Even angels need lip gloss …

I teach Sunday school every other Sunday morning at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church. The kids in my class can range in age from 5 to 10 years old. And they are awesome.


Occasionally, I have to leave Sunday school and go repent of a few thoughts I’ve had over the past hour, but I always leave with a fresh perspective on religion, spirituality, life, and sometimes, variations on a few songs I thought I knew.

Usually, the class is pretty evenly divided between girls and boys, but today I had a class of eight girls. All girls.

Girls and boys are different, obviously. The boys will punch one another in the shoulders, make up violent lyrics to children’s songs, stick the craft pipe cleaners up their noses, one-up one another and get increasingly loud until I have to shout to hear myself think sometimes.

The girls always raise their hands before talking. Their comments aren’t always on point, per se, but they do politely wait their turn.

This morning:

Hand goes up in the middle of our story about an angel breaking the apostle Peter out of jail.

“Yes?” I ask.

“Look what I have!” and an energetic five-year-old jumps out of her chair and pulls a circular plastic lip gloss out of the pocket of her dress. “IT’S HELLO KITTY!!!” she’s practically screams. Several necks crane to look.

“That’s awesome,” I say in what I hope is an adequately admiring tone. “Now let’s put it back in your pocket until church is over, OK?”

Ever polite, satisfied and happy that she has now shared this with everyone, she complies and I go back to the story.

Another hand goes up. It’s reaching and reaching and reaching, so eager to share.

“Yes?” I ask this new participator.

“I have lip gloss too!” And she pulls it out of her lavendar sparkly purse. An appreciative sigh goes throughout the group about this remarkable coincidence, which prompts a general dumping of purses in the middle of the table as everyone examines the contents of everyone else’s purse in the search for yet more lip gloss.

“Ok! Ok!” I tell them. “Purses away. We’re at church. And you all look beautiful. But today we’re focusing on how we make ourselves beautiful on the INside.” I get kudos for bringing this back around to a life lesson, huh?

Another hand goes up.

“Does your comment have anything to do with Peter and the angel?” I ask her.

She carefully considers this for several seconds. And slowly nods her her gorgeously curly head.

“OK,” I say. “Let’s hear it.”

“I’m stronger than my dad.”

We all mull this over a bit before several enthusiastic voices pipe up with “Me too! Me! Me!” and “I’m stronger than my dad too!”

After the lesson we went into a bigger room outside the class to play a game. It was a kind of “Tag” game with some kids playing angels and some playing guards and some playing prisoners. At first, they all wanted to be angels, until they realized that the guards had the most fun. One of the “prisoners” nearly got to the point of tears, so fearful was she that she wouldn’t be “rescued.”

Billy’s class, the class below the girls in age, was in the big room too. Their class is less structured. They mainly play with toys, listen to music and have a snack.

The “tag” game with prisoners and angels totally enthralled Billy. He was so excited watching the girls play that he started jumping up and down and running in and out of the players, tagging people randomly.

He approached one of the girls – she’s two years older than him but about the same height – and got very close to her. A bit too close for normal social comfort, probably.

But he had a big smile on his face and I could tell that he wanted to say hello. So I got down on my knees next to him and led him through the process of saying, “Hi, my name is Billy!” which he handled pretty well with prompting.

The beautiful big-eyed girl smiled back at Billy and told him her name.

Back in our classroom, I talked to the girls about Billy, about autism, and about how much I appreciate their kindness and patience with him as he learns things like how to introduce himself and how to share – still not his strong suit. They listened and took it all in matter-of-factly.

Later, as I was coming out of the nursery where I was picking up Willow, I saw a table of “my” girls playing with various games. Billy had plonked himself right down in the middle of them, reaching for the games and poking at the parts and pieces. And the girls weren’t laughing at him or getting impatient or angry.

On the contrary. They were showing him how the games worked, which parts moved, how to make them turn. One little girl gently took Billy’s hand and used it to make the spinner spin. His eyes lit up and a big smile spread across his face. He looked directly into her eyes and she smiled back.

I learned everything I need to know about angels today.

How do we stop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the possible effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD affects one in 100 infants each year, yet is 100 percent preventable. Some of those possible effects can include seizures, facial and other physical malformations, and developmental delays and other neurological problems.

And it’s 100 percent preventable.

How often do you get those kinds of stats related to birth defects?

I received this information this week in an email about a Community Action Summit taking place here in Tallahassee, starting tomorrow, in support of a statewide campaign, launched by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, to eliminate FASD. ““Florida Fights FASD” seeks to engage and educate Floridians about the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and, ultimately, to reduce the number of children born with FASD in the state.

I was discussing this issue with my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group this morning, and quickly became aware of how much more complicated an issue it is to solve FASD than I had at first thought. At face value, it sounds simple: Get pregnant women to stop drinking. How hard can that be?

Then one of our moms, who used to work as a bartender, told us how hard it was for her when clearly pregnant women would come to her bar and drink heavily. HEAVILY. She wasn’t allowed to refuse them service on the grounds that they were pregnant, even though it went against every fiber of her being to see them consume round after round.

