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How to Inspire Kids? Show, Don't Tell

05/24/2013 12:22 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2013

I want to inspire my kids.

Even as I write the words, though, I am cowed. I can just see them cover their ears and roll their eyes, hear their various protests.

"BORING lecture..." The older one might say.

"Hey Mom!" The younger one might shout, to make me look, then hork a cherry pit at me through his teeth. Nice.

"Cherry juice stains, " I might offer, calmly pulling the offending pit from the arm of my favorite beige jacket.

Cherry. Juice. Stains.

These might be the only words I utter as I run out the door for one or another event for fun or obligation or both, they might be the only words I manage to get out in a day besides, "what do you want for breakfast? What do you want in your lunch? What should we do for dinner?"

So what good am I? How useful as inspiration?

And then I am forced to remember what every writer knows, every musician, every dancer, every painter: show, don't tell.

It seems fairly easy to show what can be achieved in this place we call home, in this divine Mecca for inspiration that is Brooklyn, with the glimmering towers of Manhattan just beyond.

Here we have as neighbors the people who tell the world's stories in so many ways, in every facet of media, from the man who wrote the music for The Book of Mormon to a woman who tells the tale of poverty in America in The Christian Science Monitor. We have documentarians and commercial producers, dancers and singers, actors, musicians, authors of all kinds.

Success drips from every building cornice here, buildings where the successful often live in spaces far smaller than the successful might live in other places. And, of course, I brag constantly to my kids about the achievements of people I meet at cafes, about the places they go, about their appearances on TV. Because I want to show what is possible, what is just within reach if they want it, if they work for it.

But I cannot just point to others' successes. I have to achieve things myself. How, is the big question. What do I really think is important? What do I want to show my kids is the best way to spend one's precious time on this great Earth?

When I asked myself that question after quitting full-time employment six or so years ago, I couldn't really answer. Write for the New York Times? Write novels? I've tried to believe those are the goals, but lying to myself only wreaks havoc on my system. No. I want to do those things, but only as a means to do the greater thing, the greatest thing: I want to save the world, one child at a time.

I came here, to Brooklyn, lured by the cocky strut of John Travolta, to fulfill the promise of that great lady who towers over our great town, to help those tired, poor huddled masses lured here from everywhere, like me. To help them breathe free.

It is hard. I laugh every time I hear Ingrid Michaelson's song lyric from "Keep Breathing":

I want to change the world, instead I sleep.

It is tempting just to sleep, but I have children to inspire. And so I get up, super early, and I think. I think about what I can do. To save the world. And I talk to my neighbors at cafes who are trying to do the same. And I work, with Change for Kids, to bring inspiring neighbor friends, like musician/author Michael Hearst, to school kids in Bed-Stuy who don't have the seven author visits my son's Park Slope school will get from the wealthy pro-active PTA this year.

Last week, after Michael and his band's awe-inspiring performance of his incredible book and CD, Unusual Creatures, at PS81, a fifth grade teacher, a Teach for America teacher who stayed on past his tour of duty, gripped my hand warmly.

"Thank you," he said with gratitude dampening his eyes. "These kids never get these kinds of special things."

I was tempted to count the excited kids and teachers in the two auditoriums Michael managed to keep gripped and learning about the world's weirder wildlife, with strange instruments like the Theramin. I was tempted, like the group of top child psychiatrists I sat in a room with once, to come up with an exact number of how many kids we could reach in a year. It boggles, though, the number. With programs like Michael's, it is a lot. If we had a team. If we had an Inspire Corps.

So I finally figured it out. Creating that team, making that happen, is what I need to do to show my children firsthand the lesson that to inspire, one must be inspired. Let me know if you want to help. Stephsthompson@gmail.com.