Thank goodness for kids.
This business can get to you, with its constant stream of crimes, abuses and controversies.
It's no more fun to look at a story assignment sheet full of war and taxes and budgets than it is to read about them in the newspaper.
The antidotes for the travails, troubles and ennui of the news business are as varied as are the writers. Some whack it out of themselves with golf clubs, others drown it out at the corner tap. For me, kids are the solution.
Today, the sun was shining, the snow was melting, and nothing was on fire, exploding or handing me a court subpoena - in other words, it was a good day, and nobody needed me for anything critical anywhere.
So I played hooky.
Normally, hooky means skipping out on school, but for me, it means skipping in.
Mrs. Deb Peters at St. Mary's was gracious enough to welcome a world-weary, oversize second grader to join her classroom for the day.
The kids and I decided to put out a second-grade newspaper, and you'll see the results before too long.
What a great experience to see the wide-eyed thrill they get from writing and producing pictures, and to see their own names go on a piece of work that everyone is going to read. Heck, that little something that runs up your spine is the reason why all of us went into the field of journalism way back when, but it tends to be forgotten over time in the pursuit of deadlines, competition and too much bad news.
The kids were neither bored or burdened with the assignment, and their enthusiasm tends to breath a little life into your tired old editor as well.
It was a pretty cool experience. We did stories on a zoo trip, ice cream, playing baseball, learning math, roller skating. All the good stuff.
One little girl shyly asked if she could write her story on a relative who is fighting in the war in Iraq. Reality seeps in, even in a second grade newspaper. "God bless you and him, little one, I think that's a wonderful idea."
A little boy with tousled hair and a lopsided grin scribbled out a story about growing up. I read over his shoulder. It said he wanted to be a news writer when he grows up. I would have hugged him, except that being hugged isn't so cool when you're a second grade boy.
I drew sketches of a couple of the kids while she intently worked on her story - the byproduct of a misspent youth of doodling when I should have been paying attention in class. One little girl noticed, and objected to my penciling in the freckles on her upturned nose. "I hate my freckles," she said. What, hate freckles?! They are excellent freckles, child, as individual as a snowflake, and one more reason why nobody else in the room will ever be quite like you.
Some of the kids scramble for attention, some are quiet and reserved. One whipped out a lead on a school jumprope fundraiser that was as sweet a prose as any pro would hope to do; others struggled with words and felt a lot more at home with the pictures we drew afterward. I'm not too sure about the right-brain/left-brain theories, but I do know that the world takes all kinds.
There's few greater resources than a good teacher, and I enjoyed watching Mrs. Peters do her thing. She's somehow in 15 places at once, encouraging there, gently motivating there, focusing all of those wildly energetic little spirits and making the work of learning seem a whole lot like fun. Is there anyone who has ever achieved anything in this world who can't look back and remember at least one special teacher who made a difference? Do we remember to thank them enough?
Hard to tell if any of those little munchkins in our Partners in Excellence class will ever try their hand at the grown-up world of media, but I can guarantee that this newspaper scribe will come back to their world again - whenever there is a need for a dose of childlike enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity.
I encourage you to play hooky, as soon as possible, and go visit the future at your local schoolhouse.