: (laughing) Ha! See? There’s no way that baby could be yours! He started bawling the second he got into your arms! (beat) Here. Let me try.

NARRATOR: The judge took the baby from the woman in red and swayed the infant back and forth until he quieted down. But when the judge handed the baby to the woman in blue...

WOMAN IN BLUE: (sweetly) Come to mommy!

NARRATOR: ...the child burst into tears, again!

WOMAN IN BLUE: (holding a crying child) Your Honor, I have no idea why he’s crying! I tell you... I’m his mother!

NARRATOR: The woman in red was about to protest, when… once more... the judge held up his hand.

JUDGE: Please! Let’s all remain calm until we figure this out.

NARRATOR: The judge took the baby from the woman in blue. He patted the boy’s back until the crying subsided. Then he placed the child back inside the carriage.

JUDGE: I have to admit... This case is proving to be more difficult than I thought!

NARRATOR: The judge shuffled back to his seat and put his head in his hands. As he there, deep in thought, the women waited with baited breath.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. Then twenty. Finally, as the clock struck noon, the judge raised his head again. When he did, his eyes were sparkling.

JUDGE: (getting another idea) Ladies. I promised you I would resolve this case… and I will. (beat) (very slowly, mysteriously) But this is an extraordinary situation. And it can only be solved by extraordinary means!

NARRATOR: The judge called his clerk over.

JUDGE: Please, go to the market and bring me the following things — one bowl of rice… one heaping plate of noodles… and a steaming-hot pot of green tea. (beat) And hurry! We have work to do!

NARRATOR: What do you think the judge is cooking up?

What would you do if you were the judge?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The True Mother.”

When we left off, two women were both claiming to be the mother of a rosy-cheeked baby boy. The judge tried several tests to see who was telling the truth, but nothing seemed to work.

The judge promised the women he’d resolve their case. So, as the clock struck noon, he asked his clerk to bring him three things: a bowl of rice, a plate of noodles, and a pot of green tea.

When the clerk returned, the judge sniffed the rice… he poked at the noodles… he sloshed the tea around in the pot. Then he turned toward the woman in red and the woman in blue.

JUDGE: Ladies. As I mentioned, a case as unusual as this one requires unusual methods! I’m talking about...

NARRATOR: He waved a hand in the air.

JUDGE: (slowly, intriguingly) ...fortune-telling.

NARRATOR: The women gasped.

JUDGE: (slowly, mystical) Yes! I, the judge, will attempt to look into the future. And based on what the future tells me, I will figure out who the baby’s mother really is.

NARRATOR: The women watched with wide eyes as the judge tucked a napkin into his collar. Then he picked up a pair of chopsticks, and plucked one grain of rice from the bowl. He scrunched up his forehead as he examined the grain carefully.

JUDGE: (as if he’s seen a vision of the future) Oh my… very interesting… yes, yes…

NARRATOR: The judge popped the grain of rice into his mouth. Then he reached down and picked up another grain. As with the first, he studied it intently...

JUDGE: (as if he’s seen a vision of the future) Wow… my goodness… uh-huh… uh-huh...

NARRATOR: ...then ate it. the judge repeated this process over and over… until the entire bowl of rice... was gone.

JUDGE: I must say, we are off to an excellent start! Very promising! (beat) Next… the noodles!

NARRATOR: Once again, the judge grasped the chopsticks. He lifted a noodle and gave it a wiggle.

JUDGE: (as if he’s seeing more of the future) Hmmm… a-ha… I see...

NARRATOR: The judge brought the noodle to his lips and slurped it down. Then he repeated the process with another noodle…

JUDGE: (as if he’s seeing more of the future) Would you look at that?!?

NARRATOR: ...and another…

JUDGE: (as if he’s seeing more of the future) My, my, my!

NARRATOR: ...and another!

JUDGE: (as if he’s seeing more of the future) Fascinating!

NARRATOR: Soon, all of the noodles were gone. The judge wiped his lips with his napkin, then stared at the woman in red and the woman in blue. His eyes were gleaming.

JUDGE: (slowly, almost mystical) Ladies... A very clear vision of the future has come to me. (beat) I’ve seen an image of the boy’s real mother!

