My daughter’s pre-K teacher offered an opportunity for parents to talk about what they do during the day while their children attend school. Given the distaste in which some people hold journalists, I didn’t know whether my job would qualify. But qualify it did. When offered a choice of dates, I had to pass on all dates the week of April 14. But when the 9 a.m. slot came open for April 21 — the date after Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit — I eagerly applied for it.
I got a cheat sheet of questions that students have tended to ask at these 15-minute sessions. But I came prepared with a reporter’s notebook, since children this age are just starting to put words together, so writing letters and words clearly is a big plus in my line of work. I also showed them a copy of the April 17 Nationals Park Mass program (and told them I got to sit in the press box), a copy of the April 16 White House welcoming program, a big picture of Pope Benedict and an even larger placard with the Catholic News Service logo. And I draped my many papal-trip ID lanyards over my neck for effect.
I was introduced by the teacher’s aide as “the pope’s right-hand man.” I told two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds as best as I could about what I usually do as well as what I had done in the past week. They asked me, among other things, the type of work that I do, how long I had been at my job, what equipment I use for my job, where my office is, how many people I work with, and what kind of clothing I wear on the job.
Someone asked if I had met the pope. “The pope isn’t that interested in meeting me,” I replied — my job was to write about people who wanted to see and meet the pope — although I did tell them that I was as close to Pope Benedict as I was to their teacher at one point during the Washington leg of the visit. I also told them of how the pope got to meet a young boy who was losing his sight and had wanted to meet the pontiff.
One boy said when he was watching the pope on TV that he noticed a lot of police. I told the class how the police want to protect a very important man, and what it was about Pope Benedict that made him important.
But that was the jumping-off point for the class to ask questions about the police. Another child asked me if I “touched dogs” in my job. I replied in the affirmative (well, you never know what kind of assignment you’ll get from day to day), but then some other kid asked if I caught cats and dogs for a living. Well, no, I had to say. Then someone asked if my daughter and I “fit in the same bed.” Again, I had to say no, my daughter has her own bed. “How many of you have your very own bed that you sleep in?” I asked them. A big show of hands — which led to descriptions of what their beds look like. “Mine has birds on it.” “I have a bed with butterfilies.” And so on.
After that line of questioning, I had to ask the class my own question: How many of you know what a blog is? A few hands went up, more tentatively than with my who-has-their-own-bed question. I explained in very broad terms what a blog was and, before I gave a description of the popemobile, told the youngsters, “Something tells me I’ll be writing a blog about our conversation right here.” The teacher and teacher’s aide sure knew what I was talking about!