The kids are watching

I attended grade school in a small town. During my elementary years most of the parents of the kids in our class hosted a field trip. We went to a dairy farm about four miles out of town. It wasn’t too impressive to me because my father sold and serviced the milking machines and cream separators that the dairy used, so I’d been out there a lot. We went to the lumberyard, another yawner for me. We went there all the time. We went to the grain elevator, slightly more interesting, especially when the manager told us a story about a huge grain elevator fire that he had witnessed in another town. We went to the doctor’s office, which was closed that day and there were no patients. We didn’t see any blood there, but we talked about the possibility of there being some at some times. My friend Jim, whose father was the doctor, said that he had to sew up people with bloody injuries all the time. David said, “They do that at the hospital not at the office.” An argument ensued. David’s dad worked at the creamery. After showing us all of the big machines, he opened up a large stainless steel butter churn and, after emptying out the contents, took his finger and ran it around the lip of the churn, withdrawing it with what looked like about a quarter of a pound of butter, which he promptly popped into his mouth and swallowed, declaring, “YUM!” It was just like the fairy tale of Jack Sprat. David’s dad was a tall and very slender man. I was impressed. I never ate that much butter at one time before, but once I had taken a big swipe at what I thought was ice cream in the freezer and put it into my mouth only to discover that it was lard, poured into an ice cream bucket. That wasn’t a pleasant experience in my memory.

I liked the visit to the telephone company. And Valerie’s dad, who was an electrician, fixed up a neat set of lights and switches that we could turn on and off.

The visit to the drive in where we each got an ice cream cone was worth the trip.

But, hands down, the best field trip of our entire elementary school experience was when the class went to the airport, where my father was the manager. He had lined up three airplanes and he and two of his pilots gave everyone a ride. There were 3 kids per airplane and 3 airplanes, so it took 3 trips to take all of the kids up for about a 5 minute ride. I had had much longer rides than we got that day, but all of the other kids in my class were jealous of me, being able to ride in an airplane whenever I wanted.

It didn’t do much for my popularity or status at school, but it was a good day nonetheless.

I’m pretty sure that if such an adventure were planned for this day there would be so much paperwork what with liability waivers and permission slips and the like that the trip would include a tour of the hangar and a chance to sit in the airplanes without actually going flying.

Somehow I was thinking about those field trips yesterday as I was doing a bit of shopping for treats to take to the staff of Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center this morning. Twice a month, I stop by at shift change in the facility to deliver a few treats and to offer encouragement to the staff.Taking care of youth who have landed on the wrong side of the law can be a stressful job. Staff turnover is fairly high and most of the corrections officers are young and early in their careers. I like to offer them a bit of support and encouragement and be a listening ear as they sort out their lives. They were drawn to the career out of a desire to be of service. Some of them were drawn to the work because they feel like they can make a difference in a child’s life. As opposed to an adult corrections facility, all of the youth in the center are there for a limited amount of time and the focus on education and learning life skills for the outside world is essential. The people who become officers usually are fairly idealistic about their ability to make an impact. But it is easy to get jaded in that job when the same youth returns time after time and they witness examples of disconnected parents and other behaviors that most of us never witness.

I figure a donut now and again isn’t going to hurt the officers. Actually, most of them are very health and nutrition conscious, so I always bring fresh fruit and a large thermos of good coffee.

One of the things I bring to accompany the coffee is real cream. They are used to powdered creamers in the coffee at the center, so it is a treat to have a pitcher of real cream. We don’t use cream at our house, so twice a month I buy a pint of real cream and share it with the officers and staff of the center. Shopping for cream made me think of David’s father, who in addition to the display of eating butter all by itself once gave me a lecture on how real butter fat and real cream are good for you. He always drank cream in his coffee and said that heavy cream was the best. He lived long enough that I also knew him when he drank his coffee black and drank lots of it staying up late when he switched jobs to running the bowling alley.

Children learn a lot about life by observing adults. I was shaped by ministers and mentors from all walks of life. It is something of which I have to remind myself from time to time. When a little one greets me at preschool or a tot climbs up into my lap at the fellowship hour after church, I know they are studying me. “Can this guy be trusted?” “Is a minister a good thing?” The answer to their questions comes in the form of my behavior. They pay attention to what I do more than what I say.

I hope I never forget that they are watching.

Some of the most troubled youth in our community are watching and studying the behavior of the corrections officers at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center. The least I can do is send those public servants off to work with a snack in their bellies and a pat on the back.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!