One of the benefits of working in children’s and youth ministry is that you have an “in” into the world of childhood. I listen to VeggieTales– I ain’t ashamed. I like crayons– who doesn’t? I am fortunate, because I get to do things engineers and lawyers don’t get to do; however, there are still some things that I really enjoy, that perhaps I am just “too old for” as a 25 year old adult. You be the judge.
25- Uno and other games
Now, perhaps this is just because my camp nickname was (and forevermore will be) Uno, but all the same, I get excited when I see card games or board games at someone’s house– it gives me a little glimpse into what brings them joy and helps them enter into childlikeness. And I really just want to play a game.
I have two friends that I can’t help but think of when I think of candy. One worked at camp and it wouldn’t be odd for him to pull out a Ring Pop during a leadership meeting; the other is in many of my classes here at Wheaton, and it’s not an odd sight to see him enjoying a bag of candy at his desk. I love candy too– but who doesn’t? I think every person has a type of candy that sends them back to their childhood and makes them feel young again– What’s yours?
Best Crayons: Crayola. Best Crayola Color: Cerulean. Favorite thing about Crayons: The Smell. Seriously though, who doesn’t smell a box of crayons and flash back to their 2nd grade classroom? Or maybe 1st grade, I don’t know. In my experience and through observation, when adults pick up crayons (more so than markers or colored pencils) it has a calming, relaxing effect. Until the crayon, breaks of course…
There are two sides of the coin here. Some would say that our modern infatuation with cartoons is an example of extended adolescence– people in their 20s and 30s spent too much time (and money) into cartoons, comics, and other entertainment media. This is probably true. I also appreciate such appreciation for cartoons and similar media, because it means a childlike part of us is still going at it. Childishness and childlikeness are very different; one is a synonym for immaturity, the other connotates the spirit of wonder and joy which children exemplify. Personally, I still love Hey Arnold, Recess, Little Bear, and the Flintstones– and many more shows. They help me see life from a different perspective on life, one that is less characterized by worry and work and more focused on adventure and people. But that love for My Little Pony? I just can’t jump on the brony bandwagon…
23- Grilled Cheese Sandwich
When I was a kid, my sister would ask for a grilled cheese sandwich– and I thought she was saying “girl cheese sandwich.” And, as a boy, there was no way I was eating a girl meal! So what did I do? “I want a boy cheese sandwich!” Bam! Deliciousness and manliness, all in one sandwich. But seriously though, grilled cheese sandwiches are delicious (just don’t use that American cheese mess) and easy to make for a single guy who cooks VERY little. Why is this treasure always relegated to the Kid’s Menu?
22- Stuffed Animals
Ok, up to this point you were probably saying, “Yeah, no, it’s cool Evan, all that stuff is pretty normal.” Now you’re probably clicking the back button and getting the heck out of here. Now, I don’t sleep with stuffed animals nor have a huge collection sitting in my bedroom… only about ten or so. But each one represents a certain time or memory for me– my last summer at camp, a prize a friend one for me at a fair, the time we left England, etc. It’s also not that I love MY stuffed animals, personally, I just love the attachment kids place on them– it can be dangerous at times, but often it’s so heartfelt and sweet. Who can stop themselves from smiling when they see a kid hugging a stuffed bear? If you said, “I can”– you have no heart, sir. You better see a cardiologist, because you have no heart.
21- Cardboard Boxes
I think Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes has one of the best imaginations in all of literature– and his delight in a cardboard box is not easily forgotten.
I still see great potential in cardboard boxes. My sweet friend (and fellow Day Camp Director) Ann Peterson can attest to this. Two summers ago, as we worked to decorate the Day Camp Building, I was gungho about using cardboard boxes– and we used the heck out of them all summer long. And I think I passed on some of the love, because as I returned this past summer, what do they have in front of the stage? A medieval fortress wall– made out of cardboard boxes. They have unlimited potential!
At times I wish I could live in a Hispanic country, simply so I could enjoy a “siesta” every day. Oh, and I could have delicious food. And, in certain areas, enjoy flamenco guitar or a mariachi band. Hmmm… it’s time to move, methinks!
19- These Things
Seriously though, every time I pass one by, I want to insert a quarter– or five!
