Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.


October 2014
September 2014

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Have a great year! you are correct; it is the students that the school year is all about. And yes, many fellow teachers are really helpful or can give you a smile or laugh when things are not going so well. Ask for help or advice especially on those small things that never come up in Teacher Ed. like fire drills, attendance, and heat waves or cold rooms etc.


Great article.



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The math lesson

I always joke that part of the reason I chose to major in English is that I wouldn’t need math. My distaste for numbers began in third grade when I struggled to learn my times tables. In sixth grade, the letters showed up next to my numbers, and rather than rising to the challenges Algebra offered, I resorted to doodling in the margins of my notebook. I took the most basic math class I could in college, “Mathematical Ideas,” then turned my back on calculations and equations for nearly a decade. I taught myself algebra last summer to prepare for my real estate exam, but there are still more holes in my math education than there are digits in pi.

So when Dr. Peter Litchka and Dr. Peter Rennert-Ariev of Loyola University, the directors of the revolutionary professional development program St. Joan of Arc has joined alongside several other Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, asked my colleagues and I to go “out of our comfort zones” and observe another teacher from another subject area, I knew where I was heading.
Enter Kim Evelyn (pronounced “EEVE-lin”), the middle school math teacher at SJA. She invited me to visit her sixth-grade class on a Wednesday morning to observe a lesson on decimals. 

Class began with a homework check, a quiz, and an awesome and unexpected prayer.

Mrs. Evelyn defied the traditional model of teaching by spending less than 10 minutes in front of the board introducing the new topic: decimal place value. “Remember: this is the pennies column and this is the dimes column,” she explained. I wish I’d learned that in sixth grade!

Students spent a short period of guided practice time delving into the fascinating task of measuring gerbil’s tails to the required decimal place (within the confines of their textbooks, of course.) And then, the most exciting thing happened … the iPads came out.

An air of giddiness swept through the room as students fired up their tablets and logged into an interactive program called IXL. IXL is an online, subscription-based program available for preK-high school levels. It covers both math and language arts and includes a variety of problems and games, all of which offer incentives (ribbons), scores, and constructive feedback.

The students were so engaged in the program that you could hear the tapping of their fingers on the glass screens of their iPads. Occasionally someone would exclaim, “I got a ribbon!” Mrs. Evelyn circumnavigated the room, spending a little more time with those students who weren’t grasping the concept and awarding those who finished with a small piece of candy.

Before I knew it, class was over. I was even a little disappointed, as I had been playing along on my phone. (IXL offers 20 free questions a day!) What a striking difference from the days when I tried to nudge the minute hand forward by squinting at it, rather than moving time forward by busily focusing on the problems in front of me. The marriage of technology and the modern, “guide by the side, rather than sage on the stage,” philosophy of teaching have transformed the way students learn. Mrs. Evelyn’s classroom reflects that. It’s a glimpse of the future of education. And it’s exciting.

October 16, 2014 02:56
By Robyn Barberry

Breaking barriers

My house is a maze of gates and obstacles so complex that the CIA should be stopping by for security tips. I have contrived the perfect geometrical configuration with my ottoman and double stroller to keep Leo from climbing upstairs. There is a complicated system of locks for just about every door in my house, especially the bathrooms and the ones that separate the child-safe world I’ve created from the scary one on the other side. The gate between the living room and the kitchen is so wide and so tall that my mind has convinced itself that a wall exists where a convenient doorway once stood. But, the poor gate between the dining room and the kitchen was the Dutch boy with his finger in the dam.

Inevitably, the barriers I set to protect my children from the places and things which might hurt them –will break. Leo gained the upper and lower body strength to push that stroller aside –brake or no brake- as though it were his toy train. When a startling silence crept from the toy room where Frank and Leo were playing to the kitchen where I scrubbed a pot of oatmeal, I grew concerned. I went upstairs and found the bathtub running, a towel in the toilet, and my contact lens case in pieces on the floor. (Fortunately, I was wearing them.) And that poor gate, that final fortress that safeguarded my kitchen, laundry room, powder room, storage room, and the door that leads to the great big world – has been reduced to mere child’s play. Literally.

