During the Sermon

During the SermonSitting in church today, my nephew (age 3 ½) started looking at the row behind us with a confused, or perhaps puzzled look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“There’s kids there,” he said.

I looked at the teenagers sitting in the row behind us. “Kids? Okay, yes, there are some kids there,” I said, thinking it precious that he considers all non-adults to be kids.

“But where are their toys?” he asked. He had a whole grab bag of coloring books and crayons that the church offers for the little ones at the front door.

“Well, they don’t have any,” I said.

He looked at his crayons and coloring books, and carefully chose some. This took a moment. Then he casually tossed them over the back of the pew to the teenagers, during the sermon, no less. They looked at me.

“You didn’t have any toys,” I explained as quietly as I could. “He’s sharing his.”

Of course I think he’s the greatest kid on the planet. I’m not biased at all. But I sat there today wondering if all kids have what he has, if it’s natural, and if, with care, it might never wear off.

Here’s to hope.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Barbie

Barbie postBarbie
Barbie is the new B word, says one of my Sunday School kids
Stupid doll
She gives us the wrong impression, another girl says.
Barbie is the new B word
Even the boys were getting into it
Because she’s not real, one boy says
Nobody likes Barbie

I raised my hand, even though I’m the teacher
I love Barbie, I declare
They all stop what they’re doing
And eight pairs of 2nd and 3rd grade eyes stare at me
I didn’t back down

My teachermate, Miss Jennifer, tried to pull me aside,
Saying something about social injustice,
but I was about to defend my childhood,
and nothing could stop me now.
I put down the 10 commandments I’d been working on, stood up, and I said:

My sister and I had tons of Barbies. The older Barbies were in a gang and they were always trying to corrupt the good, new Barbies. I’ll give you Skipper, though. She was useless. Her arms didn’t even bend.

One year, I got a Barbie play house for Christmas and my Dad didn’t want to put it together right away after all the presents, so I got the tools and I put it together. It was in three sections, two stories, and I built it myself. It was glorious!

The French doors never worked right, but the elevator did.

My sister had a cowgirl Barbie who would wink at you if you pressed a button on her back, so we called her Winker Barbie and she was the leader of the rabble gang. Winker had really nasty hair because my sister tried to use the curling iron on it. The rest of the gang was made up of Barbies who had experimental haircuts and whose heads we sometimes switched.

Winker and her gang were notorious for launching attacks on the Barbie Mansion, where the new and pretty sorority Barbies lived in harmony, ‘cause they hadn’t lost any limbs yet. The usual attack would come when the Mansion Barbies were throwing a party and security got lax. And sometimes, Winker would team up with the Transformers and it would be Winker and the airplanes against Optimus Prime and the Mansion Barbies, good vs. evil-style over the Barbie Mansion, the last ally stronghold.

Sometimes Winker won, and Ken would drive the Barbie Mobile into the Mansion and the pretty Barbies would be thrown out of the house. (Ken always changed sides, depending on who had the better chance of winning the Mansion.)

Winker and the gang would redecorate with alphabet blocks and tacky popsicle stick furniture instead of the posh couches and appliances the Mansion Barbies had.

After most battles, though, good would prevail and the Mansion Barbies would triumph with a tea party and the Bambi creatures from the McDonald’s Happy Meal would come over.

Over time, many, many battles were waged, there were arms and legs piled high in the Mansion yard, which was the orange carpet of my bedroom, and heads would have to be switched.

But one day, the My Little Ponies attacked, and Winker and her band of merry thugs formed an alliance with the Mansion Barbies, and it was only through Winker’s fast moves in the Daisy Duke jeep, luring the Ponies into firing range of GI Joe’s missiles, that the Mansion Barbies ever had a chance. Winker’s quick thinking was the only thing that saved the Mansion Barbies. That and her friendship with GI Joe.

The alliance held. After that epic battle, which was the final battle, Winker and the thugs got to live in the house together with the Mansion Barbies.

The Mansion Barbies fixed Winker’s rat nest hair, and Winker taught them all self-defense.

Launch yourself into better imaginings, I told the kids.