WOMAN IN BLUE: (shocked) You have?!?

WOMAN IN RED: (intrigued, hopeful) Tell us more!

JUDGE: Well…

NARRATOR: The judge took a deep breath.

JUDGE: (very dramatic) This vision takes place forty years from now. So the woman is forty years older than she is today. Her hair is grey, her fingers are stiff... but she’s hard at work... in the rice fields. 

NARRATOR: The woman in blue grimaced.

WOMAN IN BLUE: (grimacing) The rice fields?!? Forty years from now?!? (beat) Shouldn’t both of us be retired by then?!??

NARRATOR: The judge held up a finger.

JUDGE: (very dramatic) But wait! Wait! That’s not all I saw. There’s a reason the real mother is working in the rice fields forty years from now. It’s because her full-grown son... has become ill! Gravely ill! And she’s toiling away to support her beloved child! (beat, dramatic) She’s bent over those rice paddies... sweat streaming down her face… day in and day out… sun-up to sun-down... seven long days a --

WOMAN IN BLUE: Stop!!!!!!!

NARRATOR: All eyes shifted to the woman in blue.

WOMAN IN BLUE: This child! (beat) He isn’t mine!

NARRATOR: The judge raised his eyebrows.

JUDGE: He’s not yours, you say...? And why are you telling the truth now?

NARRATOR: The woman in blue threw up her hands.

WOMAN IN BLUE: Isn’t it obvious?!?? You shouldn’t have to take care of your child when you’re old and gray!!! Your child is supposed to take care of you! That’s the whole point of having children!

NARRATOR: The judge turned to the woman in red.

JUDGE: And what about you? Do you think the whole point of having children is so someone will care for you when you’re old and grey?

NARRATOR: The woman in red blushed.

WOMAN IN RED: (sincere) No, Your Honor.

NARRATOR: She gazed down at the carriage.

WOMAN IN RED: (full of love) Your Honor… I love this boy with every bone in my body. And as long as there is breath in my body, I will work to support him if he needs me. (beat, gently) And I’ll do it happily. After all... he’s my son!

JUDGE: (slowly, impressed) So he is!

NARRATOR: The judge stood up, and walked over to the baby carriage. He lifted the rosy-cheeked boy, and held him out to the woman in red.

JUDGE: (sincere, kind) Please… take this child. It’s more than apparent to this court that he really... truly... is yours.

NARRATOR: This time, when the judge handed the boy to the woman, the baby didn’t cry at all. Instead, as his grateful mother pulled him close, the infant smiled.

Suddenly, the judge cried out.

JUDGE: Oh! I almost forgot to tell you what happens next in my vision! (beat) After being so terribly, terribly sick, the full-grown son completely recovers from his illness. And he goes on to become quite successful. He starts a beautiful family of his own… then invites his mother to move into their magnificent house by the sea, where they all live happily together for a long, long time!

NARRATOR: The woman in red cried tears of joy as she hugged her son. The woman in blue, on the other hand, rolled her eyes and stomped out of the courtroom in a huff.

WOMAN IN BLUE: (ad-lib sound of storming out in a huff)

NARRATOR: The woman in red kissed the top of her baby’s head. Then she looked at the judge.

WOMAN IN RED: Your Honor. I can’t thank you enough for helping me get my son back. (beat) But I have to ask…

NARRATOR: She gestured toward the empty rice bowl… the empty noodle plate… and the very full pot of tea.

WOMAN IN RED: The green tea you asked for… you never used it! I thought for sure that you’d study the tea leaves to read the future!

NARRATOR: The judge grinned.


NARRATOR: He lifted the teapot and poured himself a cup of tea.

JUDGE: (casual) The tea was just there to wash down my lunch!

NARRATOR: Then he swallowed the tea… gave the woman in red a wink... and sauntered out of the courtroom.

Well… years went by, and as it happens, the woman’s son did get sick. Very sick. She worked to take care of him, and when he recovered, they all lived happily ever after.

But what do you think: did the judge really see the future in his rice and noodles?

Or was he just enjoying a hot lunch?

I’ll leave it to you, to decide.

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