I found out the hard way. I locked Leo into his rocking chair and put on Sesame Street. “Mommy’s going to take a shower,” I told Collin and Frank, whose attention had been arrested by a felt friend with a face. “Be good.”

When I returned downstairs, fifteen minutes later, Leo was sound asleep. Frank and Collin were nowhere to be found. So, I followed the sound of the giggles. There they were. Standing on my kitchen counter. Next to the knife block. Fortunately the chef’s knife, santuku, parer and all their friends were where I had left them. Unfortunately, the memory card of Frank’s baby pictures I had left on the windowsill – was not. (I still haven’t found it!)

I shooed them out of the kitchen and scolded Collin for opening the gate for Frank. “But I didn’t,” he said, “He climbed over the gate himself.” I was double mad at Collin for lying until I watched as Frank lunged himself over the hurdle like a runner effortlessly dashing toward his goal. I put him back in the dining room, but once again he forced his way back into the kitchen. When I blocked the gate, he redirected himself to the identical gate in the toy room, which took him right to the pantry, where he discovered he could finally get snacks for himself. I heard the rustling of the Goldfish package before I even saw him.

The gig was up. My efforts to keep Frank and his crazy Frank antics to one half of the lower level of my home were falling apart as quickly as he was growing. In theory, we were playing a board game -chess, checkers, Risk, Stratego, Battleship…it’s all the same – and I lost. But then I thought about it.

·                    Frank is exploring a world he up until recently knew only as a blur of colors as I escorted him from the back door to his “safe space.” He avoids the things with which he has had negative experiences (cat food and litter, for one) and thoroughly investigates the things that light up or make noise (refrigerator, dishwasher, dryer…fortunately, he’s accepted my word that the stove is “hot.”) The back half of the house is where food comes from. It’s the source of mysterious noises: the flush of a toilet, the rattling of the washer, the hum and ding of the microwave. It’s the place where Mom spends an inordinate amount of time. Why shouldn’t he be there?

·                    If Frank is intelligent and tenacious enough to thwart my traps, then maybe those character traits will carry on into other aspects of his life. When used properly, such as standing up for what is right and just or even chasing a ball on an athletic field, they can be tremendous strengths.

·                    Frank’s job, and the job of all children, is to test the limits. To gradually detach from us so that they can live independently. This is just another big step in that journey. I pray that God protects him now that he has found his way into the most dangerous part of the house. I pray that God protects him every time his curiosity about the world leads him beyond the fences we’ve created for him.

The day after Frank set foot upon his brave new world, something awesome happened. I was bringing a load of laundry downstairs when I heard another scuffle in the kitchen. There, I found Frank, climbing the lazy Susan cabinet to get to the counter top. He looked over his shoulder at me and said, “Mommy, I need help.” It was the first sentence I ever heard him utter. Another barrier broken. In my excitement and without thinking, I put him on the counter. When I realized what I’d done, I put him back on the ground, hugged him, and told him that he can always ask me for help. There just might be a gate or two along the way.

September 30, 2014 11:56
By Robyn Barberry

After the fall

I was hot gluing a twig to a piece of blue construction paper when one of the little girls in my preschool class came running over to show me the red and green prints she made with half an apple.

Suddenly, she tripped over a chair leg and crashed to the ground. Please God, don’t let her be hurt, I thought as I stooped down to help her up. I expected there to be tears, but instead she jumped to her feet, straightened her uniform and said, “I’m okay. I should have been more careful. Next time I will do better.”

It was such a simple thing to say; a perfectly rational way to look at a mistake, but it’s something we adults often fail to do. Everyone trips and falls some time, but no one wants to admit to their faults. It’s just too shameful. It’s so much easier to redirect responsibility and blame someone or something else (“Stupid chair!”). It’s so much easier to run away and hide or to pretend nothing happened. 

