Since I'm a mother and writer who works at home, I'm a bit surprised whenever I'm invited to be a speaker on Career Day at one of our local schools.
But I'm always honored to be asked, and rarely turn down these invitations. Schoolchildren enjoy visitors - and they're usually interested to learn that some people don't commute to an office to make a living,
At one recent Career Day, however, I met my youngest and most challenging audience: an inquisitive group of preschool students.
Unfortunately, I was scheduled to appear on the same morning as a vivacious X-ray technician. I knew immediately that hers would be a tough act to follow, since she had arrived in full uniform and brought a stack of real X-rays.
I, on the other hand, wore my plain gray "interview" suit and carried a large black portfolio of newspaper and magazine clippings.
It was clear that I would have to work hard to thrill this crowd.
Wisely enough, the teacher had asked these youngsters to think of some questions to ask about my "exciting world of print journalism." Here is a sampling of their questions:
Do you draw cartoons?
Why do you make the newspaper print so small?
What do you wear to work if you work at home?
Do you drive the truck that delivers the newspapers?
Launching my talk, I displayed some of my published writing samples, including a few columns from the local paper their parents read.
"Is that really your picture?" a child asked in awe.
Foolishly thinking I could impress these kids, I pulled out all the stops. I showed them what I thought were some highlights of my career: an article I wrote when I met Phil Donahue at a press conference in Detroit; the piece I wrote about Walkin' Jim Stoltz, the folk singer who hiked the Continental Divide; an interview with John Davidson.
As every parent knows, Phil Donahue means nothing to four-year-olds. And unless a Broadway actor has made guest appearances on "Sesame Street," he pales in comparison with Big Bird.
My crowd was growing restless. Name-dropping was getting me nowhere fast, and I was rightfully humbled. As a last resort, I told the kids about my interview with an animal trainer who had been featured in a circus act. "Oooohs" and "aaahhhs" filled the room when I held up a yellowed article accompanied by a photo of the burly trainer clad in a leopard-skin loincloth and hoisting a full-grown lioness over his bare shoulders.
"Now that's something," a child gasped. "Did you get to pet the lion?" (No, I did not.)
I had two minutes left to answer another question from a sensitive, round-eyed girl who said she'd like to "write stories" someday. She seemed enthralled by the fact that a journalist could work from home - but wondered if I ever felt lonely sitting at a desk by myself. She also wanted to know what I wore "to work" in my home office.
"Writing can be a lonely profession," I began, "but usually I'm so busy working that I forget I'm alone. And unless I'm going out to do an interview, I can type in my pajamas most of the day, if I want to," I added.
More "oooohs" and "aaahhhs" followed. The part about the pajamas really impressed them.