18- Adventures in Odyssey
Some of you are thinking, “What?” Some of you are saying, “Oh yeah!” And now some of you are sitting there, puzzled, because you didn’t fit in either category. For the unaware, Adventures in Odyssey is a radio series produced by Focus on the Family about characters in a fictional town called Odyssey. Most stories revolve around John Avery Whittaker, or Whit, and his soda-shop/theater/inventors workshop/majestic fun time place Whit’s End, as well as a bevy of fun characters like the nerdy Eugene, silly Connie, and goofy Wooton. I could go on and on about this show, but I’ll save my thoughts for another post. I have this series on cassette tapes, CDs, mp3s, and I have an app on my phone that plays old episodes– it’s fantastic. I feel that I still learn things from the show and enjoy the stories perhaps more than some kids. It really is timeless (although there is a lot of synth in the shows from the 80s). Really, the best things of childhood are timeless.
A good friend of mine from camp once told me I was campy. Instantly my mind went to this. “Camp” is cheesy, banal, ridiculous, exaggerated– but also a key characteristic within homosexual culture. So there’s definitely a strange mix of ideas all in one place. I prefer her definition of campy though– fun, silly, nature-focused, childlike and joyful. And camp itself is a beautiful gift of God. Where else do you get to play games, sing songs, explore the great outdoors, share stories, grow closer to God, and overcome challenges in big and small ways? Where else but camp? Too often, though, camp is just for kids. Adults have retreats, or conferences, or team building challenges– which are all fine and good. But there are many blockades to get by for adults to enjoy regular camp– an attitude of pride, the inability to just play (not compete, not exercise, just play), the assumption that they’ve already seen it and done it all. I know that I have to deal with these issues whenever I go to camp as well– and unfortunately it just gets harder as you get older. I miss the wonder of camp– I still have some of it, but the rest gets lost over time. I can’t help but hope that Heaven will contain some of the joys of camp, children dancing and playing in God’s love.
16- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Delicious, easy to make, and delicious. Why is this primarily a kid meal?
Disney past, Disney present, Disney future– it’s all good. Some TV shows and movies are better than others, but there are many honorable themes and stories that Disney covers. Stories of orphans or children with only one parent. The pursuit of love (though this certainly has ill effects in modern culture). Magic and mystery. Community. Dreams. Overcoming evil. Stories of transformation and heroism.
Like with crayons and cardboard boxes, I love taking materials and making something new out of them. A blank piece of paper is a paper airplane or drawing or maze or card or… I know this is something that my personality in particular finds life-giving, but I definitely feel that it can be helpful for all people. It reignites imagination and creativity, lets your brain wander and appeals to the kinesthetic learner in all of us.
13- Kids TV Shows
I still love Animaniacs, Microsoap, Kenan and Kel, Hey Dude, Recess, All That, Doug, Hey Arnold, The Amanda Show, Round the Twist, Honey I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, Art Attack, Hannah Montana, Even Stevens, Wienerville, Hercules, Aladdin, The Weekenders, Pepper Ann, Science Court, Goof Troop, Bump in the Night, DuckTales, Kim Possible, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Angry Beavers, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Figure It Out, GUTS, Gullah Gullah Island, Blues Clues, The Secret World of Alex Mack, Clarissa Explains it All, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, Brotherly Love, Smart Guy, Salute Your Shorts, The Naked Brothers Band, Inspector Gadget, Looney Tunes, The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, Gumby, Tiny Toon Adventures, Tom and Jerry, Dexter’s Laboratory, Wacky Races, The Jetsons, Today’s Special, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Papa Beaver’s Storytime, Rupert, Cow and Chicken, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Scooby-Doo, KaBlam!, Bobby’s World, Captain Planet, Men In Black: The Series, Mr. Magoo, Pound Puppies, Phineas and Ferb, Wizards of Waverly Place, Faerie Tale Theatre, So Weird, Bear in the Big Blue House, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Quack Pack, TaleSpin, Teen Angel, The Wonder Years, Step by Step, Full House, Student Bodies, Rosie and Jim, Home Improvement, My Best Friend is an Alien, Babar, Arthur, The Magic School Bus, Garfield and Friends, Zoobilee Zoo, Thunderstone, The Brady Bunch and SO MUCH MORE.
And yes, this is basically a duplicate of #22. But it’s that important, I had to mention it twice!
Ok, I never really get to play on a playground, only at camp every once in a while. And most stuff is too small anyway (have you ever tried to slide down a small slide and get stuck halfway down? might be time to go to Weight Watchers… ) Anyway, I just think adults should try and swing at least once a year. It’s medicine for the soul.
Ice cream, Ice Cream, Ice Cream, everyone eats ice cream. (And yes, I do love Ice Cream.) But popsicles? They bring back memories of summer time fun– and are packed with sugar, so YUM!