This little girl did none of those things. She recognized her mistake. She realized that it wasn’t something that was going to ruin her life or her day. She reflected on what she could have done. And she reminded herself to avoid situations like this in the future. She forgave herself, just as God forgives us.  So, the next time you trip and fall, pick yourself up and say, “I’m okay. I should have been more careful. Next time I will do better.”


September 22, 2014 10:00
By Robyn Barberry

Painting with mud

“Dirt,” the second-grade teacher told me when I asked her what they were learning in science class.  Since St. Joan of Arc is a STEM school, I’m trying to tie material from other classes into my art lessons. The eighth grade was learning about heat, so we used a hot plate and crayons to create melted wax images on aluminum foil. The seventh-grade was learning about solubility, so we combined salt and watercolor paints for a cool tie-dye effect. But, dirt?

Naturally, I consulted Google for advice. I found a home-school mom’s website with pictures from a mud day.  Her children were encapsulated in dirt and mud. I decided rather quickly that I should make every effort to keep my students’ uniforms crisp and white.

Then, I stumbled upon something awesome: the dirty car artist, Scott Wade. This guy carves masterpieces into the thick dirt found on the back windows of people’s cars.  But, where was I going to find 18 dirty cars (and stepstools) to make this happen?

Louisiana Mud Painting looked promising, until I learned that I’d need to travel all over Harford County –and perhaps even the state of Maryland—to find the many types of soil I’d need to offer a range of colors.

I was stumped and running out of time.  That’s usually when I pray. I fixed myself a sandwich (also a good time to pray) and returned to Google one last time before deferring to a plan B assignment. This time, I stumbled upon something new: Korhogo Cloth (African Mud Painting)

The material used for the painting looked similar to burlap.  I had a roll of it left over from Collin’s Scarecrow costume last year and a pot of dirt that used to be a plant (I’m a horrible gardener for a farmer’s wife), so I mixed some dirt and water in a plastic bowl and used one of Frank’s old paintbrushes to paint a house on the fabric.  It looked great, but when I moved it after it dried, all of the mud flaked off.

As it turned out, it needed a binder.  We were out of eggs, so I used some brown tempera paint (it has egg as a binder) to make the mud smoother and stickier.  This time, it looked great.  I mixed up a bucketful for the students, poured into little white plastic bowls, warned them that even though it looked like chili, they shouldn’t eat it, and let them go to town on their pieces of burlap.

Thanks to God for directing me to a cool project idea, the students’ projects were a great success.




September 09, 2014 02:44
By Robyn Barberry

The best advice I've ever received as a parent: 'It gets better'

While I was waiting to pay for Frank’s haircut, a boy three times his size played peekaboo with Frank from behind a tower of shampoos and conditioners. Frank shrieked with delight, looking especially dapper with his newsman hair. The bigger boy’s father sat across from me in a Miami Dolphins hat and jersey. His eyes were the color of the Caribbean. He’d passed them-along with thick black hair and eyebrows-onto his son.

“It’s been so long since my boy was that size,” he said. 

I braced myself for another lecture on how “time flies,” “enjoy it: they grow so fast,” “you’ll miss this,” and, of course, “these are the best years of your life.”

I know that people mean well when they say things like that, but it always brings me down. It’s a reminder that all the joy I’m experiencing is fleeting. I’ll soon be alone, without a sense of purpose, and before I know it I’ll be dead.

Of course, that’s not the intention. People are taking a moment to live vicariously through my life as the mother of three very young boys. They’re wistfully recalling their own experiences and regretting the times they so desperately wanted their children to grow up. They don’t want me to make their mistakes. No “Cats in the Cradle” to be had here. These kind strangers want me to appreciate the humor, the warmth, and the light which permeates my every day by the very presence of my beautiful sons. And so, they remind –no warn—me of the changes to come.

But this Dan Marino look-alike was different.

“It was fun, but I don’t miss it,” he says. “It’s so much better now.”