The problem is not Barbie’s waist-to-boob ratio. It never was.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Flip Flopping Between Worlds

My friends’ son has wanted to sit in church during the service lately, rather than play in the nursery. He’s nearly three. He’s pretty good about sitting there and following along, minus a few distractions here and there, but hey, even the adults have those.

photo-6I remember being probably 4 or 5 years old, and because we had my younger sister who would be in the nursery, which was attached to the kid zone at my childhood church, I was usually allowed to go spend time in the kid zone even though I was plenty old enough to behave myself with the adults. In this season when I could flip flop between the worlds I learned to enjoy the structure of the grown up world upstairs because the adults got to listen to stories and learn a lesson.  At the same time, there was just something about the welcome of the kid zone that was such a relief. I didn’t have to focus, pay attention, concentrate on whispering, or sit up straight. Walking into that warm, multi-colored room on the lower level was so inviting that I remember that feeling of instant bliss to this day.

As adults, we flip flop between striving and being ourselves, between pushing further and stopping to relax. We measure progress and keep our eyes on the prize. We spend time “upstairs” with the big kids.

We walk in and out of many rooms in life, and while we can’t help but push boundaries, there’s something to be said for walking into a room where you’re instantly allowed to just be yourself, exactly as you are, today.

~
Follow the blog! And check out my first book, Upside Down Kingdom,  on Amazon.    

Decisions, Decisions

At today’s Teacher Brunch for the Sunday School, our director asked us about any surprising challenges that came up through the course of the year.

The usual suspects came up: cohesiveness with the high school group, attendance with the same group, shuffling of grades to reduce other class sizes, learning the curriculum (for the youngest groups because they have their own system), and the like.

SundaySchoolThen it was my turn. My class was awesome, so the biggest challenge I had this year–which was actually quite fun–was that one little boy refused to color. Because he didn’t enjoy it, he incited the other kids to riot over the coloring. None of them would color. So we tried out puzzles and crosswords, and found that mazes worked the best for everyone.

As for the little boy, who was one of the youngest in the class, I chatted him up in the hallway one day and told him, “You’re a natural leader. Kids listen to you. One day, men will follow you. You must decide to use your powers for good or for evil. Choose wisely.”

To this, he gave a perfect second grade lament, “What are you saying???”

One of the teachers at the meeting today said, “That’s when you say, ‘I think youknow.’”

I think I’d actually said something dull like, “Eh, get back to class.”

But next time—and it will come—I’ve got this.

~
My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.

A Trail of Elephants Saying Goodbye Under the Stars

photoAfter our Sunday School finale this week, Miss Jennifer gave me flowers on behalf of our class to wish me well on my move. Now the welcoming spring scent of these orange tulips is changing the very air of my house. She also gave me an armload of farewell cards that the kids made for me. She’s immensely thoughtful.

As she and I looked through the cards on Sunday, I saw each kid’s personality in them. Miss Jennifer told them to put their names on the back, but I didn’t need the names to know who would draw a space alien, a monster, a monster crushing an alien, a turtle with a cartoon blurb saying “Ouch” as flowers landed on his head, a trail of elephants with their friends saying goodbye under the stars, and a riddle.

The riddle says, “I’m not putting my name on this card. You have to guess who I am. I’ll give you a hint: My name starts with an A. It ends with an A. And there’s a [this letter looked a lot like a W, but I couldn’t make it out] in the middle. Do you know me yet?”

Of course I do. And yes, her name starts with an A. The rest of the riddle is a bit dicey because the letters don’t match her name.photo-2

Knowing a child by name is a duty. Knowing them by their drawings is a privilege and an honor. And there’s only one person in our class whose mind works in riddles, and she’s exactly the one who would devise a riddle with fake clues.

Thanks, Allie. And special thanks to Miss Jennifer and our entire Sunday School class for making this an awe-inspiring year. My hope is that these idea-filled kids were able to learn even a fraction of the great things they managed to teach.

~
My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.

Navigating the Maze

photo-2The second and third graders in my Sunday School class gravitate toward something different each year. One year it was glitter glue. That was an awesomely messy year. Last year it was scrolls–everything had to be written down and rolled up like an ancient scroll, then hidden in the classroom to be found the following week. This year, it’s mazes that bring these kids together at the table, working, comparing notes, and congratulating each other on really difficult feats. I found a bunch of Biblical mazes online, and even Miss Jennifer and I sit side-by-side with the kids to work on them as we discuss the weekly lessons.

With mazes, the right path is never straight. You have to work counter-intuitively.  The maze takes you to the farthest places of its confines to explore the outer edges before you find your way home.

In the thick of things, you feel you’re taking two steps forward, three steps back. Having to erase is a real ego-killer. Scribbling out is even worse. But when you reach the end of the maze, or the beginning (depending on where you started), you see how each of these backward steps was necessary to avoid pitfalls and path endings, that, at the time, you didn’t know were there.