10- Children’s Books
I could list all of my favorite children’s books… But I can hear the multitudes (read: 4) crying, “NO!” So instead, let me offer this quote from CS Lewis:
Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz. (“On Three Ways of Writing For Children.”)
I have never waltzed, but I think I catch his drift– and I hope all fellow non-waltzers (and waltzers alike) can catch his drift. Surely there are some children’s books that are best only for a child– but there are many fine books out there that kids ages 1-117 can enjoy. The category matters not– it’s all about the story. I love this other quote from Lewis as well:
For I need not remind such an audience as this that the neat sorting-out of books into age-groups, so dear to publishers, has only a very sketchy relation with the habits of any real readers. Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table. “On Three Ways of Writing For Children.”)
When I was a kid, I tried to check out books from the high school library. Now as an adult, I want to enter into the worlds of children’s literature again and again and again.
Yes, I know a lot of these things are food. I can’t help but think of the saying: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Perhaps this is true as well- The way to one’s inner child is through the taste buds. Cereal, sandwiches, candy, popsicles, bubble gum, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and Go-Gurt– and Jell-O. But Jell-O is more than just a food. It’s an alien substance that has the ability to dance without legs or feet, a jewel of deliciousness, a treat for all ages. Jiggle jiggle jiggle.
It’s not just about stuff. That is something I have learned as I have grown up. it’s so much more. It’s about the person giving the present, the smile on their face, the twinkle in their eyes. It’s the presentation, the wrapping paper or bag or card, fancy or simple, bright or subdued colors. It’s the suspense of guessing what’s inside, picking it up, shaking it up and down if you dare. It’s the waiting until the day comes that you can open the present. It’s the joy of neatly unwrapping the git or tearing it apart like a wild animal. It’s the excitement of studying the present and sharing your joy with others, showing it to your friends and showing appreciation to the giver. A present is more than just an gift-wrapped item– it’s a whole experience. But yeah, I guess gift cards are cool as well… just not as cool.
7- Children’s Music
Whether it’s a Disney soundtrack, a VeggieTales album, a children’s worship CD, or any random kid’s song, I love it all. I appreciate Billy Joel’s words about music: “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” If music is healing, then perhaps Children’s Music is a Flintstones vitamin, a bowl of chicken soup, and the feel of mom’s hand as she checks your temperature. Little things that make a big difference. Just listen to this and say your spirit isn’t touched.
6- Fairy Tales
“Oh come on Evan. First you have two entries for kid’s TV shows, plus Disney! Now you have Children’s Literature AND Fairy Tales? This is getting redundant.” Ok, let me ask for your forgiveness, but I think this is different. Children’s Literature is about characters, plots, adventures. Fairy Tales and folk tales and legends and tall tales tell us about culture, history, and humanity itself. It’s more about themes, settings, morals (implied or explicit). Though we can’t completely understand what it would be like to be Cinderella, we can empathize with her. She was abandoned, rejected, hurt– and finally, loved. We can all think of times that we experienced great feelings of sadness and isolation, and we can all hope to have the pure satisfaction of finding love. This may just be my opinion, so let me share some thoughts from J.R.R. Tolkien:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. (“On Fairy-Stories.”)
We all make fun of the phrase “and they all lived happily ever after” because we know that doesn’t actually happen in our world. But perhaps it does in Another… What is great about fairy-tales (or stories) is the way they remind us of eucatastrophe, the defeat of good over evil. Here is Lewis again writing on this theme:
I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. (“On Three Ways of Writing For Children.”)
Need I say more?
I showed some of notes to a friend the other day, and he just shook his head and said, “I could never do that.” Granted the other two people I showed them too smiled and laughed and enjoyed my notes, because they were filled with doodles and pictures and all sorts of things that could help me remember and enjoy reading them again. I think as we grow up we believe that everything has to be written in straight lines, neat letters, words only, maybe graphs. I have found over the years, though, that I benefit from making my notes creative. I believe this isn’t for everyone, but I suggest it just as an exercise. Next time you get a chance to take notes at church, work, or school, do it on a blank piece of paper– draw out your words when possible– bring colored pens or pencils OR CRAYONS to add color to your notes– have arrows and circles and dotted lines — write in different fonts, different sizes, different angles — have fun! Now if you need some proof that doodling is actually effective, here’s an article for you from Time Magazine. Enjoy.