He explained that his wife works an intense job, so he is the primary parent to their 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. He enjoyed taking care of them as babies, but hasn’t forgotten the frustrations of diapers, sleepless nights, and carrying around more luggage than most airlines would allow.

I dashed toward Frank to keep him from running out the front door and into the busy parking lot, but his big friend got there first and picked him up. I asked his father, “So, how is it better?”

“You get to know them for the people they are. They have more developed personalities. You can have real conversations with them. They make you laugh. You get to work on projects together. You can take them anywhere, even on roller coasters.”

I was intrigued. I’d never had this conversation before. All I hear about is how the life I’m living at this very moment is the best that it will ever be. That’s no way for anyone to live. My boys are sweet, and funny, and loving right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. Why can’t I keep loving them more and more every day? I know that they will separate from me eventually, and that there will be times I will want to send them back to Franklin Square where I found them, but that will be the right time for me to pursue that PhD and write that book I’ve been dreaming about. And there will be time for baseball games and science fair projects and stroller-free family vacations in between.
So, thank you, Super Dad, from Super Cuts. It would be nice if more people shared your perspective on life. I hope I can maintain it, even when the going gets rough. Watching your son play with mine was a nice peek at the good things headed my way.    

September 08, 2014 09:17
By Robyn Barberry

The BooHoo/YeeHaw Breakfast

It was an emotional week for many of my friends as we sent our 5-year-olds off to kindergarten. Some are excited, some nervous, some relieved, and some devastated. It is, after all, a major transition from raising the little kid whose life revolves around home to raising the big kid whose life revolves around school. I imagine this is an especially tough separation for moms who stay at home, so I will say some extra prayers for them and encourage them to volunteer at their child’s school if they can.

I’m handing it considerably well. I worked two jobs and went to grad school when Collin was little, so I’ve already experienced being away from him for long days at a time. It doesn’t mean that it was easy then or even easy now, but it’s somewhere I’ve already been. Even when I wasn’t working, I sent Collin to five-day preschool last year and all day camp twice a week this summer to get him used to being in a more structured environment. It also helped me to get used to Collin being somewhere else … but it’s still a little too quiet! I’m blessed to have the opportunity to send him to St. Joan of Arc, a family-like environment, with rigorous academics and strong a strong base in faith, right in our neighborhood, and where I also happen to work. I’ve gotten to know his teachers over the past couple of weeks and couldn’t trust him to more capable hands. I’m looking forward to being his teacher, too … though I imagine there will be some stories to come out of this experiment.

One of the greatest gifts St. Joan of Arc has to offer is a sense of community. I was delighted to find an invitation to the BooHoo/YeeHaw Breakfast for parents of new preschoolers and kindergarteners in Collin’s folder. There, in the church hall, I found a host of yummy breakfast treats and a warm circle of welcome from the Home/School Association, headed by Megan Cornett. She and other experienced SJA moms perambulated the room, introducing themselves and answering questions about school life and events.  

There seemed to be a whole lot more “Yeehawing” going on than “Boohooing,” which was uplifting. 

There were also two tables worth of volunteer sign-in sheets for various activities throughout the year. Halloween Party, Bowling Club, and Game Night, here I come!

It was most exciting to get the chance to meet some of the other parents. Not only could I bond with them over our common experience of handing over our children for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for the first time, but I also got to know a little bit about their children, who will be my students and Collin’s friends for many years. As I fed Frank and Leo bits of a blueberry bagel, we had some great conversations about exciting fundraisers, choosing the right high school for each of your children, and the effect of social media on kids’ attention spans.

I walked away from the breakfast knowing that even when I do have boohoos while my children are St. Joan of Arc students, I’m surrounded by compassionate parents who have either been in my shoes, could imagine being in them, or are willing to let me borrow theirs for a while. And when we have yeehaws, there will be plenty of cheerleaders on our team!