Should we make it illegal to drink while pregnant? After a very short discussion, it became clear that that was impractical. Who’s going to enforce this law? What if you can’t tell? It’s more dangerous to drink in the first trimester, when most women don’t show. Should women be forced to wear a scarlet “P” as soon as they get a positive pregnancy test? Clearly not.

Maybe greater education at he OB/GYN level should take place, during prenatal care. But then you find out that some of the women most at risk never receive prenatal care.


The goal of this week’s summit is to debate and brainstorm these issues and ignite “torchbearers” for the cause. These torchbearers will serve as community advocates and take FASD prevention activities and public awareness messages back to their local communities and/or share information with members of their organizations. Summit attendees will participate in an educational forum where expert speakers will lead discussions about the prevalence of FASD and what can be done to combat it.

The Summit is being held at the TCC Capitol Center, just west of the Florida Capitol and next to the Brogan Museum on Kleman Plaza. It begins with an evening welcome reception on Wednesday, Oct. 20, from 5 – 7 p.m. The main event will be held Thursday, Oct. 21, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact Rick Oppenheim or Emma Washington at (850) 386-9100, roppenheim@rboa.com or ewashington@rboa.com.


Learning to read, a boring pond and three magical fish

I can still remember learning to read. It was a very exciting time. I was in first grade, and we were taught phonics with the Open Court system.

If you’re around my age, you’ll remember the wall cards with the letters and pictures on them, and the chant that we stood and recited every morning: “Block A, Block A …ay, ay, ay! Beating heart, beating heart … buh, buh, buh!” And so on.

There was a story behind the pictures associated with each sound. We started with the letter “M,” which we learned made the sound “mmmm…” The picture on the card was a girl enjoying an ice cream cone, and she was the star of the story. I can remember each picture on every card, because it made sense and had relevance to the story.

As we learned another letter, another bit of the girl’s story was revealed: At one point she saw a motorboat on the water, which made an “nnnnn….” sound. And at another plot point, she encountered an angry cat, teaching us “fffff…” sound. At various points in the story, she cracked some nuts(C- and K-), knocked on a door (D-), got out of breath (H-), made some coffee (Qu-), and encountered a frog (G-), baby birds (Y-), an angry lion (R-) and apparently, a ghost (Oo-).

I have a couple of points. First of all, the story was exciting. There were ghosts! And lions! And motorboats! And ice cream!

Secondly, I was six years old. My mom had taught me how to read quite a few words before then, but the school didn’t actually attempt to teach me to read until I was six.

Billy started pre-K when he had just turned three. Almost immediately, his class began with sight words.

The first word I was taught in school was “ME.” It had obvious significance for me, and I knew how to sound it out because I had been taught the “ice cream sound” (M-) and “Block E” (long E-).

Billy’s first word : “the.” How do you teach a 3-year-old the significance of “the.” WHY do you teach a three-year-old the significance of “the?”

In my first grade class, after learning “me,” Mrs. Peel taught us the “knock on door” consonant (D-) and “the angry lion” (R-) and I sounded out the word “deer.” My first book: We Feed A Deer. A little light on plot, sure, but it was followed by Fire! Fire! (long I-) and one about a jewel heist on a boat (long O-) that I remember to this day.

Billy’s books are called “pre-decodables” and they are the most boring stories on the planet. In fact, calling them “stories” is a little misleading. They are more like word collections.

Some of the titles are A Table, The Pond and The Cows, and they make We Feed a Deer read like an episode of “CSI: Miami.” I mean, come on, who ever heard of a children’s book in which the protagonist was a TABLE?

“The pond.
He and I are by the pond.
The frog is by the pond.
The pond.”

Billy’s going to start his second year of pre-K next month, and he will very likely be getting the same material again. The only thing worse than studying The Pond for a week is a re-run of The Pond. I’ve tried getting these books back out to re-familiarize him with the sight words, but the last time I pulled one out, he just laid his head down on the table and started to weep softly.

His favorite books at the moment are Madeline, which involves crying and emergency surgery and a man with a “hurchy foot” and scars and presents and balloons (these plot twists are listed in the order of their importance to Billy), and Finding Nemo, which has sharks and a blowfish and water and a seahorse and hugs and lots of shouting.

The Pond can’t compete. I’m glad he’s learning to read at school. I just hope the plotless reading material doesn’t cause him to develop an aversion to it.

Books are competing with more stuff than ever for kids’ attention. It’s never been more important to make their reading material exciting and challenging – even if they are three. Especially if they’re three. Have you seen an episode of the “Wonder Pets?” Those animals get around.

For the time being, I’m spicing up The Pond with a few plot twists of my own. I hope it doesn’t raise too many eyebrows in the fall if Billy explains how the giant frog at the pond ate the boy who then cried and cried until his friends, the magical fish who were cousins of Nemo, sang the theme to the “Wonder Pets” and saved the day.

Now that’s a story about a pond.