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Inviting children to share wisdom

Susan Notes: I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

by Steve Lopex

"Things To Do While I'm Gone"

That's how Rebekah Blume, all of 14, titled the instructions she gave her parents when she left for summer camp in Malibu.

Howard Blume, an education reporter for The Times, seemed more than a little overwhelmed by all the responsibility dumped in his lap by his eldest daughter. As the ever-diligent and meticulous Rebekah laid it out, no corners were to be cut.

"Water my plants," she wrote. "All of them."

She underlined each word for emphasis and gave a long and detailed list of what and where these plants are, including the peas in the brick bed, the vegetables under the apple tree and the bean plants on the table.

And, as if anticipating that Dad might slough off his duties, she added:

"Check All of them every day. I know my plants. They can be tricky. At least check them."

I've met Rebekah and felt a little intimidated myself. She has a broad range of interests that make her a prime candidate to one day rule the world, as you'll see in a moment.

I suspected she could write better columns than I could, and even asked her to go ahead and give it a shot. If I'm going to be replaced by someone younger and smarter, I'd rather it be her.

She didn't take me seriously, but I wonder if any of us baby boomers are taken seriously by the next generation, which is onto the fact that we're lazy, mush-headed materialists, incapable of tough decisions and not particularly trustworthy.

I got to wondering if other youngsters express themselves as well as Rebekah, and then I thought what the heck, why don't I have a summer essay contest?

So here it is.

I'm calling on youngsters 15 and under to show me what you can do. You can write about what parents don't know about kids. You can explain how we can be better parents. You can lay out what really bugs you about us.

Or, like Rebekah, who just graduated from King Middle School's magnet program in Silver Lake, you can tell us what chores need to be done while you're doing more important things. And if you've already written a set of going-away instructions, like Rebekah, feel free to submit it.

Keep the essays under 500 words and include your name, city or neighborhood and phone number. And parents, DO NOT try to cheat and write the essays for your children. I'll be able to tell, and I'll have you reported to the authorities. Besides, if you're like me, you probably can't write as well as your children anyway.

The winner will get a Los Angeles Times shirt and cap, a tour of the newspaper and lunch in the cafeteria, and the winning essay will be posted on The Times' website. That means someone out there will be able to boast, for the rest of his or her life, of having been a published writer before being old enough to drive.

It's not clear to me whether, in the age of MySpace, this stands for much, but it's all I've got to offer.

So get to work. Meanwhile, I'm going to assemble a team of judges (and see if I can't persuade Rebekah to be one of them).

To help inspire you, here are a few more excerpts from Rebekah's note to her parents, in which she instructed them to "talk to my plants, too. Kind of comfort them and tell them how well they are growing and that you promise to take care of them, that sort of thing.

"Retrieve my Immigration-in-a-box project-in-process from my second period magnet history teacher Mr. Cabezas in room 208. Say hello to him for me. While you are there you can turn in my Interview With an Immigrant Assignment, and ask about culmination.

"Buy me a yearbook from the student store. They are $25. If you run into anyone I know, have them sign it.

"Attend the global warming thing for LACER and film it, please. If they want me to say something, then say, 'I ask you to remember that it isn't the people with cars, air conditioners, running water, electricity, and medicine that are hit first by global warming. Think of the people who don't have these privileges when you decide what you are going to do to keep our environment livable.'

"Attend the awards ceremony for the magnet. I really hope that I get the history award.

"Attend the film festival at the Vista Theater. If you need info about it, you can talk to Mr. Palayan (pronounced Poh-LAI-an), the animation teacher, in room 206. My animation film is called 'Desert Night' with an intro of creepy guitar picking music.

"I miss you, and I love you all so much. Thank you for taking care of these things while I'm away, because there really are a lot of them, and they are a bit of a hassle, especially all the stupid ceremonies and errands and stuff. Most of all, I want you to have fun while I'm gone so I won't feel guilty."

— Steve Lopez
Los Angeles Times


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