September 03, 2014 04:56
By Robyn Barberry

A teacher's spirit

Believe it or not, there are a good number of teachers who cringe at the words “back to school.” I know they exist because I used to be one of them. I’d hide under my blanket (wait … it’s summer … how about beach towel?) when the first commercials for backpacks and notebooks aired. When that dreaded week of teacher return arrived, I’d suffer through one professional development and the next, longing for peaceful days uninhibited by rigid schedules forcefully punctuated by the garish sound of an electronic bell (if you can call it that).

Meetings about the educational theory du jour (insert acronym here) dragged on for hours and seldom themselves embraced the strategies they aimed to promote . The weight of 180 days’ worth of squabbles, stand-offs, and the doldrums caused me to sink in my chair, as I doodled my way through a drab lecture on discipline.

Once the kids arrived, I remembered why I was there. From the first handshake and smile I exchanged with the young people entrusted to my care, I felt that fire reignite.

Fortunately, most teachers who dread going back to school are, like me, soon reminded of how and why we got there in the first place. But, the meetings which precede the start of the school year needn’t be pointless and lackluster. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that to be the case over the past two weeks as a new teacher in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  

The biggest difference between public schools and here, is that great care is taken to nourish a teacher’s spirit before the school year begins. I will admit, I had a stormy grey cloud over my head (figuratively and literally) when I drove to a new teacher retreat at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City. It was a long ride from my Aberdeen home, and I spent most of the time thinking about how much I wanted to be with my boys. But when I left that afternoon, I was changed. Here’s what happened:

·                    I joined a group of about 50 Catholics in the lovely and spacious Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church for prayerful reflection. I felt so encouraged in finding myself surrounded by teachers who were not only new to the system, as I was, but who also share my faith. In our small group discussions, we found we shared the same apprehensions and directed each other back to God in looking for solutions for our problems.

·                    We were led through various spiritual exercises by the gracious and able hands of Sister Sally Russell and Mrs. Julie St. Croix. Sister Sally is witty and stimulating, while Mrs. St. Croix is thought-provoking and soothing. They’re perfect complements for each other, and excellent teachers, who always kept our minds and spirits moving as we pondered things like identity, relationships, creation, Psalms, the trinity, and how we can improve our own faith communities.

·                    I left invigorated at the end of the second day, ready to embrace the Holy Spirit and to allow the Holy Spirit to embrace me. I smiled every time I thought about the presence of the Lord in my classroom being welcomed, rather than being told to leave my God at home. He’s always been with me. Now I can share Him with my colleagues and students.

Newly energized, I arrived to the St. Joan of Arc back-to-school meeting to find myself amongst kindred spirits. It’s a very small school, with less than 20 teachers, all of whom exude love for what they do. We met in a social studies and language arts teacher’s classroom which was so embellished with posters, maps and artifacts, I could barely tell what colors the walls were.

Everything in the room was beautiful, educational and inspiring. As I took in the replica ships and pirate statues (to connect to an upcoming novel) and an astonishing array of graphic organizers, I wanted to be one of that teacher’s students, and hope that my boys will be in a few years.

As we were waiting for the meeting to begin, our principal was passing out St. Francis prayer cards. “I had these blessed in Assisi,” she told us. She enthusiastically shared her vision for the year, touched on a few housekeeping matters, and sent us on our way to prepare for the students.

The next day, there was a brief technology meeting, followed by much more time to organize, plan, and decorate. I have never been blessed with so much time to get ready for my students, and for that I am tremendously grateful.

Friday was, for me, the highlight of the week. We celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen with Archbishop Lori. I was greeted at the door by Elizabeth Ann Seton (okay, maybe it was an impersonator), and opened the door to find the entire edifice packed with people, teachers, who believe in God’s word and wish to pass it along (with some other material, too).

