One of you responded to my last Parson-to-Person column on children’s mis-hearing of things adults say (“Howard be thy name,” for example, instead of “Hallowed be thy name”). She wrote:
I just read your Parson-to-Person, and I have to tell you my phrase that I misunderstood when I was a kid. When I was in early elementary school, the teacher asked if anyone knew who the first president had been. I raised my hand, and when she called on me I said the first president had been RICHARD STANDS. Of course everyone laughed and someone told me the correct answer (George Washington). When I told my mom about the incident, she of course asked me where I had gotten that name. So I recited the Pledge of Allegiance up to the part that goes “…And to the Republic for Richard Stands, one nation under God…”
(thanks to UCN friend, Kim Gloede)
Kim’s story in turn reminded me of a song I once heard children singing at a vacation bible school (at the church next door to where Craig and I used to live). I was surprised to hear the children singing about hell and the devil–but then I remembered a song I learned in parochial-school kindergarten called “Let the Sun Shine In.” I remember liking the song a lot and, being a ham even then, I performed it whenever I had a willing audience:
Mommy told me something…a little girl should know.
It’s all about the devil and I learned to hate him so.
She says he makes you trouble when you let him in your room…
I forget the next lines, but I know my family tried to get me to change “girl” to “boy.” I didn’t know why this was important, but I tried to remember the new wording. But that wasn’t the only problem with the song. The chorus (as I remembered it) went:
So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin,
Smilers never lose, and fathers never win.
Well, my parents said “fathers” couldn’t be right. But that was how I remembered it! They suggested I substitute “growlers” for “fathers.” So I would dutifully try to remember to sing “boy” instead of “girl,” and “growlers” instead of “fathers.” But I hardly ever got them both correct at the same time.
As I look back at it, I realize that the right word for “fathers” should have been “frowners.” (A word a kindergartner would not likely be familiar with, but shouldn’t the adults I knew have figured that the opposite of “smilers” would be “frowners”?) And I can see why they thought I should say “boy” instead of “girl,” though at that age gender was a rather fluid concept for me. But what I wonder about more now… is the fact that no one was concerned about teaching a child that the devil could come into his room!
I’m glad to be part of a church today where children are not taught to fear hell or the devil; where we try to be gender-inclusive (girl or boy or child or kiddo is fine); and where fathers, growlers, and frowners are welcome–along with mothers, non-binary parents, children, smilers, and everyone else!
peace and unrest,