Snack time for our half-day kindergarten class was meticulously organized and acknowledged with the utmost ceremony. Our teacher printed a list on pink or green copy paper a month or two in advance, assigning children the task of bringing the refreshments. On the day that the child brought his Little Debbie’s zebra cakes or her homemade chocolate chip cookies, he or she would also be designated the “fairy duster” after nap time. The fairy duster would be awakened early during the nap time, given an old feather duster, and honored with the task of dusting fellow classmates so they would wake up and return to their desks for snack.
When it was finally my day to bring snack, I waited quietly in my spot on the floor until at last Mrs. Schultz quietly tapped my shoulder and let me know that I could assume my role. She had recruited my sixth grade brother Andrew to help for the afternoon. He had helped her set up while we were resting and showed me how to pass out the snacks on each of my classmate’s desks. When we had finished, I was given the duster, and I slowly walked around the room tickling my friends awake.
We proceeded to our seats to enjoy my mother’s homemade raspberry muffins. As we sat there unwrapping them, we heard the heavy breathing of sobs. Mrs. Schultz followed the noise to the reading corner of the room that was closed off by two bookshelves that housed over-sized books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Little Red Hen. She disappeared behind the shelves and gasped, “Oh, Eddie! You can come out now! We’re all having snack.”
“But no one feather dusted me!” he wailed. “No one came to get me!”
His inconsolable, puffy tear-streaked face confronted the teacher.
I felt horribly guilty. I had forgotten the one kid I should have never overlooked, but I honestly didn’t see Eddie—Eddie “Butterball.”
They called him “Butterball,” but not because he was fat. Indeed, he was not fat at all. His sagging jeans bunched around his ankles and wrinkled just above his little knees. The children called him “Butterball” because his last name sounded so much like it.
Even though I thought it was exceedingly funny, I tried to withhold giggles when I heard his last name because my already puny kindergarten classmate winced whenever the kids would taunt him, asking him if his family owned the bologna company. Besides, I had a funny last name too. I’d heard my older brothers and sisters bemoan the fact that students in our new town never pronounced our name correctly, and that they’d find some dirty word to interject into it.
So, I called him Eddie. I was afraid of being friends with him because he was strange. Already, I’d been made fun of for befriending the handicapped girl in the class, so pairing up with Butterball should have scared me, but we occasionally sat together during story or snack time.
During snack time on another afternoon, he had shown me a trick: he knew how to get the most out of his cupcakes and muffins. After devouring a little pink-frosted cupcake, he crammed the waxy wrapper into his mouth and began chewing it as if it were a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
“It still tastes good,” he said. “You just chew it until the flavor is gone.”
I’d never seen anything like that before, so I decided to try it. To my surprise, he was right. I didn’t tell the girl to my right, but a few of the other children must have caught the idea and tested it out. Eddie had started a trend. All of a sudden, our teacher discovered what was going on when she was circuiting the room with the wastebasket to collect wrappers and tidy up before closing down for the day.
She furiously demanded that we all spit out our wrappers. Immediately, kids were projecting waxy wads of wet cupcake mush onto their desks. Totally disgusted, she tried to temper the chaos by asking any children who hadn’t done this yet to hold on, don’t swallow it, and wait until she could get to them with the trash can.
But on the day that I brought the snack and I had forgotten to feather-dust Eddie, Mrs. Schultz faced the problem of explaining to Eddie why he’d been excluded.
Before dismissing Eddie to his seat, Mrs. Schultz knelt to his level and congratulated him on hiding so well, but she reminded him that hiding wasn’t the point of nap time. She moved the bookshelf a little bit to show us all where he had been napping: he had squeezed underneath a desk and covered himself completely with an oversized blue bean bag.
“Sweetie, we just couldn’t see you.”
She called me from my seat and asked me to tell Eddie that I didn’t skip him on purpose.
I did that and we returned to our seats where Eddie probably would have devoured another muffin wrapper between his lingering sobs.
He had wailed in utter devastation, and to this day, my older brother remembers how absolutely traumatic it was that Eddie had gone unnoticed during nap time. Eddie’s snack time scene was terrible, but his fury at his self-imposed isolation lingers within me. Remembering his tears so many years later, I am reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew 18:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Typically, this passage is read as a way to remind us to not complicate scripture—to not question the Word of God too much because it hinders our ability to know God. I’ve heard it interpreted that way my whole life, and I don’t doubt there is something valuable about appreciating and accepting mystery in faith; but when I think of Eddie’s desperation, I am reminded of another way to cultivate childlikeness in my own life.
As an adult, I can easily recall times in my life where I’ve purposely hid and found rather large bean bags to pull over myself so I’d not be found. So many times, I’d find just the right spot where I could fit where I’d thought no one would ever come looking. I’d turn it into a game, but it wasn’t nearly as innocent as Eddie’s. It was similar, however, in the sense that I sincerely wanted to be found out, and called back to join the others to partake in the best part of the day.
When we become like little children, even though we hide—and have a rather fun time doing it—eventually, we must admit we can do it no longer because the price of missing out is too great to remain alone in our best-kept secret spots. At some point, when we feel the separation so acutely, we give ourselves up not as lost but as found.
In addition to Eddie’s bit, I count another aspect of childlikeness in this memory invaluable. As the feather-duster, I couldn’t wait to be the one to wake my friends. It didn’t matter whether or not we played together on the playground or if I was invited to their birthday parties. I would get to call them to eat. The honor and excitement of the task charged my small soul. Sometimes I wonder how frequently I am that aware of (let alone enthusiastic about) the impact of waking someone up. When I was a child, I missed that chance with Eddie because he was hiding, but I have nothing to say for myself when I’m not looking for anyone who is just waiting to be called to the table—even someone who might be in plain sight.
To become “childlike” (not to be confused with “childish”) may not mean that we become less inquisitive and blindly trusting. Instead, it may require giving up our hiding places. And for those who have already done so, to become like little ones, we must come to know the anticipation and honorable task of waking others ever so gently to life.
Note: This was written in 2012 and shared via my Facebook account.