There were screens on either side of the church displaying photographs of teachers from the archdiocese who had met milestones in their careers. I was delighted to see the face of Mr. Craig White, my middle school social studies teacher and the world’s biggest fan of Hollywood’s golden age. He’s been teaching at St. Margaret’s for 40 years. I was equally excited to run into Mrs. Kathy Petrone, my second-grade teacher, who hasn’t changed a bit. (Maybe teaching is the secret to the fountain of youth.)  
The Mass was beautiful with traditional hymns, such as “Hail Holy Queen,” “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” and, of course, “Ave Maria.” The performers were excellent, with operatic vocals enveloping the space along with warm brass notes and the triumph of the organ. The Gospel, Luke 1:26-38 told the tale of the Annunciation. I reflected on how just as God called Mary to be the Mother of God’s Son Jesus, I feel that God planted the seed in me to be a teacher. I tried to stifle that light, but He reminded me of who I am meant to be by leading me to St. Joan of Arc. In his homily, the Archbishop urged us to call on Mary in times of distress and to live according to the beatitudes. All excellent advice for teachers embarking on a great new year.

Finally, the most special moment of the week occurred when my two cousins and I met outside of the church after Mass. By the grace of God, we have all found ourselves privileged enough to serve as teachers for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. My grandfather (their great-grandfather) set out to be a teacher during the Great Depression to follow in his sister’s footsteps. How wonderful it is that we’ve chosen to follow in his?

Having completed my first week, I am calmer, happier, and more motivated than I have ever been at the beginning of a school year. I attribute it to the meditation I was guided through at the retreat, to the warm welcome and generous gift of time I’ve received at my new school, and to the blessings I received during one of the most beautiful Masses I’ve ever attended. This year, it’s not going to be about survival, but spiritual growth.   

September 02, 2014 11:44
By Robyn Barberry

Back to school

When I put in my resignation letter to the public school system after delivering Leo in October, I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in this position again. I envisioned the end of August as being a time for me to prepare my own children for school, while anticipating a much-needed respite for myself. Instead, I’ve found myself surrounded by my own books, binders, posters, markers, and crayons, as I tumble into a great new teaching – and learning - adventure.

This time, it’s a whole new world for Mrs. Barberry. I spent the past 8 years teaching English, Creative Writing, Yearbook, and Drama to high school students in some of the most challenging public schools in the metropolitan area. And now? Art! - to preK-8 students at St. Joan of Arc (SJA) in Aberdeen.

I was honored when the school’s principal, Virginia Bahr, offered me the position. I’d mentioned that I’m certified to teach art a few years ago when I ran into her after Mass. She hadn’t forgotten, the opportunity had opened up, and the rest is history!

We were just getting ready to register Collin for kindergarten at SJA, when Mrs. Bahr invited me to join her faculty. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were struggling to find a way to pay his tuition on one salary. I prayed, and God answered. Now, I have to face the challenge of having my own child as a student!

But beyond the gift of additional income, I also feel that God has called me to SJA for a purpose. I’m not sure what that may be quite yet, but I imagine He may want me to help bring out the artist in every student, particularly those who lack the confidence to harness the creativity He instills in them. I aim to believe in my students the way my favorite art teacher, Mrs. Dunaway, did. “Anyone can learn to draw,” she said on the first day of 9th grade. “But, first you must learn how to see.”

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/See-ming Lee

I’ve never been so excited about going back to school as I am this year. There are a number of reasons why:

1. I entered college as an Art Education major and only switched to English because writing papers was so much easier for me (Thanks, Mrs. Strong!). But art was my first love. I continue to pursue art classes and creative endeavors on my own and am so excited about sharing one of my greatest passions with budding young artists.

2. Coming from a big family and a busy neighborhood, I have been surrounded by children my whole life!  Even though I’ve spent the majority of my career working with high school students, elementary and middle school students have the same basic needs: to be loved and to feel like they belong. In working with younger students, I will approach my students needs at a different level (literally and figuratively). I’m looking forward to witnessing the fruits of all of their imaginations. Now, I’ll channel my inner Julie Andrews…

3. There was very little parental involvement in my former schools. This is not the case at St. Joan of Arc. After all, these parents are extending themselves to ensure their children are well educated. I can relate to the SJA parents, because I am one of them. I share their concerns and can comprehend the depths to which they love their children. I aim to be a partner with my students’ parents in ensuring their children’s success in art class and beyond.