Every so often, truly just once in a while, the universal cogs click into place–into that sweet spot where everything suddenly makes sense, and all the want and the worry, the work and the fury, the passion and the reaching were not for nothing.

Today is that day.

Big things are coming, my friends.

~
I’ll be reading poetry at C4’s Creative Salon in about two hours from now for La Notte delle Donne, Due. Stop on out if you’re in town.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.

Little Miss T and the Spider

Just in time for Halloween, Little Miss T, one of my Sunday School students, approaches me in class this week. Quietly, so the others wouldn’t hear her, she whispers, “Miss Jody, there was a black spider in the corner during the lesson earlier. It was big and hairy.”spider

I think it takes a different kind of person to like spiders. I don’t have that gift; spiders creep me out. I have noticed, however, that anything smaller than a dime usually doesn’t bother me. At this point in the conversation, though, I’m not so worried about the spider as I am so touched that Little Miss T is whispering so that her classmates don’t hear her and try to launch a crazed attack. (Our church serves donuts before Sunday School. The Second and Third Grade Class gets a little rowdy. Teachers, too.)

I can’t even focus on the spider at the moment, because I’m studying her calm, focused demeanor. She knows I don’t like spiders. She’s delivering her grim message, but in such a solid manner, one-on-one.

“In the corner?” I whisper back. Little Miss T nods. “Did it look like that big one from a couple weeks ago?” I ask. Little Miss T nods again.

“Oh, boy,” I say grimly. “I’m not looking over there. I’m not looking.” I continue helping her glue her pyramid together. “Do you see it now?” I whisper.

Her big kid eyes stealthily look to the right, and, arousing no suspicion from the others, she slowly looks back to me again. “No,” is all she whispers. She’s emphatic about it.

I widen my eyes and look at her squarely to make sure she’s not kidding around. She opens her eyes wide and nods. She’s not kidding. And I’m so fascinated by her delivery of this news that I find I’m really not afraid of this spider at all.

“I’m going to pretend it’s gone,” I whisper. “I’ll look for it after class. Don’t worry. Thank you for telling me.”

She takes her paper pyramid to the next station where Miss Jennifer helps her add sand.

On the drive home after class, I’m still thinking about this conversation, and I decide: if I’m ever in a tough spot, I’d want to have someone like Little Miss T there with  me—someone thoughtful, steadfast, and brave.

And then I think: Dante had Virgil to lead him through hell.

I’d choose a second grader.

~

No spider was harmed in the telling of this tale–mostly because we couldn’t find it.

Amazon has my book: Upside Down Kingdom.

The Curious Thing

As we wind down the Sunday School year and practice for this year’s finale, I’m reminded of last year where my second and third grade class acted out Moses parting the Red Sea in front of the parish parents. We divided the class into two groups, one for Israelites and one for Pharaoh’s army. The Israelites dressed up in robes and hats and carried their belongings with them, mostly wheeled suitcases with the occasional rag bag tied to a stick. Pharaoh’s army group carried the swords they made in class out of cardboard and aluminum foil (decorated with jewels, of course) and were instructed to act as marauders.

Aswordss these things go, everyone wanted to be in Pharaoh’s army and no one wanted to be an Israelite. (I hear Moses had the same problem.) So, we did the skit twice in order to rotate the groups. Thus, everyone got to be in Pharaoh’s army. We explained this to the parents and no one minded watching it two times.

Picture: The army stalking the Israelites around the watching parents, Moses raises his staff and parts the Red Sea (a giant sheet of blue paper filled with colorful paper sea creatures the kids invented), the Israelites pass between the paper sheets which then close over Pharaoh’s army who fall to the ground and lay there flopping and twitching. (Look out Hollywood! These kids know how to be dramatic.)

The curious thing is that, during rehearsal, as the army lay flopping and twitching, and the Israelite kids were supposed to be celebrating their miraculous getaway, the Israelite kids again and again dropped their bags and returned to pull the twitching army kids to safety (away from the paper water), yelling things like, “Don’t die, my friend! Live! Live!”

Boys dragging boys by the arm, girls pulling girls, teams of Israelite kids pulling a train of the fallen Pharaoh’s army who’d linked arms… The teachers and I tried to stop them, reminding them that that’s not how the story goes. Then we conceded that if they wanted to save each other, it was okay for practice, but not for the real show in front of the parents. And finally, we silly adults stopped being directors and let the kids do what came naturally.baggage

And that’s just it, the major life lesson that I learned from them that week: When left to their own devices, kids drop their baggage and try to save each other. They don’t hesitate. They act on instinct.

It’s a lesson that changed the way I think about the world.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.