March 8, 1998 in City

Sometimes, Little Things Count Most

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It is 8 a.m. and my feet are stuck to the floor at the University Inn.

Stuck because someone young spilled a large carbonated beverage the night before, and it soaked into the carpet of the motel room.

Some of it, anyway.

The rest is sticking to my socks.

The socks I planned to wear to the last game of the Panhandle Hoopfest in Moscow, where I would be coaching the very young person who had spilled the drink now sticking to my feet.

This was my reward for driving two hours, sleeping five to a room, eating greasy burgers, taking away the spitwad shooters, saying no to video games, and otherwise being an adult presence in the lives of eight boys aged 11 and 12.

Why do these things for children?

A few nights later my socks again were sticking to a floor.

Squashed raisins this time.

Raisins that had been dropped from handmade packets of gorp (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) used as a snack for an annual event at my son’s school.

Raisins I later would vacuum up from the floor of the Resort at Mt. Spokane long after the kids had gone home, tired and excited from two days of activities pulled together by busy adults who took off work, spent their own money, slept on hard floors, stood outside in cold weather, and ate child-made chili for dinner.

Why do these things for children?

The answer is because we were lucky enough to have someone do the same for us long ago.

As a kid it doesn’t seem like a big deal to have had someone coach your team, take you team camping, or show up to hear your concert.

Only years later does it begin to sink in.

When you are a writer, you remember the first person who took an interest in your words.

When you ski without effort, you remember the first person who bucked up your courage on the bunny hill.

When the crowd cheers your band, you remember who first person who said you could carry a tune.

That’s why we do these things for children.

Children look for an example. Children search for a pathway.

As an adult, if you can set an example and show a path, children will know how to live.

The question really is this: Why don’t more grownups do the things that children need.

Why the shortage of coaches in kids sports?

Where are the youth group leaders?

How can it be that on parents night at many schools so few parents show up?

We know the children of those who have been abused often become abusers.

We know the children of those who have been in jail often end up in the same place.

This knowledge that bad examples and poor pathways are available to impressionable minds is reason enough for grownups to undertake often tedious, exhausting, difficult adventures with children.

Many well-intentioned parents try to help their children by going to school boards and political conventions to talk about phonics, creationism or tougher drug laws.

These debates, while important and stimulating, cannot substitute for what a child learns when an adult gives time and attention to the child’s world.

A child’s world is about hope and fear, not politics and policy. Or, a child’s world might best be described as a very long lesson in what it takes to think and learn for yourself.

The lessons on how to think and learn for yourself must come from adults whose first tasks are to calm childish fears and focus childish thoughts.

It doesn’t matter much whether a group of adults agrees about phonics, evolution or prisons.

What matters is that adults take the time to be around children and model what it looks like to think and learn with others. If this modeling doesn’t appear in children’s lives, a future generation will grow up as diminished contributors to the great debates of their time.

Children also need to see adults who love and care. If, heaven forbid, a child suffers from the emotionally crippling effects of abuse or neglect, the chances of growing up strong and able are reduced once again.

It’s not easy to be a caring, thinking adult who volunteers to be around children. Kids are willful, uncivilized and noisy. Other adults can be annoying and grumpy.

You learn right away that yelling doesn’t work all that well. Nor does simply walking away.

Parents and other caring adults need to stick together when the floor gets sticky. They need to help one another, spell one another, appreciate and tolerate one another so their kids see how all that works together.

Next time, I learned there will be no soft drinks in the room. There will be a next time.

There will be another time to talk with 12-year-olds about teamwork, and coping with losing, and respecting those around you.

Next time likely will come again in the confines of a too-small motel room or too-noisy annual event.

It is the least you and I can do for the good of the world, and it is the most.

, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His

column appears each Sunday on Perspective.

Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.

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