4. St. Joan of Arc is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM school), so integrating technology into my lessons is a must! I started teaching with an overhead projector, walking around with the trademark green smear on the side of my wrist. Now, I have an LCD projector linked to my iPad, so I can show YouTube videos (try making sense of that sentence 20 years ago…but, wait, in 20 years, what will they say about it?!?!) I’m also excited about using technology to bridge cross-curricular content, so that my students can be learning about Ancient Egypt in social studies and making hieroglyphics in my class.

5. By far, the most exciting thing about teaching about St. Joan of Arc is that God is welcome there. I can (and will) begin each class with a prayer. I can teach about Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel,” “Pieta,” and “Madonna at Brughes.” My friend who teaches art at a public school told me, “I can’t even show a picture of Jesus…There goes the entire Italian Renaissance!” But, centuries of art created in the name of faith will have a safe place in my classroom. So, too, will the masterpieces my students make, with the hand of the Holy Spirit guiding each pencil mark and brushstroke.  
I still have a little over a week until my first students arrive, but I will be ready for them with a smile and plenty of paper, waiting for them to make their mark. 

August 19, 2014 02:15
By Robyn Barberry


One of my best childhood vacations was when I was 9 and it rained the entire time we went to the Outer Banks with 10 of my cousins. I devoured Roald Dahl’s Matilda while my brother conquered Ninja Turtles on his Gameboy.

But our main pastime was gathering with our cousins around a TV the size of some computer monitors to watch Hook on VHS. In this story, the grown up Peter Pan has abandoned the child inside of him in favor of joining the regimented adult world in which he’s chosen to be a workaholic lawyer. His son and daughter, whom he treats coldly, are kidnapped by Captain Hook and taken to Neverland, where Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys educate and encourage Peter to find the boy he once was so that he can rescue his children.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Tom Simpson

The play button was pushed at the first hint of sunlight. We fought with swords we bought at a T-shirt shop while the tape rewound. Soon, we were reciting every line, laughing at the same jokes, taking turns playing roles, eating every one of our meals on paper plates in front of the TV so that we didn’t miss a moment. We fell asleep watching Hook and allowed Peter Pan and Captain Hook to commandeer our dreams. We were the Lost Boys (and girls). This was the movie that defined my childhood.

Fast forward 20+ years. Unlike the Lost Boys, my cousins and I have grown into teachers, engineers, physical therapists, and musicians. We still love pirates and even throw occasional pirate costume parties. We’ve never forgotten that summer and how we refused to let a washed-out beach week threaten our fun.

This summer I took my own children to Ocean City. The weather was far from gorgeous. Friday night, after a delicious meal at Lombardi’s, was the perfect kind of day to introduce Collin to Hook.

He sat down next to me on the love seat and was unusually quiet for the majority of the movie, as was I. It was the first time I had watched the movie since I was a child. The frightening part was that I saw so much of myself in Peter Pan, the father who was always on his phone (which is the size of a shoebox), fails to acknowledge his children when he’s preoccupied by a seemingly more important task, and explosively loses his patience. How did I end up like that?

The shame I felt began to disappear when Peter became reacquainted with the Lost Boys. There’s a scene when they’re having an imaginary food fight and Peter begins to remember who he used to be. At that point in the film, so did I. I thought back to myself as a teenager, babysitting for every kid in the neighborhood, making up games and songs, playing dress-up, telling stories. What happened to that girl? She was the mom I always wanted to be. I had to bring her back.

At the end of the movie, there were tears, but not mine. Collin held on to me, sniffling, his tears running down my arm. I didn’t think a 5-year-old could sense the gravity of such a movie. I know I didn’t before now. So, I asked why he was crying.

“Why did the baby in the carriage roll away?” he asked.

I hugged him, my heart pounding at the recollection of the image. It was more disturbing than I had remembered. I squeezed him tighter, brushing a hot tear from his sunburned cheek. “Ohhh, it’s okay, Collin. Why are you worried?”