3- Corny Jokes
I love bad jokes. Love em love em love em. Maybe it’s because I’m bad at telling jokes. Maybe it’s because I empathize with a joke teller and want them to get a laugh, whether the joke deserves it or not. I also think that enjoying bad jokes or corny jokes or jokes that we’ve all heard a million times is a practice, an exercise that helps you try to hear it for the first time, as if you were a child. We all know adults that told amazing jokes when we were kids– then we grew up and found out they all came from someone else and had been told and retold a million times. But so what? Some of us have the same lunch every day, just because we find joy in the simple things. So perhaps we can find joy in corny jokes, let ourselves be surprised and laugh at something we’ve heard a million times before. Here’s a couple for my friends.
What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back? A Stick !
Why was the broom late? It over swept.
What do you call a dog with no legs ? It doesn’t matter, he’s not coming!
2- Sunday School Miscellanea
Yes, they’re goofy. Yes, they’re sometimes a little misleading. Yes, they may have led to problems in the church, but perhaps it’s not the things themselves, just how we have handled them. Flannelgraphs are derided these days, but they certainly can allow a great deal of stories to be told, letting children use their imagination to fill in the gaps. VeggieTales is a little moralistic at times, but when we make sure to develop a biblical foundation for kids the media adds to it. Asking Jesus into your “heart” has caused a great deal of confusion, but it sure is a beautiful image of the intimacy we have when we place our trust in Christ. (Also, some say there is no biblical foundation for the phrase– what about Ephesians 3:17?) Bible drills are perhaps too competitive, but it certainly gets kids to pick up their Bibles. Prizes for memorizing Bible verses is quite behavioristic, but it sure does help kids associate the Bible with delight. Now, I could get on soap box here and we could argue the pros and cons of various practices til we’re cerulean in the face; this is not the time nor place. I simply think that just as we shouldn’t toss out everything from childhood because it is from childhood, we don’t need to toss out the baby with the bathwater. There are certain messages we’ve sent in Sunday School that are wrong– but perhaps there’s still good in some of our practices of the past! Anyway…
I still enjoy day dreaming. I like to pretend inanimate objects have thoughts or personalities. I talk with my dog, even though she doesn’t talk back. I look at the forests as I drive along the highway and wonder if there is a tiny city of magical creatures that no one has ever seen. I still think about fantastical creatures and aliens and the like– my brain tells me its ridiculous, but my imagination says, “What if?” I’ blessed with a personality (and vocation) that allows me to imagine quite easily. It’s harder to other people, I understand. That is why Numbers #24-2 are important to me. I try to look on these things with wonder, and other people have lost such wonder. They’ve had to grow up and forget the joys of childhood or simply banish said joys to childhood. As we get older, we see the world differently. I no longer think of car trips as simply fun adventures– they involve lots of driving, fighting traffic, trying to find cheap gas, trying to find good music, trying to find a good place to eat… Disneyworld was truly once “the Magic Kingdom”– but now as I think about the place, I can’t help but consider the lines, the fees, the schedule, etc. Even at camp– I’ve worked to keep some of the magic and mystery alive over the years. But I’ve grown and so has my perspective.
Fortunately, as we grow, we can go many directions. We can grow up– and grow down. So if you are feeling a loss of joy, of imagination, of excitement in little things like popsicles and bubbles, may I encourage you: Grow Down. Re-examine a joy from childhood. Read a fairy tale. Watch a Disney movie. Blow some bubbles. It’ll be awkward. It might be boring. But in order to develop your leg muscles, your biceps, your triceps, your quadceps (yeah, I’m just making it up now) you have to make a number of repetitive movements over and over again. So just imagine that your childlikeness muscle (let’s call it your PAIDYIOD MUSCLE) needs exercise. After some time, though, it will grow stronger and stronger and you will be able to experience the joys of childhood even more.
Let me end with this thought from CS Lewis (just one more, I promise!) Take a minute or two and reflect on his words and my ramblings– and enjoy!
The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this. I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood; being now able to put more in, of course I get more out. But I do not here stress that point. Even if it were merely a taste for grown-up literature added to an unchanged taste for children’s literature, addition would still be entitled to the name “growth,” and the process of merely dropping one parcel when you pick up another would not. It is, of course, true that the process of growing does, incidentally and unfortunately, involve some more losses. But that is not the essence of growth, certainly not what makes growth admirable or desirable. If it were, if to drop parcels and to leave stations behind were the essence and virtue of growth, why should we stop at the adult? Why should not senile be equally a term of approval? Why are we not to be congratulated on losing our teeth and hair? Some critics seem to confuse growth with the cost of growth and also to wish to make that cost far higher than, in nature, it need be. (“On Three Ways of Writing for Children.”)