“The baby’s going to get hurt!”

“The baby is fine. He rolled away because he didn’t want to grow up, but he grows up to be Peter Pan.”

“But, I don’t want to grow up!” he said.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” I told him, recording in my mind the softness of his skin and hair as I rubbed his head, knowing I would not be able to hold him like this forever, “but that doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.”

I thought about my own words as they came out of my mouth. What happened to my imagination and how can I get it back? Could I postpone a phone call for five minutes so I can build a tall tower of blocks? Is it possible to get silly rather than getting angry over small things? How can I remember to pray for the patience it takes to address my children’s needs?

Collin has made it clear that he doesn’t like Hook and that’s okay. Maybe he’ll give it another shot when he’s older, and he’ll get something else out of it. I know I did.
***I began writing this piece after returning from Ocean City in July. On August 11th, I learned of Robin Williams’ tragic death. Oddly enough, I didn’t immediately associate the immensely talented actor with Hook until my cousin posted a photo from the film on Facebook and tagged my cousins, my brother and I. It started a conversation among us that took me straight back to that epic vacation when we learned the real meaning of the word “Bangarang!” Peter Pan was never Robin Williams to me. He was Peter Pan. That’s what good actors do.

For me, Robin Williams’ greatest talent was playing a father in crisis, who loved his kids so much it hurt, and who learned in big and little ways, through trial and error, how to be a better parent. I imagine that in the real world he was the same way. May his children be blessed. I thank Mr. Williams for helping me to see my faults as a parent and for guiding me toward what’s really important when it comes to raising children. 

August 14, 2014 02:52
By Robyn Barberry

Apology to a mother wolf spider

I first spotted you outside my back door on my return trip from taking out the trash. You were about the size of a quarter, coffee brown with eight legs, a gazillion eyes, and a lumpy back. You looked like a brown recluse, the type of spider that bit my mom just before my wedding. The scar was so horrendous, her satin periwinkle dress had to be altered to cover it. I was afraid you’d bite one of my children. I was wearing flip-flops, so I tracked down the nearest blunt object, a citronella candle in a red, white, and blue striped metal pail, and squashed you.

Normally, this type of extermination is strictly business. Just ask the ants who manage to find their way onto my kitchen counter after a big rain. For a vegetarian, I’m surprisingly ruthless when it comes to insects (and arachnids, like yourself) invading my turf. But, when I killed you underneath of the porch light, it was different.

Immediately after I squished you to pieces, I was amazed at how many pieces there were, and how far they were spreading, and how they appeared to be moving. They were. Within moments of your death, thousands of teeny tiny spiders, the size of couscous grains, scurried about in every direction.

I didn’t know what to do. The protective mother lion in me thought I’d better squish them all before my home was overturned by an infestation only seen in nightmares and horror movies. But I chose to watch and wait. I assumed that you were pregnant, and that these little guys were stolen from your womb too soon. By the looks of them, they wouldn’t last a day. I set down the candle and headed to my bed.

Like any curious and/or confused American, I Googled the situation and learned that you were a wolf spider. (The Brown Recluse looks similar, but has a characteristic “violin” on its back). Although you do have venom and aren’t afraid to use it, you’re relatively harmless to humans. In fact, you seldom enter people’s homes, preferring to stalk the outside perimeter at night, searching for food. And you carry your babies (spiderlings) on your back until they’re big enough to make it on their own.

I sighed, put down the phone, turned out the light, and lay awake on my pillow, gazing into the moonlight outside of my window, replaying our encounter over and over again. You didn’t deserve to die. You were a creature of God, designed for motherhood. Like me, you took your babies everywhere, you were always on the lookout for food, and you were vigilant about keeping your precious little ones safe. But then again, that’s why I squashed you in the first place. Now that I know the difference between you and your dangerous doppelganger, the Brown Recluse, I’ll spare the next mama wolf spider I find.     

August 11, 2014 10:36
By Robyn Barberry

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